The story I'm about to tell you is true. It took 20 years to live and about ten or fifteen minutes to retell. It was one of the most gut wrenching and agonizing things I have ever listened to. I am going to try to explain it here and tell you in advance that it has a happy ending. For me, it was like God himself whacked me over the head with a two by four. If that in fact happened, my thanks go out to him or her, whatever the case might be.
In late 2007, I was undergoing a vast paradigm shift and just beginning to question my own flawed belief systems. I was sober, rational, and aware. Present and available in every possible sense of those two words. I had been a police officer all of my life. I had met a man that had been a "criminal" all of his life. I remember him well, his identity is not important but his story is too important to be forgotten. Our paths crossed in New Orleans.
Allen had grown up in a terribly dysfunctional and alcoholic home. He had watched his parents drink, drug, cheat on each other, argue, and fight. As a child he was hostage to this madness and powerless to intervene or stop it. He acquired belief systems that allowed him to survive. Merely survive. By his late teens he was fully engaged in all of the madness that he had watched his parents engage in. That was his reality. He accepted that as true. As he grew into a young man like most drug addicts, he began to sell dope and sleep with women who also used alcohol and dope to escape their realities. He was an alcoholic. To that end one of those women Allen saw became pregnant. It does not take much to bring a life into the world and so it was.
Allen continued to drink and drug with the mother of his child, to sleep with other women, and she in turn slept with other men. They argued and fought verbally and physically. They dealt and used dope in front of their son-enmeshing him in all of the dysfunction that was their lives. They abandoned that son emotionally, physically, and spiritually while engaged in the beliefs that this was simply how you lived. Justifying their existence as normal, plagued with issues of self esteem, this then was their belief systems. They were never able to recognize that collective ego nor did they have the tools or capacity to stop.
Allen's son became a drug addict and alcoholic as well. That is what he learned. Allen at some point, had enough and he found a bottom or he picked one. He got sober and aware. He became conscious and rational. He began sifting through the wreckage of his life. He began to accept the bad beliefs he received as a child and he forgave his parents as ill equipped. He began to accept responsibility for his own life and what he had done to his son. He had been sober a few years when his son landed in jail.
Allen's son, in a drug and alcohol crazed robbery, had entered the business he had just been fired from. Armed with a gun he had attempted to rob his previous employer, shooting up the place but thankfully not injuring or killing anyone. Clearly it was the only small victory for a staff of people traumatized by the whole episode. Allen's son was arrested the following day and had been sitting in jail for nearly a year. His sentencing in that neighboring state would occur in a couple of weeks. The prosecution had recommended 25 years.
As Allen told this story he began to cry. Sober now, he fully realized what he had done to his son during all of those years of drinking and drugging and I cannot fully capture the agony and despair in his voice. It was absolutely gut wrenching.
There was one old cop listening that night. A cop that had rigorously enforced the law and sought to put every "criminal" behind bars. A cop that aligned his belief system only for the sake of victims. A cop that believed criminals should be shown no mercy, a cop that didn't really understand why people behaved the way they did. Nor did he ever bother thinking about it. It would have been a tremendous loss had that cop never heard that story. Because in that instant, I realized that Allen's son was also a victim. An alcoholic and drug addict completely self absorbed by a belief system and ego laced with booze and drugs that said that this is acceptable behavior and he robbed that store. I realized in that moment there was no such thing as a "criminal." These were real people rather than some nameless and faceless booking number. There were simply millions of people that we label and judge as such. As I pondered all of this, I acquired a belief that virtually nobody is born with a bad heart. That these people are all created as a result of fear, bad belief systems, and a warped ego that really didn't know right from wrong.
In the days that followed I couldn't get Allen or his son out of my mind. I couldn't escape the truth that I had never really bothered to understand people like Allen's son. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that allowed me to perform my job without involving me emotionally. Perhaps that allowed me to be more effective. I couldn't help but replay all of the "criminals" I had arrested and think about them. The more I did this, the more the truth became inescapable. It was as though I had been robbed of my innocence and I suddenly realized that I would never see people the same way again. I am grateful for that.
Perhaps we don't really understand people like Allen's son and we don't really want to. All we have seen is shadows. All we see is some drug crazed kid shooting up a joint and we focus all of our attention on that brief act. But inside that kid was a 20 year old piece of videotape we would never have wanted to see. To see it might cause empathy or distraction. We would become fully exposed, lose our innocence, perhaps our sense of justice. See a little boy, by himself, watching his parents fight. Scared and alone. People would call us weak or liberal-label us. We fear for ourselves. It is simpler not to know any of that and there is always someone to tell us it's not relevant to the criminal act and so we hide from it rather than get judged as sympathetic or insensitive to the victims we represent.
About a week later, I saw Allen. He was going to his son's sentencing. I asked him what he was going to do. He said that he was going to get on that witness stand and tell the world what a horrible drug dealing and miserable father he had been. How he had imprinted his child with the belief systems he had employed and what he had done to his son. That he had poorly equipped his son. He did that. He told his whole story.
The truth set Allen free. After 20 years, he finally stood up for his son. And you know what, that Judge set his son free. Gave him probation and released him to the custody of his father. I don't know if there were any angry robbery victims in the court room that day. Instead of taking 25 years of his life, that judge gave a wounded kid back his life. The judge gave a wounded father back his life also. Man, what a happy beginning. I hope they write a happy ending.