A Tale of Two Felons
A few years ago, my next-door neighbor, Mark, decided to buy another house and rent the one by us. After a few months of living next to an empty house, Mark finally found a renter, Tom. From day one, Tom was a great neighbor and we became friends. We would watch his two little dogs when he was out of town. He would drop stuff off for the kids from time to time. We had some great talks in one garage or another. The only thing my wife and I worried about was when Tom would someday move, since he was just renting. That day came 3 weeks ago and now the house next door is empty again except for the visits from Mark’s handy man Lonnie, who can’t fix a fence to save his life. Just sayin’.
Tom moved over to Fort Worth near 7th and University. He loves that part of town so even though he had a falling out with Mark (because Mark is a tightwad, but that is a story for another time) he was ecstatic about making the move to his favorite area. We will still keep in touch and maybe grab a meal or a drink from time to time but I will miss him as a neighbor.
Tom used to live in Houston many years ago. He led successful but very busy life. He was married and had 3 kids; 2 boys and a girl. All his kids are adults now and Tom is single. He is really enjoying his single life. But 20 years ago, Tom was a regional manager for a national athletic store. He also spent an enormous time as an umpire for AAA baseball. When he wasn’t umpiring, he helped develop and run competitive youth baseball leagues. Tom knew everyone in the baseball world in Houston and he loved what he did. He went to church Sundays with his family and had a great life, almost. You see, Tom was over-committed. He didn’t have enough time for all the components of his life. He was out of balance. Tom started to develop anxiety and depression which slowed him down in an already taxing life schedule. He started to drink alcohol more and offset that with energy drinks and coffee. As things started to get tense at home, Tom started unravel even more from the mounting pressure. One night, he was out for drinks and a friend (drinking friend) offered to let Tom try meth. Tom was feeling desperate and suffering depression so he thought, how could it hurt?
In an extremely short period of time, Tom became addicted and as he put it, “I lived for meth and nothing else.” He lost his job, his standing in baseball, and he lost his marriage. After that, he became homeless and wound up in prison on drug related felonies. His life was over. Tom attempted suicide 3 times in prison. Once he got out, he was still homeless and he returned to drugs. He ate from a dumpster behind the Four Seasons hotel in Houston. Conveniently, that is also where he slept. Tom had no future, no present, and the past was nothing but shame. Meth had taken everything away. He remembers many days just walking around thinking of ways to end his life. He said he was arrested again and from there, he somehow managed to get into a drug rehab center.
Tom finally got clean and started learning how to stay clean. He lived in a halfway house for awhile until he could find work. Slowly, he started building his life back from the ruins and learned how to maintain balance. Tom is now self-employed for the last 10 years. He remains clean, keeps himself healthy and minimized any activity that would put him at risk. If he goes out, he is always home before dark. His business is thriving and so he can afford to do some getaways. He likes going to Vegas and Miami. I was surprised thinking he might have extra temptations in both of those cities. He told me that he does still like to have a drink or two but never never anything else. Tom has managed to repair his damaged relationships with both his adult sons. He reaches out to his daughter on a regular basis but she still won’t return emails or calls. Nevertheless, Tom keeps sending her updates and greetings. Tom is somewhat selective about who he shares his story with. He does have a kind and giving heart. He has helped many people who have dealt with setbacks in their lives, including addiction. But he is cautious about who and where he shares his story because he now has contractors and employees to think about and would never allow his personal story to compromise the company. Not all customers will see his story as one of redemption but rather they would just see a felon. That is not the kind of thing that looks good on a Google review. This is also why I am not giving to many details.
I can tell you that once every month or two, Tom goes to the Four Seasons in Houston and always books a room that looks down on the alley where he ate and slept by that dumpster. It helps remind him of all that he lost when meth took over his life. He said it also reminds him how far he has come and to remember that there were people along his path that helped get him back. Looking down at that dumpster reminds Tom that his success now isn’t of any real value in life unless he can help others. Tom is a Kindness Warrior now. He has a mindset that keeps him looking for ways to help anyone and everyone. He jokingly said that this approach hasn’t always worked well in his dating life. He has met a few women that really took advantage of his generosity and willingness to help. He is trying not to use “fix you” as dating criteria moving forward. He says he doesn’t want to remarry and that he does really enjoy his bachelor life. He also knows that he blew a marriage to a woman he truly loved and cared for, and he never wants to be in that situation again. She remarried a few years after she and Tom were divorced, while Tom was in prison, I think.
I met John at Lowe’s, where I currently work. He had just been hired on as a part-time stocker. John is about 6 ft 2, and has a kind of rough look about him. But when he talks, he can be pretty friendly. John and I hit it off pretty well and he was well liked as a hard worker by his supervisor. Unfortunately, after only 2 and a half weeks, John was terminated because he failed the background check. See, John is a felon. He has been in prison twice. And he had only been out about 2 months when he started working at Lowe’s. Before that he was working at Jack-n-the-Box making minimum wage.
John had started going to school to become an HVAC technician. He lived in a two-story house off Brentwood Stair and Sandy lane in Fort Worth. This was a halfway house for men. He didn’t have a car when I met him, so he walked, caught the bus, and occasionally got a ride from a coworker. My shift ended the same time his did so I took him home a few times. I continued to be friends with him after Lowe’s let him go and would give him rides to school as well. I figured this guy was really trying to better himself, so who am I to say no to a ride request.
First, let me say that John didn’t lie on his application. He filled out everything properly and as he was told to do. He was given the idea that he could be hired with his record. Apparently, there are some specific stipulations that disqualified him. He went back to work at Jack-in-the-Box. John was disappointed but undeterred. He knew he had an uphill battle. But he felt like he was doing quite well compared to his previous life. And so, for a couple of months he went to school and worked at JITB.
John is 41. As I said earlier, he has a kind of rough look about him. Sometimes when he is animated, he gets this kinda crazy eye look. We laugh about it but if you didn’t know him, yeah, it could be kinda scary. He has some teeth missing on the right side of his mouth because he got shot. He still has some bullet fragments in his head. John keeps the x-ray images on his phone like a war wound. He doesn’t have an education beyond high school and his home life was kinda rough. His parents fought all the time and both liked to drink. So, he spent a lot of time outside with other kids who had similar homes. John had a temper, no real foundation, and became influenced by the wrong people (my words, not his). John assumes responsibility for all aspects of his life. But back then, he didn’t and he became a criminal. He was a thief and a robber. In his words, “I didn’t care who you were. I would hold a gun to your head and take your money. And if you looked at me the wrong way, I might beat you. I didn’t give a fuck. And I was usually drunk or high when I did it.”
John was in his mid-twenties when he finally got caught on something bad enough to put him away for years. He continued to have an angry heart in prison and got into many fights. Before he was arrested, John had amassed a number of misdemeanors and fathered 2 girls who he had no real relationship with. It was in prison where he started learning how to control his anger and start taking responsibility for his actions. He began to communicate with his baby’s momma and his daughters. When he got out of prison, he visited his daughters but didn’t quite step into the dad role. There were still some wicked turns coming that John didn’t see.
After getting out of prison, John was surprised when his father asked him to come live with him. His parents got divorced while John was away. So, John took him up on it. He said he thought maybe his father was different now that his parents had split up. John laughed when he was telling me about his parent splitting up because they were living just down the street from each other. But he hadn’t really changed and he and John began arguing all the time. John was working at a place in Marshall, TX close enough to his Dad’s place, he could walk home at night. He developed a little routine so he could delay getting back to his dad’s place and minimize any interaction. After work he would stop by a nearby convenience store and buy some beer and cigarettes. He said he would enjoy walking down the dark road by himself, drinking his beer and smoking his cigarettes. It was the only time in his day he didn’t feel hassled by someone else.
John’s mother would often drop by his dad’s place to check on him (dad) but they always bickered about something. One night, right after john got home and had argued with his father, his mother dropped by like she does and she got into a really bad fight with Dad. John decided to intervene and his father immediately threw John out telling him he wasn’t welcome there anymore. His mother let John come stay with her. Now about this time, John lost his job. So, while he was with his mom, he spent some time looking for work and occasionally did some things on the side to make some cash, which he promptly spent on beer and cigarettes. He was growing desperate and hopeless. John didn’t have any real plans or ideas for the future and he had little to no resources. One night, a guy he used to work with but now would drink with, offered a very drunk and depressed John some meth. John had never tried it before but knew that it was a dangerous drug. But the state he was in, he just wanted to escape, even for a little bit. John said it was like nothing he had ever experienced. He said his mom found him on the back porch surrounded by empty beer cans and cigarette butts. She threw John out. It was a short trip to addiction to meth after that for John. Which meant, he needed money for drugs. He didn’t really get a chance to steal any because he failed his drug screening at his parole officer check in. And guess what, he went back to prison.
Once again, John got clean and prepared to have another go at life. This time when he got out, He chose to go to the halfway house and not depend on his parents or anyone else. John had turned the corner and began to feel like things were finally going his way. He even got engaged! John made a few visits out to Marshall to see his daughters. One of those times was to see his oldest daughter graduate high school. Things seemed to be getting better.
John didn’t much care for working at JITB. He worked with a bunch of kids who would goof off, call in sick all the time, quit with no notice, etc. John had developed a work ethic of getting the job done and being reliable, which he was while he worked there. He also worked several day-labor gigs through various agencies. That paid better than Jack but it wasn’t as reliable.
When he finally got some grant money for school, he was able to finally get a car. I remember how proud he was of that accomplishment. But his joy was short-lived. John was getting more work through day labor and made the decision to leave Jack-in-the-Box. Shortly thereafter, he got kicked out of his halfway house due to a miscommunication about days away from the house. They have rules set that all living there must abide by and if there is an issue, you can be voted out of the house by the members. John was voted out.
His fiancé lives in Red Oak and he would go there on weekends. Upon hearing that John needed a place, she allowed him to come live with her. She was reluctant as first but realized she wanted him to stay. John was careful not to push her. He had respect for her comfort and didn’t want to make things uncomfortable. Well, the “honeymoon period” ended rather quickly. John had stopped getting day labor work. His fiancé almost immediately when he moved in began to complain and belittle John. He was getting pretty stressed. John and I met the day he got kicked out of the halfway house. He was surprisingly optimistic. He told me not to feel sorry for him. He pointed to his car and said, “Chris man, I got a car! I even have insurance on the mother fucker. I got a fiancé; I got my girls! ME! I got this stuff. Man, I ain’t never had a car, that I didn’t steal. Most people take that shit for granted. Not me man. This is a big goal I have accomplished! Nobody knows how that feels. Ain’t nobody walked in my shoes. I’m gonna be just fine!
About 3 weeks after John moved in with his fiancé in Red Oak, I got a call from him. He said he got a job working for a cabinet maker and would be working 6 days a week. He said he was really happy about it because his fiancé was getting kind of abusive because he wasn’t bringing any money in. He asked if he could borrow some money until he got his first paycheck the next week. I didn’t have much to lend but I met him last Friday and gave him $40. He was in sad shape when I saw him. He also told me that he and his girl had been fighting. Then he proceeded to tell me he lost the job with the cabinet maker and he had fallen behind on his insurance. John explained that the cabinet maker position promised 6 full days but he was hired as a temp and temps get cut every day first, before the permanent employees, so he wasn’t getting nearly the hours he was promised. He also missed one day because he ended up in the ER. This cost him 2 points with the temp company. They only give 3. He lost the 3rd point for being 10 minutes late the day I met up with him. His positive attitude was gone. He seemed rattled and beat down.
Two days later, John was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge after he and his fiancé got into a heated argument. She hit him and he pushed her down causing her to hit her head. I didn’t know about it but I started getting collect calls from the Desoto jail, and then from Dallas County Jail. I finally realized it had to be John so I took the call. John cried when he told me about the story. He said the worst part was he started using again. He said he was on meth when they got into the fight. John began to say how bad he fucked everything up. “I was weak, Chris. Things got tough and I messed it all up!” John said as he chocked back tears. “Are you disappointed in me, Chris?” he asked. I told him I was. I told him he broke his trust with me and he did the one thing that truly hurt himself by using meth again. The assault charge was of the lowest kind. John’s mother bailed him out and has allowed him to stay with her for a few days. But his fiancé now has a restraining order. John said the one bit of good news is that he got a job at a car wash in Waxahachie.
Tom and John have both gone through some troubles in life. So many factors play into how an individual does after they get out of a prison term. One thing I know to be true, it ain’t easy. The other thing, Methamphetamines WILL absolutely ruin or end your life. These two men both attested to that fact saying meth was the only thing they had experienced that had them needing it more than they need food and water.
Prison is tough, life after prison for many is tougher. Ask John. He tried to work hard, go to school, and be good. He also began to question his faith. He knew he would have a tough time getting out of prison and felt that now that he was clean and living his life according to Christ, he would make it. He still might. But the odds are clearly against him. He paid his debt to society with his prison time. But you never really stop paying. Everything in his life is harder than someone who hasn’t been to prison. Has must check that felon box every time he applies for a job, a bank loan, a rental agreement. One big difference between Tom and John, Tom knew what it was like to be successful. John has never had that and so he has never had a chance to really develop the life skills needed to succeed.
God bless Tom and John. And God bless all the kindness warriors out there who make life just the tiniest bit easier for others. There are certainly many people out there who could use even the smallest break.