Monday, August 18, 2008

Too Good to be True!

The heavy-set man...no, make that the fat man, walked up to me and introduced himself as Ron. I had only been in the unit for about an hour but I think the fact that I was white and middle aged led him to me. He quickly went over a few "rules" with me and then started visiting. As he talked...and I listened since there really wasn't much room for any of my words in the conversation, he asked me if I was a golfer. He said that I looked like was athletic and had probably played some kind of sports at one time. I told him that I loved to golf and had actually been living on a golf course when I was arrested.

"Hey Atwater!", he screamed across the unit. Here's another guy who likes golf.

As I stood there leaning against the wall, an attractive black man, his head shaved smooth with a smile that stretched from ear to ear walked over. He extended his hand and introduced himself as Robert, but "everyone calls me Atwater" he added.

"So you like golf, huh?" I asked.

"Oh yea. I played on the Senior tour before I was arrested", he said.

I didn't watch a lot of the Senior tour on TV before I was arrested, but I had been watching golf long enough to know the name wasn't at all familiar to me.

"I don't think I remember hearing your name before", I said. "Sorry, I watch a lot of golf, but the only Atwater that I can connect to sports is in football."

"Oh yea, you mean my son, Steve. He played for Denver until he retired a few years ago. And don't feel bad about not recognizing my name from the Senior tour. I played under an alias 'cuz there was a warrant out for my arrest for a few years."

Over the months that I was in prison, Robert shared a lot of stories with us.

His ex-wife was a Federal judge and he would regularly tell us that he called her anytime he had problems with any of the staff.

He was arrested for money laundering and the sale of drugs and the Fed's had never recovered the millions that he had laundered.

He owned several McDonald's in L.A. and they had some of the highest consumer traffic in the country.

He and his current wife operated a couple of credit unions and they had one in Mercer Island in Washington state.

"If you need a job when you get out Mark, I can get you a job at the Mercer Island shop," he told me more than once. Of course, he never gave me a phone number or name that I could contact when I got out.

ESPN came in and did an interview with Robert and now there were people who wanted to make a movie about his life story.

He worked as a golf caddie for more than twenty years at the Augusta Golf Course in Georgia, that home of the Master's tournament.

Robert was the "classic con"...and he was good at it. He could lie better than anyone I had ever met in my life. And there was nothing in the way he talked or carried himself that would make you think he was a liar...except that he just was. In fact, I've not met very many people in my life that were easier to like than Robert was.

Shortly before I got out of prison, a former inmate that lived in my unit sent me a copy of an interview that Sports Illustrated had done with Robert shortly after he sent to prison. The truth is, Robert had played on the Senior tour...one time as Darren Muarry. He had caddied the year before on the Senior tour and had convinced the sponsors of tournament that he was a really good golfer and they allowed him to play in their tournament. He placed last.

Actually, Robert had shared a number of stories about that tournament. He would laugh as he would tell us how poorly he had played. How embarassed he was when he four putted the first green and got a quadruple bogey. He even admitted that he had placed last in the tournament, but that was where the truth ended.

The man who had interviewed Robert saw through him immediately. He, too, had never met anyone that who was as likable as this senior golfer who had never learned how to tell the truth. There was nothing that Robert would say that you could trust as being the truth. It was so sad because he was attractive, witty, charismatic and articulate. Had he used his skills and talents in a legitimate pursuit, I have no doubt that he would have been extremely successful at anything he attempted.

Sadly, I think Robert had lied for so long that he truly believed his own words. There were many times that he would come along beside me and tell me that "we" were so different from most of the other guys in this place.

"There's no way we'll ever come back to a place like this. We just made one mistake and got caught. It's not that we're bad people."

I can't say that Robert is "bad people." It's just that he is allergic to the truth. I know that I'll never see Robert again, but his face and story will be etched in my memory forever. I still have the Christmas picture we took together with him wearing the Santa hat and a smile that always warranted one in return. I'll remember that smile and his kindness. I'll remember his stories and his facade. I'll remember the con who truly was a "con".

1 comment:

Deb said...

I love these stories!!!! I can just see Robert, and hear him - I've actually had younger versions of him in my classroom. Interesting, in some way, that he shares our father's name. Do you know where he is now?

Keep writing. Your stories just get better and better. I love you.