I had an acquaintance in my late teens and early twenties who went bonkers. He was handsome, cool (whatever that really means) and had a positive future to look forward to, at least monetarily. He inherited a bundle from a deceased relative which was in a trust that would keep him on easy street for much of his life. But as many during their youth do, he hung out with the wrong crowd (same crowd that I hung out in), became the cliché bad biker guy, did drugs and did his best to be a loser.
During that time, he got into several fist fights. If you hang out with a bad crowd such as he did, fights occur. Well, Joe, was tall and weighed about 200 pounds and looked tough and intimidating. However, either he just couldn’t fight well or he was just unlucky because each time he got into a fight, he lost; one time getting a real butt kicking.
Joe was really bothered about losing so many fights and he vowed to never let it happen again. One night we found out just how serious Joe really was. One evening while hanging out at a local burger joint, my closest friend at that time, Paul, was driving with Joe as they cruised the joint. This kind of hanging out consisted of driving around the place anywhere from 30 to 50 times, stopping here and there in the parking lot and talking to other hanger-outers, basically talking with friends and flirting with girls. Paul told me that Joe did something that shocked the hell out of him that night.
Paul said that while stopping in the parking lot for a few seconds and talking to some friends, one of the guys, for some unknown reason threatened to smack or kick Joe’s butt. Immediately, Joe pulled a knife from his pants pocket and lunged out of his passenger window trying to stab the guy in the stomach, hollering the whole time that he was going to cut em in half. Paul gunned the car and took off out of the lot. When Paul asked Joe what the hell he was doing, Joe said, “I’ve been beat up before, it’ll never happen again.” Actually, Paul and I kind of laughed it off thinking it was probably a bizarre onetime thing and nothing like that would ever happen again, but boy, were we wrong.
About 9 months later, Joe was at the local watering hole called “The Living Room”. A bar that probably had more under age patrons then legal ones but a place that beat driving around in circles. Joe was sitting at one far end of the bar and Tom, another one in our circle of friends was way at the other end of the bar. They were on opposite far sides of the long wooden bar—they could look across and they’d be looking directly at each other. Tom was one of those guys who was unnaturally big and strong all of his life. You now the kind of kid who looked 18 in elementary school and had to shave at 10. He was all muscle and no one in his right mind would want to tussle with him. Apparently, from the rumor mill, Joe owed Tom money and wasn’t paying up, whereas Tom, told him that he was going to bounce him (beat up) if the money wasn’t given up.
The bar was filled with people–wall to wall. Tom must have said something across the bar or perhaps threatened him earlier, but however it went down, Joe drew a 9 millimeter handgun and started shooting at Tom across the bar. In a full bar, across the entire bar room; like in an old shoot em up Western! He hit Tom in the hand. Joe left the bar when he saw that Tom had been hit. He was apprehended shortly thereafter. He served either probation or a short jail stay, I can’t remember which, but I know it was not much of a sentence. Don’t ask me how he got off that easily, but it was his first official brush with the law.
The saga continues. Several years later, Joe was at a popular and crowded local nightspot. Late in the evening, he had some angry words with a guy not from his circle of friends but just someone partying that night. I’m not sure if there was any fighting between the two or if it was just some bravado bar crap being slung around. Nevertheless, what happened next is gross. Joe stuck a knife deep into the other guy’s stomach and proceeded to pull the knife up towards his chest—essentially gutting him like a slaughterd animal! I know the specifics because I met the victim several years after the incident and he told me exactly what happened. After stabbing him, Joe quickly left and was again, quickly apprehended. The victim, almost died and had several surgeries and lost some of his stomach. The good news for the victim though, was that he did well and became a successful fireman.
Joe was sentenced to a long prison term which must have been an indeterminate sentence which gives the right and possibility for parole—he got out after about 5 years.
When he got out, I was a young cop working a side job at a local bar. I was in plain clothes and working there because it was a popular place and also known to be frequented by some local trouble makers. One night, as I was making my way through the crowd I saw Joe. I immediately noticed his arms. They were huge. Huge from years of weight lifting in prison. His 6’3” height and muscular build stood out. Our eyes met and I was a bit concerned. I thought that he might give me a hard-time because I became a cop.
Right off the bat, we were both pleasant as we had known each other quite well. With an inflection showing the surprise that he very well may feel, I asked him if he knew that I was a cop now. He said he had heard and that he was fine with it. He went on to say that he had changed his life around while in the big-house. That he decided to change his ways completely and make a productive law abiding life for himself. He said he would never get into trouble again. We talked for a few minutes and we parted on friendly terms.
Did I believe him when he told me that he was a changed man? I’m not sure. We hear that all the time from people coming out of prison. They say that they’ll never go back and that they’ll be different men and women. Quite often, it doesn’t hold true. Recidivism is high. But here’s the moral of this wild tale. Joe never got into any trouble again. He became a businessman operating a working class business—a hands on type of company that became successful and I believe made him and his family, millionaires.
Joe, had bucked the odds. He went to prison and was touched and changed by something. Perhaps he changed simply by being locked up behind bars. Or perhaps a program that he may have attended helped him change. Or possibly someone mentoring him did it. Or some type of education, perhaps. But something worked. Something changed him. So, I believe, the moral of this story is that there is hope for anyone. To give up on most people is counterproductive. Those in power within the criminal justice system quite often are, and in many cases must be, zoo-keepers. But the programs that many good leaders and criminal justice professionals initiate, do work for some people. I say, never give up on finding new ways to help people become whole.
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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