Just about when I was a year old or so, a boyhood friend of my dad’s was convicted of shooting and killing someone during a grocery store hold up. He was, according to everyone, connected. One day, I was about 18 months old, we came back from a trip to the zoo. There’s a note on the front door from the guy. He stopped, we weren’t home, he wouldn’t bother us by coming back but wanted to let my dad know he was innocent, not even in the area when it happened. All kids of remorse, miss you and the old gang from the church football team, etc…
He was eventually caught and sentenced, serving his time in the state penitentiary near our house. One day, I was about 12-13. My sister and I are in the car with Dad driving past the prison. It wasn’t uncommon to see the trustees walking down the road to and from the prison farm. As we’re driving, there’s a guy walking down the side of the road in the same direction we’re going, we approaching from behind.
Dad says “hey that guy walks just like Mike”. We drive past, Dad turns and looks at the guy.
Sonofabitch, it is MIke!!"
He’s walking from the prison to the warden’s house which was located on the grounds. Dad, without any hesitation, pulls over into the driveway about 50 yards ahead of Mike. In plain sight, and assuming, range of two guard towers.
Dad jumps out of the car, sister and I hit the floor, convinced we were all about to die in a hail of bullets. Dad’s screaming, “MIke, Mike, hey!” And jumping like a nut.
Mike comes running down the road, waving his hands, yelling my Dad’s name. Looks like a reunion at the docks. I peek up and watch a CO coming out of the house (didn’t know it was the warden’s house til later), carrying a big long gun. Not in a ready position, but it’s a gun nonetheless. Dad and Mike by now are dancing and hugging like kids. The CO stands there while Mike makes the introductions. I decide it might be safe to come out of the car. My sister never did.
Turns out that, partly because of his ‘connections’ and because he’s been a model prisoner, Mike has been assigned as the warden’s valet/housekeeper/gardener. I met the warden’s wife, nice lady. Every other Sunday, Mike’s wife would join their family, along with her and Mike’s two kids, and everyone would enjoy a huge Italian dinner. The warden, also a good Italian boy.
While Mike was inside, his wife enjoyed a decent job as a paralegal in the law firm that defended Mike. His two kids went to the best Catholic schools, BOTH then to Notre Dame.
Sometime in the mid 80’s, Mike got paroled. Within a year he ballooned from his prison weight of maybe 180, up to 250. He said it was the good bread he couldn’t get in prison. He was even at my wedding. I told him I’d heard the story of the note on the door. He apologized, and said he felt lousy, not even thinking he might have been putting my dad in a bad position. I said, yeah kinda like him getting us all gunned down by the warden’s house? We laughed remembering that.
He insists he wasn’t the robber, or the shooter. Someone else fingered him to the cops, and tossed the gun in the garbage in the alley behind his house. Like he’d do that, and toss the gun in his own trash? The job for his wife, the privileges inside, the nice schools for his kids he said were all arranged so long as he kept his mouth shut. He says it wasn’t a choice offered to him, but as long as “they” took care of his family, he’d be a good boy and wait his time. Yeah, prison sucks because it’s still prison, but after the first couple years, he got to see his kids every couple weeks, got to have ‘private’ time with his wife, help the kids with homework…
Last tine I saw Mike was at my dad’s funeral in 1992. But in an odd twist, about 6 years ago I accidentally met his daughter. She was presenting at a seminar about labor law. I was talking after and said I knew someone with her last name, well technically the first part of her hyphenated name. She asked, I said his name and my dad’s name and she about fainted before she told me who she was. She’s one of my Facebook friends now, her son is the spitting image of her dad. And she says her folks are happy and retired in Arizona.