“Something told me to come out of my house,” he said. “And because I did, I lived.”
My heart sank as I listened to my big brother talk about how, at that moment, two men were coming at him with padlocks in socks. How one split second decision to walk out of his ‘house’ ensured he would live. Everyone knows if you get caught in your house in a case like this, you’re a dead man.
You see, my brother’s ‘house’ as he described it at the time, was a 10×10 cell. A place he had called home for nearly 20 years.
It’s a place where prisoners sleep and live their days. It’s a place where deals are made, respect is garnered, and sometimes lives are lost.
If he had been caught unaware, they would have had him. He would not have survived the beating, because there is literally no way to maneuver your way out of it. Even if you did fight back, you need the space to move away from the blows which you don’t have in your cell.
His instincts, a guardian angel, God…something saved him from that fate. And, I believe it’s because there are more chapters to write in his life story, and some good ones, at that.
My brother went to prison young and in that time he joined a gang. Gangs are just one of the ways to survive in prison. You get protection, community and clout. All of which my brother needed when he entered, to survive life inside.
At some point, they started asking more of him than the day-to-day store running that he was so good at, and he just couldn’t be that person. You can infer what these new ‘asks’ were, just as I did. Knowing my brother like I do, violence is not his deal. So, he managed to negotiate his release from the gang without the traditional ‘beat out’. But, deep down, he knew he would always have to be alert. It’s that knowing that played a role in his instincts that day.
The men who came for him were what they call ‘youngsters’. He had largely been left alone up until this point, because, as he told it, he had earned enough respect for how he operated while in the gang. Of course, that loyalty and respect only lasted for so long. When someone needs to make a name for themselves in this community, they come after traitors like my brother.
And, so he faced that incoming danger and thankfully, survived.
No one called me after this happened.
I couldn’t understand why the hell I wasn’t on his call list after he was hospitalized. He had bled out because his skull was opened up, there had padlock marks all over his body – it was a grim scene.
“You would not have been allowed to see me,” he continued, “and flying out from where you were would have been all for nothing. And besides…. I survived.”
I knew why no one called me. He was protecting me. It’s his way.
He knows that I feel with every inch of me, the pain of those I love affects me in a profound way. So, they didn’t call me. He didn’t call me. In fact, I didn’t find out until I actually saw him in person a good while after, all healed up. I wouldn’t have known a thing had he not pointed out the new scar near his temple.
We’ve had this discussion a couple of times since then, and I know he’s right. But, the thought that he was completely alone, without support through that time kills me. The thought that I could have lost him without really ever seeing him again was devastating.
But, he’s part of a discarded community, right?
He walked himself into his own circumstances, deserved it even?
What the public does not care to see is there are people in prison working really hard to make their lives right. They are serving their time respectfully, with humility, and with the understanding that this is their penance for bad choices. They make the best of their circumstances with the hopes they’ll get another chance to make a go at their life outside of those walls.
And, isn’t that the point?
At the time of the beating, he was well on his way to turning his life around. The first step was walking away from the gang. He started to put his head down, focus on individual goals he set for himself, excelling at any opportunity they offered him for work and education. Every job he took, he looked at how he could maximize the experience and ensure that department did well. He became certified in computer networking, a class that 100 inmates applied for and only a handful managed to get into and pass with full certification. He received an ‘A’ in both courses and his certification.
My brother has changed his perspective on the hustle that helped him survive in his younger years – one that helped him deal with the struggle and neglect of our childhood. He realized that all of those years breaking into homes and stealing got him nothing but lower in life. He felt immense responsibility, and so much guilt for the family that was home the night one of his co-defendants broke-in as he played lookout in a vehicle outside. It was a robbery that went completely wrong. Their usual practice was to enter a home that they confirmed had no one home. Lights out, no car in the driveway, and they would knock on the door to make sure. In this case, the family was sleeping early, so their lights were all out. Their cars were in the garage. And, they didn’t answer the door in time because they were exhausted new parents. As my brother sat outside waiting, his co-defendant came upon the homeowners inside, and in that moment, instead of running, his co-defendant chose to shoot at them and one was hit in the arm. Everyone lived, but a part of each person died that night.
My brother wasn’t the trigger man, but he played a role in the events that played out and wrecked that family’s sense of safety and well being. Ultimately, he was equally responsible and he knows it. I know this because of the discussions we’ve had since that time. After I had kids, this resonated with him even more. He realized how easily that could have been my family. It caused him a lot of pain, and rightfully so. The actions of he and his co-defendant took something from that family they will never get back.
He knew he deserved to serve time.
He owned that time.
He made the best of that time because that’s the least he could do after his bad choices.
My brother’s house served to teach him about resilience, survival, growth and maturity. He went in as a punk kid at 19 and left a 39 year-old man, completely re-shaped.
His house changed him. It made him wiser, surprisingly calmer, and more patient. Ultimately, the hardship of serving time made him better than he might have been otherwise.
Are all inmates like him? Sadly, no.
Do they all have the potential to turn their lives around? I believe so, but that is certainly on each individual.
My brother was released this Fall. I am pretty sure he didn’t quite know what to do with me that day in the parking lot when I ran into his arms and cried a waterfall of tears as he walked out a free man. To see him enjoy little things like a really nice hotel pillow, FaceTime with my kids and an afternoon of fishing was such a gift after so many years.
Since his release he has worked hard every. single. day.
Since leaving his ‘house’ he has taken steps to contribute and move ahead in a positive way. He has experienced many ‘no’s but keeps moving forward and looking for the path that will work for him. He isn’t angry, he doesn’t play the victim, he gets it. It hurts him, of course, those ‘no’s’ because he knows where his intentions lie. But, he has stayed the course and kept his head up. He has his family behind him, and he has maintained hope that it will all come together in the end.
It’s been nearly four months since his release and he recently became employed full-time. A huge milestone. He interviewed for a factory job, and in that process, managed to move himself out of the entry level position he applied for, and into a position with more responsibility. They could see he was capable of more and they are giving him that chance.
My brother is a smart man. His intuitive nature, ability to retain and apply new knowledge and simply persevere makes me so proud. I am SO proud of the person he has become and I’m genuinely hopeful for his future. I am so proud to be his sister.
I will not discard him.
I will not dismiss his potential to do better because I know it’s within his reach.
I celebrate his strength, his humility, and his growth to date.
I choose hope over cynicism because over the years, he has shown me that he is worth that hope.
I encourage those of you who have never served along side your family member to be open to seeing each individual person who has served time as just that, individual. I implore you to look beyond the black and white of their crimes and sentences and consider that it’s possible they can learn, grow and do the right thing, even after a monumental mistake.
I hope you’ll consider that some prisoners are worthy of forgiveness because they have not only served their time, but because they have done the hard work on themselves along the way.
If you know me and you love me, I ask that you will consider offering my brother that grace at some point in time. We both get that’s it not a given. But, I can promise you he’s worth it. He’s worth your good wishes, your prayers and hope. He’s worth your consideration and even your friendship, should you choose to offer it to him.
Ultimately, it is your choice. Neither of us will be angry if you can’t do it. We get it. But, it is my hope, that through his example, you’ll see that not all who have made decisions that led to prison are beyond hope.
Look at each individual.
There are some worthy of grace, and my brother is one of them.
Note from the author: My brother has given me permission to share his story on my blog. He knows that there are lessons in his story and he is driven to not become a statistic and live his life as a positive contributor to the world. He’s well on his way.