““Homelessness is like attending your own funeral every day."
What is real about a story? It’s a simple answer. Everything. There is nothing real, nothing we can make any sense out of, that is not the beginning, middle, or end of a story. And the same is true about a person. Anything that could be defined as “real” about a person gets its realness by fitting into place and time. “Place and time” is just another way of saying “story.” That’s what a storyteller does. You know you are about to hear a story when they say, “Once upon a time, in a faraway land…” Everything we do is some mix of interweaving stories about who and
what we are. Everything. A good way to get a grip on this is to look at the difference between a job and a career. When you are at a job, you are mostly playing a bit role in someone else’s story. And when I say “someone else” that could be one individual pulling all the strings, or it could be a larger group of someone's. It could even be a person long dead, their ghost wandering the halls of the company, making certain all of the employees are still playing their roles. A career is your story, or at least more so. You aren’t there solely for the paycheck. You are carrying out a dream, or a plan. You are not a machine carrying out orders.
I have lived a different kind of a story from you. You know about the roles I have played, though I sincerely hope you’ve never had to play them yourself. I got to know about the importance of story very well in Texas prisons. I got to know the story of the law, which happens to be what I am studying on college now. I got to see first-hand what happens when you have a story that people don’t know how to believe. Here, I’ll try it on you: I was arrested at the age of 20 for delivery of a controlled substance when I had never once in my life sold any drugs. Read that again. If I ever tried to sell any drugs, I’d have gotten myself killed or robbed. I was a user, a kid, badly in need of something or someone to help me stay out of trouble. What I got was the opposite. Shortly thereafter, I learned about what it’s like to live in a cage with damaged people living destructive stories. It was hell, but only a beginning.
Next part of this story- I was arrested at the age of 35 for Burglary of a Habitation when I had never burglarized anything in my life. Read that again. Because I thought for sure a jury would not convict me of something I didn’t do, I asked for a jury trial. I sat in Dallas County Jail awaiting trial for 14 months, and during that time my court appointed attorney came to visit me three times. His name was Patrick. He didn’t believe me, nor did he seem to care. I told him I had a problem with drugs, and he told me that I should never say that. Mentally and physically
broken, I felt utterly helpless. But I held on to one thing- I didn’t commit burglary, so this has to work out eventually. It has to. My faith was weak at this time, but I prayed.
The jury convicted me. Usually they punish people who take their cases to trial. This is not a theory, it’s called the trial penalty. I’m certain the judge knew I wasn’t guilty, that I was no criminal. He knew I was just another guy with a chronic drug problem, lost in the system.
The prosecutor’s recommendation was 12 years. The day of my arrest was one of the most horrifying of my life. It inconvenienced a couple of other people, one in particular. 12 years. Thank God, we went to the judge for punishment. At first he said I was to get 2 years. That would have meant I’d get out that week. I’d already done 14 months, I was already eligible for parole. The prosecutor reminded the judge that he had allowed them to enhance the case to first degree based on, you guessed it, delivery of controlled substance. I was arrested for
that “crime” in 1996. But since they gave me probation that I couldn’t make because I was addicted to opioids, and kept sending me to these horror shows called “therapeutic communities,” I didn’t go to prison for the charge until 2000, release in 2001. The day of my arrest for burglary happened in 2011. So by their estimations, 10 years. Except somehow I was a 20 year old troubled kid when the first thing happened, and 35 on that terrible day. Regardless, what it meant for me was that even if I was guilty as sin (which I am not), for the crime I was charged with, normally the punishment range would be 2-20 years. And before he was reminded by the prosecution that the charges were enhanced, he gave me the minimum for a case I TOOK TO JURY TRIAL. He still gave me the minimum, which was 5 years. I was sitting there facing a punishment range of 5-99 years for a charge for which I could have gone home on probation.
Maybe you believe something like that couldn’t happen to the grandson of a Texas Police Chief (he was retired in the first instance, and had passed on in the second) , or a white man, or at all. Maybe you believe I must have deserved all this prison and alienation and damage to my reputation forever, which in time led to more self-destruction and eventually homelessness. If so, I would ask that you reach out to me personally and make your
judgements after getting to know me.
Because I am a real person with a REAL STORY. And just like I know that you would not allow a major misjudgment on your character to pass if you had the means to fight it, I will not either. I am holding to a concept that is related to story, a concept our society seems to be losing its grip on: the TRUTH. And for me, the truth is that I am a good and decent, Godfearing man who came from a badly broken home and fell into the opioid trap at the age of 17. A man who deserves a chance.
And I promise, if I ever get that chance I will use it to help others whose stories I now understand far better than most. When I see someone who is suffering, clinging to a truth no one else can believe, I will be the one to believe them. Because I happened to have learned the difference between the truth and bullshit. For the most part, anyway. A psychopath with a good poker face can catch anybody unawares.
Till then, I will keep writing, working hard at becoming a lawyer (I made the Provost List at Troy University this term!), being proud of my daughter, and singing and playing music. I hope I see you along the way, and we get to chew the gristle.