Sentenced to Life Story
All Rights Reserved.
Third time headed for the big house. First stint was a three-year stretch for armed robbery, five months shy of losing the five letter cushion known as minor but close enough for the DA to ignore it and charge me as an adult.
Second time I rolled a deuce, again taking from others ending up taking me upstate, iron and cement starting to feel more like home than the projects I was born and raised in.
Not that I like having my freedom taken away. Who does? Told what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Like growing up all over again, but this time with the mark of felon forever attached to your name.
Waddling into the courtroom in chains and cuffs I wondered when I’d ever be able to eat at Burger King again, my public defender urging me to plead out (don’t they always) giving me the wishful thought of negotiating a whopper with cheese.
Given my third offense he said I was looking at ten years, getting out by thirty if I was a good boy. Yeah, right. You try and be a good boy and stick to yourself and you’d be wishing for the comfort of waddling in chains and cuffs, your ass so far rammed up your stomach you be weeble wobbling all over the prison yard.
And so I planned to just nod my way through sentencing, hoping they wouldn’t forget my lunch before sending me up on that long bus ride to the animal house.
With ‘all rise’ a judge I had never seen before entered the courtroom. He looked middle-aged, still quite young in the face but a head full of white hair, like life had chewed him up and spit him out more times than your average gavel master.
After looking over my paperwork and going over the formalities I thought we’d be on our way, but he surprised the shit out of me by asking me a personal question.
“What are you getting out of it?”
Thrown off, I looked to my public defender, who just had a stupid look on his face, so I responded like a dumbass. “Your Honor?”
“You think it’s easier to take instead of earn, yet you still end up getting locked up and having to pay with years you’ll never get back. What are you getting out of it? And don’t give me any sob story about not being able to find decent work. I was still slinging burgers when I was your age.”
“I don’t know, Your Honor. Guess I don’t got the discipline you do.”
“That’s probably the most honest thing you’ve ever said in your whole life.”
He looked down at his paperwork one more time.
“You have a couple of years of high school under your belt, so you know how to read, right?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“You believe in opportunity?”
“I believe I’ve never had one.”
“What did I say? No sob stories in my court room. Your choices have led you here today. Simple. Period.”
Great I thought to myself, here comes the hard-ass.
“You ever read a book outside of school?”
“You mean when it wasn’t for homework?”
“Once. When I was in elementary.”
“If I go ahead and give you the expected sentence you’ll be out by the time you’re thirty, if you’re lucky. I’d be willing to take off two thirds of that time if you read my book.”
Did he just say my book?
“How much time will that leave you with?”
Even more of a dumbass, I just stared ahead, cockeyed.
“Don’t worry, I’m not good at math either. You read my autobiography and write up a full book report on it and you do three years instead of six, granted you don’t screw up along the way. You game?”
I was only joking about the whole negotiating a whopper cheese, but damn, here I was making a deal for half my time just to read a damn book!
“Yes, Your Honor.”
And with that the gavel came down, I was served my semi-warm state food and sent on up to the state prison.
A copy of the judge’s book was already waiting for me on the top bunk when I entered my cell. It looked pretty damn thick, and when I flipped it over and saw the last page had six hundred ninety-seven on it I suddenly felt lazy. Maybe I’d tell them just take it away. To just forget about it and give me those three extra years instead. After all, it wasn’t like this was my first time behind bars. Three square meals a day, herded around like a sheep. Not that bad.
But then there’s the constant watching of your back.
I’d keep the book.
By day two I was already deep into chapter seven, preferring to be in my cell flipping pages over the ego-pumping and down-low scheming that was happening out there on the yard. I still had to keep up appearances of course, but yeah, Your Honor, which I now mentally started referring to him as since our dealmaking back in his courtroom, was on my mind more times than not. I mean this guy had it rough from the start, just like I had had. But his determination, it was like something out of a movie.
Another couple of days and I was halfway through, wishing the book was as long as my three year sentence so I could be on Your Honor’s journey throughout.
Despite trying to slow myself down I was finished reading by the end of my first week back in cement. Damn, Your Honor was a real life Forest Gump. He had been the definition of perseverance. The poster child of having been dealt a shit hand. He turned his health problems into marathons of endurance. Poverty into determination. Life experience into actual wisdom.
I was… Changed.
I couldn’t wait to write the book report, but every time I’d try objectively it would just turn into something more personal, like I was writing a letter to him. And so I just gave up on fighting it, telling Your Honor I was sorry for the informal writing but couldn’t help myself. I then went on and wrote twenty pages, forty really, since they were back to back, detailing how impressed I had been, how moved, how thankful, ending with…
Your Honor, it was my honor to have read your amazing life story. No one has ever taken the time to actually give me an opportunity, at least not that I know of. I know, no sob stories, sorry. I just want to say learning from your diverse life has given me a new perspective on who I am, where I am, what I want to do with my life. All I can really say is thank you. I’ll never forget.
I finished out my time well on my way to earning a degree in library science, my experience with Your Honor’s autobiography opening my eyes up to how much stories can change lives. With each passing day I filled my mind with thousands of words, some which took me far beyond these cold walls of penitentiary, others taking me to more inner depths like Your Honor’s had done.
Being a librarian, I see it is a privilege, to help others find just the right story at just the right time. Your Honor says he’s proud of me, and every now and then I still receive a handwritten note from him reminding me of such.
The book itself, the one he gave me which ended up changing my life, that one of course sits in a place of honor in a home I’ve managed to keep since. One that is void of cement, poisoned perspective, and a life of taking what has not been earned. It’s a home I never dared of even dreaming about before meeting Your Honor, and one I continue to build upon after learning his life lessons.
And so I continue to earn this new life of mine, for as Your Honor would put it, ‘The rent is due every day.”