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FIRST-PERSON: Maybe he would remember; maybe he would start over

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–“Lights out!” the officer shouted over the intercom in a forceful and stern voice that often jolted the young man and caused him to wonder if the speaker might actually fly right out of the wall.

The sound of the mystery officer’s voice signified that another day had passed with no visitors, and it was now time to adjourn upstairs to the 4-inch-thick foam mattress on his tiny bunk in his cramped cell. The doors would then slam shut and he would toss and turn through another sleepless night.

Each cell housed six men and, as luck would have it, two of the six in James’ cell snored like lions. Not that he would sleep anyway — how could he?

The peak-holes they had for windows looked out on the city’s skyline from six floors up. He had spent much of the last eight years running around on those very streets. He could even see the edge of his old neighborhood from his new home, the county jail.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen like that” had become the 26-year-old’s new mantra. It was a silent chant that he repeated in thought a hundred times a day, along with “He instigated the fight” and “I was only defending myself.”

It had only been two months since his arrest, but it seemed like an eternity. He wondered how anyone could ever make it through a lengthy prison term. “Ten more months, just 10 more months…. You’re one-sixth of the way there….”

The judge who had sentenced James on the assault charge had extended him a measure of mercy by sentencing him to only one year in the county jail. But to James, she seemed so indifferent.

“Didn’t she understand that I would lose everything? Didn’t she understand that my landlord would seize everything I own if I can’t pay the rent? What about my credit? What about my bills? What about my car and my dog? What about my job?

“Maybe if I hadn’t been so drunk, I could’ve avoided the altercation altogether … or maybe if I hadn’t even gone to the bar to begin with,” he thought. Now he was starting to make sense, even to himself.

It had taken a couple of months, but James was now accepting accountability for his own actions.

Maybe when he was released he would remember the sleepless nights and the daily ration of bologna sandwiches on stale bread. Maybe he would remember the cold steel toilets in the middle of the community area with 40 other men. Maybe he would remember the open showers and the bloody fistfights. Maybe he would even remember his moment of clarity when he realized that the consumption of alcoholic beverages had impaired his ability to make a rational decision and had cost him a year of his life.

It had also cost his sparring partner the vision of his left eye.

Just maybe, when he was released, James would take advantage of his opportunity to start over instead of picking up where he had left off.
Stone and Barber, of Durham, N.C., are coauthors of two new books on alcohol and drug abuse, “Hope for the One Who Hurts” and “Hope for the One Who Cares,” both available from LifeWay Christian Stores.

    About the Author

  • Ted Stone & Philip Barber