Crimes that don’t put you in jail, but still hurt |

Crimes that don’t put you in jail, but still hurt

Editor’s note: Mr. America wrote about this same

incident a few years ago. Even at the time, he felt he could have done a better job. He’s hoping that with three years perspective and half the words, he succeeds.

Jerry spent seven years in prison. His sins ranged from racketeering, to conspiracy, to tax evasion; he was a career criminal.

He is my best friend’s older brother, so we more or less grew up together. Even as a kid, Jerry was wild. With the devil’s persuasion, he’d talk my buddy Bobby and me into joining him in petty crimes. We’d get caught, he wouldn’t.

Somewhere on the road to adulthood, Bobby and I mended our ways while Jerry continued to behave badly. A six- to 10-year sentence was the final result.

Jerry had been out only a few weeks when he drove 18 hours to attend my father’s funeral. He appeared muscular but thin, and despite a long scar over his eyebrow, he still had a look of a mischievous little boy.

He wasn’t the only old friend who went out of his way to be at my old man’s service. Six old buds, in various states of health and success, paid their respect to the man who used to refer to them as “my son’s hoodlum friends.”

After the festivities, we met at a bar to mourn. Per usual of such a gathering, stories were told and lies relived. In my friends’ collective memories, we were more wild, crazy and courageous than I could recall.

The subject of bad behavior was broached. Stories were told of shameful acts and woeful deeds. Bobby suggested we all reveal the one transgression of which we were the most ashamed.

The stories that followed could have come from the activities log of Sodom and Gomorrah. Tales of desperation and debauchery were mixed with those of bedevilment and betrayal. Jerry was the last to reveal.

We all expected the bar to be raised when Jerry took the stage. He was the one fresh out of jail. By the standards of decent society, Jerry is a bad man.

He took a sip from his beer and began without hesitation. You could tell that he had thought about his answer.

“The worst thing I’ve ever done, I did to Jimmy Sullivan.”

I think we all assumed Jimmy Sullivan was a criminal competitor, prison snitch or cell mate. Jerry continued.

“He was in my fourth grade class. His family was real poor and lived in a ratty trailer near the dump. Jim was a mousy little kid with bad teeth. He wore the same clothing to school everyday. His clothes were always clean but always the same; a pair of brown pants and blue plaid shirt.”

Jerry paused and ran a finger over the scar on his face, then continued.

“One day at recess, in front of a bunch of other kids, I called him Sully-Same-Shirt, and it stuck. From then on, no one used his real name, from then on he was Sully-Same-Shirt. I can still remember his face the first time he heard me say that. He actually winced like he had been gut-punched. That look still haunts me.”

Jerry added, “I can only imagine the dread he felt as he put on that shirt every morning, having nothing else to wear, and knowing the taunts that would follow. He moved away a couple of years later. I never told him I was sorry.”

It was a letdown for all of us. We had hoped for a prison fight, vengeful retaliation or a deal gone sour. What we got was a recount of a school-yard teasing. No one complained. None of us wanted to replace “Sully-Same-Shirt” as Jerry’s worst deed.

It is easy to assume if you obey the law, you’re a worthy person. Laws change with society’s sensibilities. What is acceptable and legal today can be redone with the sweep of a politico’s pen.

The laws of decency are less flexible. A decent person is kind, thoughtful and considerate of others’ feelings. By that definition, many, myself included, fall miserably short.

I find it interesting Jerry felt less guilt for the deeds that put him in prison than he did for his childhood crimes against Sully-Same-Shirt. After all those years, a thoughtless act on the playground plagues him. Sometimes it takes the words of a former convict to remind decent society that being a good citizen does not necessarily make you a good person S

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KYSL radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge. He can be reached at

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