Today is the conclusion of my 49 Days of Grace series. You can find the first 7 entries, plus the posts that explain how I wound up spending 7 weeks in the Ware County (GA) jail by clicking on the 49 Days tab here or in the upper right-hand corner of this blog.
May 7th is a date that has been stuck in my mind for a very long time. It is the birthday (I think) of one of my dear old friends, Alan (The Asheboro Flash) Brown. It is the date (I think) on which Alan, Carl Semmler and myself began our epic road trip from NC to Cali and back in 1979. And on May 7, 2007, I found myself with my hopes once again high that I might finally be done with my unfortunate incarceration. The previous day my attorney had been to see me to let me know that the Judge had finally signed my bond. Unfortunately, before signing it, he raised it to a level that we could not afford to pay. I was now being held under a bond usually reserved for rapist and murders. Clearly, this Judge did not like me. He had also agreed to go ahead with the plea bargain he had forced the D.A.'s office. This plea was no bargain, but since I had confessed and the alternative to accepting it was letting the same Judge decide how long I would be in prison, it was the only choice. What did I agree to? 10 years of probation, which was the maximum that could be imposed. Restrictions galore. A label for a lifetime. But I went to the courthouse on the morning of May 7 ready to accept it- and to go home to my family.
Of course, like everything else in this story, it was not that easy. I sat in a holding room in the courthouse until late afternoon, once again waiting on Judge Jackson to see me. Around 4 PM, the guards came in and told a bunch of us we were not going to be seen and we were headed back to the jail. I couldn't believe it. This made the third time he had stood me up. 49 days in jail and still not one opportunity to go before a Judge and have bail set. I was so depressed. I got back to my cell and everyone- the other inmates and the guards- were livid. No one could understand why I was being treated so roughly as a first time offender with no actual victim. I went from sad to angry. I remember sitting on my cot, angrily asking God when this would end. Dinner came around 5, and I didn't eat. And then something wonderful happened. One of the guards came down to tell me that I was going back to the courthouse. They were never supposed to bring me back to jail, and now the Judge was looking for me. There was hope! And so I was loaded up (complete with Frankenstein chains!) and driven back to court.
Upon arrival I had to wait a few minutes, then saw my attorney and was taken in to see the Judge. The charges against me were read, and the sentence I was accepting was explained, including all of the special conditions that go along with my label. The Assistant D.A. was quick to strike a few conditions, including never being able to drive alone, not being able to use the Internet, and most importantly, not being able to live with my son Will. But just as I thought we were done and I was going to go home, Judge Jackson had one more bomb to drop. I was banished from his south Georgia jurisdiction. I had 60 days to move. I am fairly certain this was unconstitutional, and that he did it hoping I would want to to fight it and go to trial, but by that point being able to live in Waycross was the least of my worries. I quickly accepted. He spent a few minutes telling me what a monster I was, and then announced we were finished. I was transported back to the jail while paper work was finished, and then came the moment I had dreamed of for 49 days. They gave me back the clothes I was wearing when I was arrested. Marilyn picked me up and we got pizza for supper. I got to sleep in a real bed, with real pillows. I got to use a private toilet. I was reunited with my family, including my Mom who was there. I was free!
Sort of. My probation restrictions got complicated immediately. I could not be out after 7 PM on weekdays or after 4 PM on weekends for the first year. I was terrified of how people I knew might respond if they saw me, and I was convinced that everyone in town knew who I was. I had 60 days to move out of south GA, but it was determined I was living too close to an abandoned playground and would have to move out of the house we had been renting- immediately. But the grace of Jesus we had experienced all along- from the church family, from the guards, from the people I met on the inside, from the D.A.'s office- had one more big play to make. A lawyer from Trinity United Methodist Church (I think I know who, but have never really confirmed it) called Judge Jackson and told him he was making far too big a deal out of what I had done, and that he should allow us to stay in our home until such time as I could get transferred to Florida. And he did. I wound up staying in Waycross far less than 60 days as it turned out, moving in with my Mom in Leesburg, FL on June 1. Marilyn and Will would join me later that summer, and we moved into our current home in Tampa in July of 2007.
I have shared this series in the hopes that my life can speak to these truths- that the love of God whose name is Jesus will never abandon us; that grace is given to even sinners like me; and that John 1:8 is an absolute fact. I have seen the darkness. I have lived in it. I was almost smothered by it. But "the light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it." My life today is a testament to that Light. Turns out that I had been singing the truth all along- "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." Thanks to all of you who have shared in my story and for the grace you have shown me as well.
Because of Jesus,