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A Friend Gets Out of Prison

Essay By: Bill Rayburn
Memoir


The myriad of emotions spanning race, class and gender that I sifted through when a black friend was released from a federal penitentiary. (approx. 780 words)


Submitted:Apr 3, 2012    Reads: 15    Comments: 1    Likes: 1   


A Friend Gets Out of Prison

A friend got out of prison this week.

I've never written those words before.

Nor felt that sentiment.

He's black.

He used to work at my company as a courier, a pedestrian $13 an hour job. Yet he had a shiny new Camaro, always dressed in the most stylish Hip-Hop Nation clothes: jerseys, baggy jeans, shiny sneakers, the whole look.

Expensive stuff, clearly.

He was enormously popular. In spite of his Rapper's wardrobe, he was disarming with the white people in the company, especially the elderly white women, who were prevalent and probably had their share of issues with young black men. He told me he consciously did this. He easily circumvented their unease. He was sweet to the point of smarmy, but it worked for him, and them. Of course, it all turned out to be a ruse, but many folks bought into it.

I always sensed he was leading two separate lives, based on the fact that with me, he was very much himself, no act, no BS, no smarm. I had created a landscape where I established that he was black, I was white, and we could comfortably talk about the race issue. Plus, we shared a passion for sports and politics. We liked and respected each other, though we were quite different men. He was comfortable being black with me. I think I was the only white person in his life with which he felt that way. I also imagine that limited trust of white people is probably true for most blacks, especially ones raised in the ghetto like Terry. Whitey just ain't to be trusted. Don't show your soul.

So, this conflicted man, 30ish, quite short at 5'5", strained mightily to enmesh himself in both his black world, and his white world. A balancing act that must have been incredibly burdensome, a choice that would deplete his soul, as well as divide it. He craved acceptance. His juggling act is not unusual for black people forced to navigate in the white man's world. I can only speak for his white world, where he gained acceptance, respect, and affection. My guess is his black world gave him less than that.

The more I got to know him, the more I called him on his two-faced approach to life. Good naturedly, of course, but he knew I meant it. He wasn't fooling this white boy. I liked the "real" him, when he was totally black with me. He wasn't a punk. He liked Rush Limbaugh, for example. Imagine that. He was pro-Bush. Imagine that. Yet he was ghetto black. He was all over the map, difficult to pigeonhole. What did that mean? Disingenuousness? Dishonesty? Or merely a survival instinct.

Honesty has always been a requirement for me. And I think Terry realized that early on. I was an accepting welcome mat to the real Terry, and he was grateful. I liked him as a black man. Not the "face" he presented to the white world.

Terry has a son, about 9 years old. He brought his kid into the office a couple of times, and it was clear that Terry was an attentive father. The boy was polite and well behaved. Terry ensured that. It was obvious that was important to him.

Once the son's mother, Terry's girlfriend, left him, after Terry was busted a second time for drug sales, she took Terry Jr. with her, and his world collapsed. Between his bust and actually being sentenced, he blew off the chances the judge gave him to avoid the pen, and became irresponsible at work, missing time, not showing up. Stuff he previously had never done. He was sent away for five years, hard time.

Now he's back. He called me. I have his cell number.

I want to talk with him, but only if he will come completely clean with me, which he clearly did not in the past.

I am hesitant.

I wrote him a few letters while he was away. He wrote back. Badly. We don't share the "writing" thing. He was clearly grateful that I stayed in touch. I even spoke with his grandma and sister once or twice (his mom was deceased). They were dubious about me. He'd never mentioned me. I understood.

What do we share? Can I convince him that living a lie is a dead end? The possibility of recidivism scares the shit out of me with him.

I am wrestling with all of that.

I called him a friend in the first sentence.

After slinging all these thoughts on paper, I still feel that way. Maybe even more so.





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