I just finished writing a letter (the old-fashioned pen-and-ink kind) to a man who is about as different from me as two people can be. He got involved with drugs at a young age and began hanging with the wrong crowd. He got addicted to meth and no matter how hard he tried he could not beat the addiction for long.
He is a rule breaker and kept thinking he’d be able to beat the system. And he often did—for awhile. He became a bodyguard—they call the job personal security now—and was a very intimidating and effective one at that.
He is a BIG man. His neck is quite a bit wider than his very wide head, and he is built like the stump of a very large redwood tree.
Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to meet someone that looked like him in a dark alley—even with two or three of my friends. He could easily break me in half with his two huge hands.
He has done things that I would never dream of doing. Society fears him and rightly so.
I first met him about 8 years ago in a group exercise in a weekend process with a group of men who were working on ourselves to become the kind of men we always wanted to be. The group was quite diverse and from all walks of life. Still, this big hulk of a man with the very intimidating exterior stood out.
But it wasn’t his exterior appearance that struck me. His eyes told me about his heart and spirit. I could tell even then that trapped inside him was also a very different person than he allowed most of the world to see.
We spoke a little one-on-one that weekend. He’d spent most of his adulthood behind bars and was trying hard to kick the drugs and stay out of trouble. He could tell immediately that my view of life and way of living was very different than his.
One day several months later he called and said he’d like to meet with me. When I arrived, he handed to me a thick and heavy file folder crammed full of official documents. As he did, he said that he’d never shown these files to anyone but he wanted me to know everything he’d done, and he wanted me to hear it directly from the prosecutors themselves.
Inside were copies of the trials and of his many convictions–including one for attempted murder on a police officer. He asked me to read it. I said I didn’t need to do that because I already knew the man he was—the good and the parts he wasn’t proud of. He pleaded with me to read it anyway.
I took the file home and it took a long time to get through. He had indeed done many bad things and several violent ones too, but he never had committed a crime with a gun and it was not him who had fired at the police officers. I’m not making excuses for him–he was in the car when the shots were fired and that’s good enough for a conviction. In fact, he was the driver of the car and when a motorcycle cop tried to pull him over he did so and raised his hands. Unfortunately, his passenger was a wanted drug dealer and pulled out a gun and started shooting at the cops and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t speed away. They were caught. And convicted.
When I handed the file back to him, I thanked him for honoring me by sharing it and said that it changed nothing in my mind about him.
Several months went by. He worked hard to stay off the drugs, keep a job, and stay out of trouble.
About once per year my men’s group selects a new leader. The night a new one was to be selected, and just as the process was about to begin, he stepped into our circle. Everyone stopped and turned toward him.
He pointed at me and said words that sent a chill down my spine:
“I would take a bullet for that man.”
There was deathly silence. No one doubted his words. The shock and surprise was palpable. No one was more shocked or surprised than I.
I just stood there, not knowing what to say or how to respond.
I’ll never forget that moment.
A few hours later I was selected as the leader of our men’s group.
He is a creative man and an amazing artist. He lovingly landscaped the yards of the home he and his girlfriend lived in.
His girlfriend, my Beloved, he, and I all became friends.
He got a job in the trades and worked very hard to keep it. He even was named foreman on a sizable project.
He and I actually didn’t see each other all that much one-on-one. When we were together we were such different people and had such different interests that we quickly ran out of things to talk about.
But we had an unspoken and unbreakable bond between us.
He once told me that every night he had a nightmare. And it is always the same. In it, he’s walking along a street and sees a big dark deep hole in front of him. He tries to avoid it but no matter what he does he falls into it. Panicked, he throws his arms out to stop his fall, scratching desperately with his fingers to pull himself up and out, until his fingernails and fingers are shredded, but still—-and always—-the hole swallows him.
He occasionally brought up “what ifs”. It was important to him that if he again got beaten by his meth addiction that he not in any way drag me down with him.
He knew that in my profession reputation is everything, and he knew and loved my family and didn’t want anything he did to hurt any of us.
I thanked him for his concern and laid out ground rules. I said that if he slipped and the cops were after him that he was not to contact my family or come to my house. That I wouldn’t hide him if he was on the lam because I’d worked my whole life to stay on the right side of the law and I would not put my family or myself at risk to protect him if the cops were after him.
He looked me in the eyes and agreed to the terms of our friendship. I could tell that he was taking a sacred vow that he would die before breaking.
We both knew that the cops would use a lot of force to take him down and based on his “priors” had good reason to fear him. I did say that if he called me I’d try to arrange a surrender in such a way that he’d be unharmed if I could do so. Other than that, I made no promises to him nor did he expect any.
Some months later, the drugs got the best of him. He ran out of money and began breaking the law again. He almost got caught and was identified at the scene of a crime, and was on the run for several days, breaking more laws along the way.
Although he lived about 35 minutes drive away from me, he got caught just two blocks from my home where he’d apparently been holed up for quite awhile. I believe that he wanted to be close but refused to break his pledge to me and put my family at risk.
He had to be taken to a hospital from the wounds the police batons and police dog inflicted on him when he was arrested. His head still has huge and ugly scars from the incident.
The legal proceedings lasted for about two years. I visited him in jail, and we wrote letters to each other. I was at all but one of his many court proceedings in the various jurisdictions—-and would have been at that one but his mom had forgotten to tell me about it.
I sure got an eyeful of the justice system and how it can be manipulated. The system bent over backwards to be fair and just.
He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
And if I hadn’t known him and had been on the jury I would have convicted him too.
He was moved to a prison quite far away, and a number of years have gone by, but I still write to him.
Although it has never been discussed, he and I both know that I always will.
That’s the least I can do for a man who would take a bullet for me.