When I appeared before Judge Barker in the US District Court in Indianapolis as a young man just a few months into his third decade on this planet I was a much different person than he who exists today, yet much the same. It was a militant adherence to the concept that the US Constitution is absolutely supreme and that a government that favours racial discrimination and denies liberty and equity to its citizens must be abolished -- by force if necessary.
My fledgling mind packed with the latent learning of a neglectful and abusive childhood may have improperly synergized the academic indoctrination presented in an idealized manner. It was, afterall, our Founding Fathers who are so revered for penning the Declaration of Independence which proclaimed that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, . . .”[emphasis added] Thus, if on a ubiquitous basis the current government regime was denying to certain people their unalienable rights, I was entitled -- or obligated -- to endeavor to institute a new government. These were our natural rights as the Founders had proclaimed. Their use of “God” or “Creator” was a placeholder for nature as the anthropomorphized “Mother Nature” is similarly used.
I entered the courtroom where Judge Barker presides imbued by my self-righteous indignation at the way our government treated the citizenry and me. I was in the halls of government and yielded no respect to Judge Barker who appeared as the face of that tyrannical government accusing me. Prior to arriving I had been informed by an FBI agent that I was already convicted and to just try to get by the easiest that I could. My attitude reflected this during a hearing in which Judge Barker asked me about where my attention had wandered. I told her I was watching the stenographer and trying to learn the keystroke patterns that represented what was said. Barker then asked if I thought I should be paying attention to the proceedings instead. I promptly retorted that I did not need to because the outcome had been determined before I arrived.
In the end Barker leveled that gavel right across my forehead and sentenced me to an aggregate of 74 months, just 24 months in excess of the statutory maximum. That sentence was later reduced on appeal. So my statement that she “sentenced me to life” was not made in the sense of the life sentence that is meted to a substance distributor. Rather, she sentenced me to life in that she gave me life by sending me to prison.
I am confident in declaring that if not for her intervention -- disdainful as it appeared at the time -- that my corporeal existence would have dissolved soon thereafter. The forces that wish to maintain the status quo are ingrained and powerful. I had been accosted by gang members, chased by armed individuals, threatened with death by police officers, and associated with various schemes that involved illegal activity that would surely have lead to a much lengthier prison term. It wasn’t unlike me to clear a parking lot of people just by popping the trunk as it was well known that I often toted a machine gun.
A few years ago I sent a letter to Judge Barker thanking her for sending me to prison. I also provided to her a brief update about my public policy efforts regarding child custody and Domestic Violence. Last year while we both attended a civic event I recognized her, introduced myself and asked if she recalled who I was. It was our first face-to-face meeting since the resentencing following the appellate decision. I had no idea what her response would be. She did recall me which wasn’t a surprise. I do have a way about me that can leave a memorable impression. What I didn’t expect was that she reacted by wrapping her arms around me and embracing me like a mother would welcome a son home from a precipitous journey.
We spoke briefly about our prior interlude which took place nearly 25 years earlier. She made the profound statement that unified decades of actions and psychologically predictable reactions. She was aware of the motivations that drove my actions and what could have sent my formidable drive in a socially acceptable direction as I currently do in shaping public policy on child custody matters. She told me that she wished that we could have just talked together as we could likely have resolved the issue that way. Then added, but that is not the way the system is set up.
She recognized in me what often is the underpinning of many youthful outburst. That is, not being given a voice. I was raised in an authoritarian household where I wasn’t allowed to question directives or rules. I learned that might made right. That authority is not derived from reason or logic but through a hereditary hierarchy enforced through brute force. To be heard, to surmount opposition, one gets louder or violent.
In school there was no place for cogent reasoning or questioning authority as it was called. A simple paralipsis would not satiate my need for a rational underpining to a rule. I recall getting hit for invalidating illogical mandates beginning around second grade. A rapid ascension toward mastery of logic skills took place immediately preceding middle school. Precocious in both reasoning and recognizing patterns in behaviours I knew how to expose and exploit the psychological vulnerabilities of my tormentors. The application of the skill reached its zenith in prison. I relished getting stripped naked and tossed onto the cold concrete floor of a solitary confinement cell for I knew then that I had won another round. I had used my figurative dagger to pry open the mind of someone and exposed a truth that was painful to confront, painful enough to provoke that type of retaliation. It was there that some of my fellow inmates got into my head as well.
There were two gentlemen in particular. One a congenial soft spoken fellow, an analyst who minded his own business and often went unnoticed. He was a hefty guy who waddled to and from his work detail without a change in mood and laid back in his chair, eyelids always hanging low, and simply observed the activities on the block. Our discussions generally centered on wherein lies the nexus between nature and nurture, and to what degree are we responsible for our own actions. We explored what may be referred to as human nature and the much broader scope that our decisions have on our lives. It was through him that I learned that I was completely responsible for getting myself to prison and that each person whom I blamed was only an actor whom I manipulated to produce the outcome that I needed. The other was a much more rapturous fellow who was physically fit and active. He was a tall slender guy who enjoyed the social life of activities in the yard or just hanging out in his cell which was where I eventually made my home. It was always a party there. He was a synthetic drug manufacturer who kept the DEA busy rewriting the chemical formulas for scheduled drugs. He was clearly one of the geniuses who was at the higher end of the group which is unusually large in federal prison. This guy raised awareness of consciousness. What or who directed our thoughts? Who wrote the scripts that we follow and why do we follow them? Are we being human by following the customs and norms of society or are the customs and norms of society depriving us of our humanity? He was the philosopher. The take away from him was to question everything. Not just from the why and how perspectives but also the who, as in who does it serve. My actions from that point forward were viewed by me at a much deeper level which naturally produces a longer-term outlook.
Judge Barker gave me an opportunity that I would not have found elsewhere. The confluence of actors and actions resulted in me being exactly where I needed to be. I am reminded of an ending scene in the movie The Matrix [this is a must see for so many reasons] in which the protagonist, Neo, asks why the soothsayer, The Oracle, told him that he was not ‘the one’ when in actuality he was. The Oracle told Neo what he needed to hear. Similarly, I was not sent to prison as a punitive measure but was sent there to give me a break. A break that Judge Barker could see that I needed. This provided the opportunity to learn the wisdom of others and fulfill the sentence that Judge Barker so generously gave to me -- life!
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