Monday, November 17, 2008

The Magician

It was almost time for our unit to be released to go to dinner, so I walked up toward the foyer and the doors. As I got closer to the front of the unit, I noticed that a crowd had gathered and that most of the men were all looking in the same place. It was too quiet for it to be a fight and as I got closer, I quickly realized why the crowd had gathered...Kevin was there!

I moved closer and stood toward the back of the group. Even though I'd seen this many times before, I was always amazed at the skills that Kevin had. To look at him, your first impression was that he was just a big, soft nerd. He wore nondescript glasses that often slid down on his nose. Whenever you would walk by his cube, he would be buried in a book...a REAL book. Not the best seller novels that circulated the unit, but books that you would expect to read in a college literature class. But inside this anomaly of a man was a genuine talent.

Tonight, he was causing a card to disappear and then reappear inside of his mouth. He wasn't so good that I didn't notice that when he coughed during the "show" and put his hand over his mouth that he may have also deposited the disappearing card there. But he was good enough that very few had seen it. He went through his act, asking one of the men if his card was in the deck. One by one, the cards were turned over and the card was no where to be found. Then, with amazement, he slowly pulled folded card from inside of his mouth to the delight of the inmates and guards alike that had gathered around.

"Just one more!", one of the inmates called out.

"How did he do that?", another one asked. "Can you show us?"

Kevin smiled his big, shy smile and said he'd do one more. He picked a man out of the crowd and started to go through another of his tricks as the men laughed and "wowwed" through the show.

I got along well with Kevin. When he first moved into the unit, he was placed in my cube and we were "cellies" for about a month. His mom was a writer who lived near Los Angeles and I don't know anything about his dad...he never mentioned him. He was a high school drop-out with an IQ of about 140. While he was in prison, they forced him to take the GED (so the prison could get money) and he passed both sections of the test without missing a single question. He'd dropped out of school because he had seen no value in what it offered him and he was bored.

He was a gifted musician and singer, a great joke teller and a good chess player. (I did manage to beat him a couple of times, but I just figure he must have been distracted during those games.) He picked up tennis while he was there so he could shed some of the "baby" fat that he still carried when he entered the place. When I looked at Kevin, I didn't see a felon. But, like all of us, he was.

Kevin apparently liked boys and he had communicated with a teenage boy and arranged to meet him in a bowling alley in Las Vegas. He drove to Vegas and went into the bowling alley and immediately felt uncomfortable. Something wasn't right. He walked past the tables a couple of times and noticed a teenage boy sitting there and kept walking. He left and went to his car where he found FBI agents waiting for him. The rest, as they say, is history.

This talented young man was arrested for conspiracy to communicate across state lines for immoral purposes. I don't know how long he will be in prison...he was still there when I left. He had filed several appeals, but they were still in the system...and Kevin was still behind bars.

When I hear story's like Kevin's, I get a little bit frustrated. And, it's important to know that Kevin didn't tell me his story himself...I looked it up when I got out of prison. It had been rumored that he was in prison for a sex crime with a boy, but it wasn't something that he ever admitted and I doubt if too many people asked him. I was able to find a copy of his appeal and court record on-line and as I read it, I was amazed that our system can put people in prison for simply thinking about doing something wrong.

It is probably true that he communicated with someone pretending to be a minor on the computer and made arrangements to meet them. And it is true that he walked into the bowling alley where he had planned to meet the boy. But the truth after that is just as important. He never met with the boy or had any kind of sexual contact. The "boy" was actually an adult pretending to be a "boy" to entrap men like Kevin. But Kevin is now a convicted sex offender who will carry that moniker (just as I will) for the rest of his life.

As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I understand the need to protect our children from those who would prey on them for sexual gratification. I know the pain and damage that is inflicted through inappropriate sexual activity. But I struggle with the concept of the "conspiracy" conviction when no crime is committed in the first place on the one hand and the protection of the innocents on the other. Is it right to essentially criminalize our thoughts?

Spending three years in prison has opened my eyes to aspects of our justice system that I had never considered from the outside. My thoughts used to be that if a man was in prison, he probably deserved it (and many do...I did). But there days, I think the line has more grey in it than simply black and white. There is too much "injustice" in our justice system and there are too many individuals who get caught in the system because they thought about committing a crime, but ultimately thought better and tried to walk away. But it was too late.

As for Kevin, I believe that he will make it when he is finally released. He's gifted...he's intelligent...and he has skills that make people like him. And perhaps if he's faced with a similar situation in the future that placed him behind bars the first time, he'll draw on his skills and simply vanish like a card from his deck.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Now you're getting to the meat of what your story is meant to teach, at least in part. The injustice in the midst of offenses that would be better dealt with in a healing, teaching, nurturing way.

Kevin is the first of your storied guys that I really like. Someone whose story I want more of . Although that's true for all of your guys. There's just something appealing and interesting about him.

I wonder if researching the men who will be in your book wouldn't help to flesh them out.

You know, don't you that there's probably more than one book here. Or maybe it's a lecture series that becomes books. It will be so cool to see where your path leads.