By Matt Petrero
Parenthood is not something which a person stands around looking for credit.
However, what if it’s a man who adopts two older children to save them from a neglectful situation that would have likely led to a lifetime of poverty and crime?
Enter 22-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Police Department, detective Jack Mook. An Army veteran of the Gulf War, Jack took the two boys, Joshua and Jessee Mook from an almost certain life of criminal statistics and has provided them with a quality of life as good or better than most.
I first saw this story on The Blaze T.V. about 6 weeks ago. As soon as it was over, I said to myself, “I have to speak to this man!” In the beginning of December, I had the opportunity to do just that. Let me tell you, after I hung up the phone, I was in the best of moods for several days.
Jack has been involved in boxing since the age of 12, at the direction of his father. It’s purpose was to put Jack on the straight and narrow and reinforce the concept of self discipline.
“I came home one day at 12 and my father just took me to a boxing gym,” Mook said. “I kind of didn’t have a choice. I had to go and learn.”
Jack also dabbled in the sport as a teen and again while in the army.
About 11 years ago, Jack got involved with Steel City Boxing after running into an old friend, George “Geo” Heinlein. Geo has been volunteering at Steel City Boxing for about 20 years, and aware of Jack’s love and involvement in the sport, invited him to help train kids who were exposed to the rough street life.
The amount of kids coming through the doors was increasing, so subsequently, there was a need for more coaches.
“I started training myself and getting in shape, but then once I started training these kids that were coming in off the street, I just fell in love with it,” Jack said. “So I’ve been a trainer ever since.”
A Great Decision
This would perhaps be the most important decision of Jack’s life, and certainly the most beneficial for Josh and Jessee.
It was about 7 years later that the two young lads would enter the gym for the first time and catch the eye of “Coach”, which is how the boys refer to Jack.
“Josh was about 8 or 9 years old when he came in,” Jack said. “Josh was the one that was just really into it. When you see that natural ability in someone at such a young age, you don’t say much. In my 11 years of coaching, he’s the first kid that I will say is ‘a natural.'”
“Jessee was very young at the time,” Jack said. “He would just come bouncing in whenever Josh had to babysit him for the day.”
That kind of guardianship was common for Josh, who has always looked out for his little brother.
Jack was made aware of the conditions in which they were living by Geo, who was a friend of their father.
“Geo grew up with their father,” Jack said. “Geo’s the one that actually recruited Josh from the streets and told him to come up to the gym and give it a shot. Then Geo gave me a little bit of the background on their parents. Through my own observations, I also saw that this kid was living a hard life; not only Josh, but Jessee too.”
Eventually, Josh began competing in actual matches.
“Josh started competing when he was around 10, and his parents would come to the shows,” Jack said. “His parents were never abusive. They were just so down and out that they couldn’t provide for their kids.”
Initially, Jack didn’t get involved in their personal lives. He continued to coach the kids up. His mission was to provide some structure and discipline as well as offer an escape from the hard streets of Pittsburgh.
“I really didn’t get involved in their personal life, but Josh really respected Geo and me because we’re both paramilitary, and that’s the route he wants to take in life.”
Jack said that they began taking to boys out to eat after their training sessions, so that they could be sure that the boys were getting a descent meal in them. The funding for these meals came straight from Jack and Geo’s own wallets.
The Lost Boys
At one point, Josh and Jessee just stopped showing up to the gym. For the committed and punctual boys, this was completely out of character. Jack’s detective instincts kicked in, so after a few days, Jack and Geo went looking for the boys.
However, they couldn’t even locate the boys’ parents.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Jack said. “I didn’t know if the parents were arrested or if they lost the kids to some kind of juvenile detention center or orphanage.”
Their search turned up nothing for about four months.
Finally, Jack found Josh.
“The day I found Joshua was just before Christmas 2012,” Jack said. “I took Josh to get something to eat and asked him where he had been. He was quiet at first. He look horrible. I mean worse than he had before.”
Prior to this four stint, Jack described Josh as being pale and malnourished, but this was much worse. Josh looked like a “little dirty kid from the streets” but now he had “blotches of hair missing.”
“He had rashes,” Jack said. “He had eczema on the back of his head, psoriasis, and flea bites.”
Jack went from “Coach” to “Detective Mook.”
He found out that the boys’ parents had lost custody of them due to extreme poverty and drug use. The boys went to stay with their aunt and uncle, but their quality of life went from bad to impossibly worse.
“Josh told me that they wouldn’t let them go to the gym,” Jack said. “They didn’t let them out to do much. Josh told me that he was trying to sleep his life away.”
When Jack asked him to elaborate, he said, “I get home from school and I just try to fall asleep so I can sleep my life away until the next day when I go to school.”
Josh went on to tell Jack what was going on with Jessee.
“He told me that Jessee wasn’t doing well in school so they beat him. He told me about the dog feces on the carpet and how they made them clean it with their toothbrushes.”
Jack realized that the aunt and uncle were on drugs as well. The boys told Jack that there were drugs all over the place, including heroin.
“There was always trouble. There was a big fight on the street. They picked up a sign and started swinging it (at each other). (There were) shootings, pills all over the street..literally thousands of them,” Jessee said. (The Blaze)
At 11-years old, Jessee also has a complete understanding as to what would have happened if Jack wasn’t in their lives at the right time.
(I would be) “one of those guys on the street — no job, no diploma or anything, asking for change and stuff.”
The Cop in Action
Jack started to formulate a plan to rescue the boys.
“He went on and broke down crying and I told him, ‘Just take care of your brother. Hang in there. You’ll hear from me. We’ll see what I can do.”
Losing faith in adults because of the environment he grew up in, Josh lost almost all hope, but he still trusted Jack.
Jack and the boys got the break they were looking for.
“Two weeks later I get a break,” Jack said. “The uncle got arrested for a car chase, fights with police, and drug possession. I was able to get a hearing in front of a judge and got an emergency order to have them placed with me.”
On February 5th, 2013, Jack Mook became a foster parent to Joshua and Jessee. Before any adoption proceeding would take place, Jack’s focus was to just get the boys out of that situation.
“When I first fostered them, what came to my mind then was that this is an emergency,” Jack said. “Just get them in my house and get them safe. I wanted to get used to each other, lay down the ground rules, and explain how things were going to be.”
It was at that point when the levity of the situation hit the new foster parent, and former bachelor.
“I started thinking, What do I do now on weekends? I’ve got two boys. How do I entertain them?”
Jack didn’t know what to do. He didn’t have the money for movies every Saturday night. What he knew he had to do was get the boys on medical and dental care right away.
Jack and the boys had six weeks before they had to appear before the family division Judge for a mandated check up by the state. The court’s purpose was to determine a long-term arrangement for the boys.
“I didn’t even hesitate,” Jack said. “I told them that I’d adopt them right away.”
In Pennsylvania, there are two different types of adoption. Jack was absolute in what he told the judge.
“Whichever one means that I’m in total, and I’m the legal father. That’s what I want!”
They started the process immediately. Jack went through parenting classes and background checks through the FBI. It doesn’t take Columbo to figure out that Jack passed with flying colors. His record was spotless.
What made the whole process easier was that Josh’s and Jessee’s parents signed over custody because they knew that is what was best for their boys. Fortunately, the aunt and uncle didn’t put up a fight either, despite Jack’s concerns that they might try to contest the adoption so they could procure the state welfare checks that would have come their way. In his interview with The Blaze, Jack spoke metaphorically about the culmination of the adoption process.
“When the judge signed the adoption papers, I understood why the Grinch got the big heart at the end of the movie,” Mook added with a smile. “That’s what I felt like. … Laughter, happiness, their faces are filled. They’re fed. They’re healthy boys.”
Moving On to a Better Life
The faith of the boys has strengthened as they have both been baptized Catholic and are in Catholic school in order to get the best education possible. One could not imagine such young guys, in those kinds of conditions finding God, but that’s exactly what happened.
Now that the boys were securely in the custody of their new dad, and were blessed with a new outlook on life, it was back to the gym.
Jack went on to explain why the sport of boxing was so different from the four major sports in the United States in how it provides a different kind of discipline and commitment for young kids such as Josh and Jessee.
“It’s like I have said to other people in the media,” Jack started. “People think of the four major sports and that’s all you play when you’re a young man. There’s not much fun in boxing; you’re getting punched in the face and punching someone else in the face. But it’s such a hard, rigorous workout, and you build such a strong camaraderie and brotherhood with each other that you have have this respect that we hold for each other that other people don’t know about. That’s what brought Josh, Jessee and me together.”
According to Jack, the bond that the three of them share is obvious since they are a family, but it’s also something that they all feel with their brothers at the gym.
“At Steel City Boxing, our mission is to build champions, but it’s more so the accountability, respect, and responsibility in our students that prepare them for life. That’s our mission from day one when they come into the gym.”
More than being proud of the sport and the gym, Jack has incredibly pride for his boys.
“These are remarkable young men,” Jack said. “When I hear them speak, I’m just overwhelmed by their interviews. Are there gaps in their hearts from what they have been cheated out of in life? There are. However, these two young men are more wise than most people in their 20s and 30s.”
Jack also spoke to what he thinks the future has in store for Josh and Jessee. Josh hopes to be able to go to West Point, follow in Jack’s footsteps and join the military.
“I know he’s going into the military. He’s going to be a great one,” Jack said.
Jessee recently got diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, but he’s got an incredible gift.
“He has some ailments to overcome,” Jack said. “But Jessee is such a teacher. He loves to teach. Whatever field he picks, he’s going to be an educator in that field. I guarantee it!”
As for the inside the boxing ring, the boys have excelled there, too. Both won their region (Western PA.) in 2014 and are going on to the state championships.
Josh is one that Jack feels could advance pretty far in the sport.
“Look for Josh. He is big time!”
Jack believes that Josh will be in the Olympic tryouts and quite possibly, the actual Olympics in either 2018 or 2022. In March, He will compete in the local Golden Gloves tournaments, but can’t compete at the state level until he’s 17.
Here’s the really exciting news for the kids of Steel City Boxing: On St. Patrick’s Day, an amateur team of champions from Dublin, Ireland is traveling to Pittsburgh for a tournament called, The Donnybrook. There, they will take on Pittsburgh’s amateur champions in 11-15 fights, in all weight classes. Josh Mook will be on the card in the 125lb division. In turn, on Independence Day, the Western PA. fighters have been invited to Ireland for a Dublin Donnybrook.
Purpose 2 Play plans on being in attendance to cover the Pittsburgh event, so stay tuned for updates.
Jack Mook may “take care of someone else’s kids” but they are his more and more each day.