The crimes you don’t go to prison for
Editor’s note: Biff America is on vacation. All-time favorites of his will run during his absence.
Jerry has spent the past seven years in prison. His sins ranged from racketeering and grand larceny to tax evasion; Jerry was a career criminal.
Jerry and I, more or less, grew up together; he is my best friend’s older brother. As far back as I can remember, Jerry was wild. As a kid he was the one who would talk me and my buddy Bobby into doing bad things. More often than not, we would get caught, and he would get away.
Somewhere on the road to adulthood, Bobby and I mended our ways while Jerry continued to behave badly. Seven years in prison was the final result.
This summer I saw Jerry for the first time since he got out. He had driven 12 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. Since ending his stay as a ward of the federal government, he had gotten married, opened a business and quit drinking.
Jerry wasn’t the only old friend who went out of their way to be at my old man’s service. Close to 10 old buds, in various states of health and success, made the effort to pay homage to the man who used to call them “My son’s hoodlum friends.”
After the festivities, we met at a bar to mourn. Per usual of a gathering of that sort, stories were told, and lies relived. In my friends’ collective memories, we were more crazy and courageous than I recall. The subject of bad behavior was broached. Autobiographical stories were told of shameful acts and woeful deeds. Bobby suggested we all reveal the one transaction in our lives of which we were the most ashamed. The tales 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. After all, he was the one who never conformed, he was the one fresh out of prison. By most everyone’s standards (our group excluded), Jerry is a bad man.
He took a gulp from his bottled water and began without hesitation. You could tell he had thought about his answer.
“The worst thing I think I’ve ever done, I did to Jimmy Sullivan.
“He was in my fourth-grade class. His family was real poor and lived in a ratty trailer near the dump. Jim was a shy little kid with bad teeth.
He wore the same clothing to school every day. He was always clean, but always the same. One day at recess, I nicknamed him “Sully-same-shirt’, and it stuck. From then on, that’s what everyone called him. I can still remember his face the first time he heard me call him that. He actually winced in pain; the look on his face still haunts me.” Jerry added, “He moved away a couple of years later. I never got to say 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 that if you obey the law, you’re a good person. A good person is kind, thoughtful and considers the feelings of others. By that definition, many, myself included, fall miserably short.
I find it interesting that Jerry feels less guilt for the deeds that put him in prison than he does for his childhood crimes against Sully-Same-Shirt. After all those years, a thoughtless act on the playground still haunts him. That’s because, despite what society and the courts might say to the contrary, Jerry is a good man S
Biff America can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA and KYSL radio, and read in this and other fine newspapers.
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