His Scars Tell His Story

You can read long passages of my friend Dave’s life-story, written on his forearms. You can pin-point the lines of needle-tracks, pick out the jail tatoos, and chart the course of his mental health in the criss-crossings of scar tissue inside his wrist.

Dave’s face is similarly printed with sad narratives. He wears a mask of gentleness and peace, but the mask has many holes through which are visible the afterglow of anger, cold flares of guilt, and shadows of intolerable pain.

Dave did his time for his terrible crime. He did it hard, in an old-style, sleep-with-your-****-can kind of prison. Twelve years of hell, still visible in the way his eyes flash warily sideways, always on the lookout for the advent of something worse; eyes that are never surprised when worse arrives. He did another nine mad years behind the razor wire in the high security section of a mental hospital.

What did he learn in those 21 years of lonely separation from the world, from the tiny slice of life the law allowed him? How not to trust people. How to fear authority. How to hide. How to hate.

And now Dave is out, amongst us once again –this man who had one moment of True Madness, 25 years ago, and stabbed his wife.

“A quarter of an inch, Dex,” he explains across the table, “and I would have missed her heart!”

I don’t worry that Dave is holding one of my steak-knives as he speaks, don’t feel at all threatened by his presence, or his past. I don’t think of him as a convicted killer. He’s just a friend, and welcome at my table.

* * * * * *

UPDATE 19/2/10

Dave has been attending Art Therapy classes and doing hundreds of drawings. They are not dark reflections on his tragic experiences, as could be imagined, but full of light and colour, and images of peace and beauty. He is a man of many layers, and some of the more hopeful of these now seems to have the chance of shining through his pain and suffering. The capacity of the human soul to heal itself is inspiring and gratifying.

amberdextrous amberdextrous
51-55, M
58 Responses Feb 4, 2010

This is a beautiful tale, and you are a wonderful human being to trust someone who's done so wrong. I'm really happy he's starting to express himself.

I really hope Dave is able to come to grips with his past and change his life around. He seems like a good guy who just made a terrible mistake.

He is lucky to have a friend like you. Was he your friend at the time he killed his wife or later?

I first met Dave a few years after his long prison ordeal, RickiChickie. I could tell from his tatts that he'd spent some time inside, and it didn't take long for him to spill his story.
Thank You for reading, and for your question.

You are one of a rare group of simply amazing humans.. wish there were more of you..

Thank You for your lovely comment, YBJ2KYA.

The system is not set up to deal with humans out of the perspective that they care, rather for the purpose of individual destruction. It as such has no heart, no soul and therfore no morals.

Stories like this make me question my stance on the government's treatment of criminals. But, as iwearthong just wrote, many criminals are not repentant like Dave. It also sounds like Dave didn't intend to murder his wife, but many criminals do intend to kill. The story, ultimately, doesn't change my opinion on punishment: I think the prison system is an effective punishment for criminals. However, men like Dave should not be punished as severely as a man who murdered his wife intentionally and unsympathetically. I suppose that's a judicial matter, not a penal matter.

Seems Dave is the cliche for the movie viewed criminal. Would like to appreciate you for your kind hearted gestures. Killers and criminals are not always as Dave appears. From your desc<x>ription Dave made a mistake out of anger that he will part for the rest of his life. What is inked into him and scared upon his body are his reflections to tell others his trials and tribulations. In this I must say that people are not always what they appear to be on the surface and it takes time, trust, and risk to put one self out there. Even so, you may look into the eyes of a killer on a daily basis and never know it, some of us were not judged by a court and acted so because we had too. The judgement then comes upon us from ourselves.

Thank You for your kind comments, Discard92. I am glad my story grabbed your attention -for whatever reason- and moved You enough to elicit a written response.<br />
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I trained as a journalist and later wrote children's theatre and adult comedy routines, so I have always made a part of a living as a writer. It beats having a real job!

Wow. I know it says something about me that this is the thing that grabbed my attention, but you are a damn good writer. A very articulate and intelligent and well-woven prose. Methinks you must have some experience in the field, right?

It sounds like you have a treasure trove of information about this tragedy, as well as becoming collateral damage yourself, and the perspective that brings, P. I am not sure I would have been able to sit on such a story for 12 years, but no doubt you would have needed to create some emotional distance from the issues in order to do the full story justice. I wish you well with the project -perhaps your EP posts about the subject might kick-start your writer's mind?- and if you ever need an informal editor's eye... you know where to find me!<br />
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I read Jack's book, borrowed from my local library, and found his account of his mind-state at the time of the crime perfectly plausible. Plaudits to your father for having the courage to publish something so controversial, and for being able to present Jack's story in a cogent narrative, despite the missing material, which I presume was excised for legal reasons.

I dare say you do know the Jack and his crime, though not from the angle I learned about it i.e. what really happened. Yes, he did write his autobiography and my father published it. MUCH of the material was left out. I have a huge folder of correspondence in my cabinet. It has been in cold storage, so to speak, for twelve years. There is much to tell about this story, about mental illness, about the justice system, and especially about the media. But more importantly, it is about what it means to be human and fallible. There is such a chain of unfortunate and unbalanced thinking that led to this crime. And yes, I will write the story.

Wow! Please write that story, perseverer! Such dysfunctions in our 'justice' systems really need to be exposed. Given some of your clues about him -his occupation (though broadly stated) and your location at the time- I think I know the 'Jack' of whom you write, and what his crime was. Did he write and publish his own version of those terrible events?<br />
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I re-read my story for the first time in ages, and then clicked on your comment. When I read your statement "Dave is a hero" it made me take a deep breath at the purity of your compassion and the generosity of your spirit, and I realised that there is another 'angle' to his story: Dave has *forgiven* his community for the terrible injustice it inflicted on him. He is, indeed, a Hero.<br />
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Thank You for your kind comments and your insightful contribution to the debate on this important issue.

Gold medal for this story and for your penetrating insights into the human condition, the problems that explode in peoples' lives due to inadequate mental health facilities, and the waste of human resources due to simple and inexpensive treatments not being available. Dave is a hero for having survived and for finding something that enables him to blossom. And so are you, Dex.<br />
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My friend Jack was a brilliant scientist whose moment of madness landed him in prison, in spite of being found not guilty due to insanity. For sixteen years he was incarcerated in maximum security. In the prison garden he found a creative outlet, growing fruit trees from pips he saved then topiaring them. He committed suicide in prison and then the truth came out, about the 500 hanging points in the forensic facility and the nonexistence of a psychiatrist. Much more to be told about this story, and I thank you Dex for having prompted it. XX B.

Thank You for your kind comment, AfeaWorld. I certainly try to be a good friend to the people with whom I share my real-world and online communities.

Wow great story you sound like a friend that every one could use. 2thumbs up for you

Thank You, Chas. Very kind of you to comment.

What a beautifull rich piece of writing, LOVED it!

Ummm... yes, tinksie, I confess: I got that low when I was a desperate Junkie. Maybe that's one explanation for the 'empathy' ? <br />
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I would make a hopeless member of a jury. The prosecution would tell us what a dirty dog the accused had been, and I would think: dirty dog! You shoud be put down!<br />
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And then the defense would explain the perpetrator's difficult childhood, their sense of alienation from society, and I woud think: poor puppy! Come here and have a cuddle!<br />
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Thank You for your comments.

I do so admire the way you can empathise with others....<br />
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rock bottom is a surreal place.....<br />
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ever wanted something bad enough to steal....??<br />
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anyone ever made you mad enough to kill.....??<br />
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judge lest ye be judged <br />
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<3 tink <3

Thank You for your taking the time to read Dave's story and to leave your thoughtful comments, watchfulsoul, frito414, Artemis17, OnlyRocky, Kurzemiete, GkateC, sodancewithme and AlternateSource, and apologies for having taken so long to respond to some of you.<br />
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You each make some telling points about the hypocrisy of our justice system, society's thirst for vengeance against those who have broken our laws, or the inate goodness of the human character -a testament, I believe, to the kinds of people who inhabit the corridors of EP.<br />
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In truth, I liked Dave from the moment I met him, and did not change that feeling when I learned his sad story. Despite his rather rough appearance, there was a strong sense of humility and humanity emanating from him, and it was not hard to accept that he was, in fact, more sinned against than sinning.<br />
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Thank You also to those who made kind comments about my writing. I have posted several more stories about Dave under this same group -some sad, some hopeful- and I hope you will do me the honour of reading them too.<br />
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Cheers, Dex

It's quite a touching story. Touching because it's a reality for so many. We can all make a moment of mistake - wrong - rage - hate, n the courses of your life can unravel. I keep questioning... Is punishment/prison really the best way to show us how to learn/make up for the wrong committed? Or does it in so many ways, make it worse?<br />
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I found this story to be quite sad, yet beautiful... I liked how you've showed how human we all are - no matter what has been done, achieved or wronged... at the bottom line of all our needs is that we all long to feel safe, respected and cared for.<br />
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Thanks for sharing.

People can and do change. I'm intrigued by your story and by your openness and your heart...if possible I hope you can continue to update us. Thanks very much! :)

:] if he were my friend and i knew him well i would feel the same way, the past is the past, and i for one having seem my family go through hell, hate the justice system.

Thanks so much for sharing. This story is beautiful and says alot about your character.

ambedextrous, you are truly a golden friend, what an incredible story! I love yours and others' comments, especially this one brough tears to my eyes'... we all change and grow throughout our lives, and noone deserves to be chained to their past.. Anyone who is determined to make positive changes in their lives -to start all over again at 50+,...deserves the support and trust of their community. "<br />
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*bows to you*<br />

This is the third story of yours that I've read... You're full of great stories, and I honestly am humbled each time I read one of your experiences. <br />
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I cannot cook, nor can I trust people as well as you do.<br />
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Thank YOU for sharing this. I think we all need a friend like you. One that SEES us, and also cooks for us =)

Wow. <br />
You are a very powerful writer and obviously an amazing friend. I wish you would write more, i just love your level of ex<x>pression with words.

A slice of perception for us all to consider.<br />
It is stories like this that cause me contemplate the finality of the "death penalty".<br />
The side of vengeance calls for, "An eye for an eye"<br />
The other side of the coin allows for "doing your time"<br />
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When soldiers kill, killing is excused, <br />
when criminals kill, there is a call for punishment.<br />
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I have a hard time defining the difference some times...<br />
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Nice story Dex, I enjoyed reading it...

Thank You, Polly! You are right that Dave is showing new parts of himself through his artworks. His enthusiasm in describing his pictures to me lit up his whole face! Who knows how different his life may have turned out if he had been able to access this form of self-ex<x>pression all those years ago?

Gosh! Thank You, Abbey! It is kind of you to say so. I like to think I am evolved and compassionate, but I hope I'm not unique!<br />
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You are right about prisons though. No matter how modern the facilities, most systems are antiquated and demonstrably ineffective and a large proportion of inmates suffers from one kind of mental illness or another. Whether their illness has contributed to the crimes for which they are incarcerated, or their incarceration has caused their mental illness is one of those chicken and egg issues.

What a great story, real food for thought. It is amazing, with all the advances that have been made in the mental health field, how antiquated and ineffective our prison system is. You are a uniquely evolved and compassionate soul.

Thank You, emrld! Hugs back at you!<br />
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You are right: Dave's debt has been repaid -with crippling interest. Personally, I believe there has been a huge over-payment, and he somehow deserves a refund. I guess that is one of the factors that motivate me: wanting to make up, in my own tiny way, for the excess of suffering Dave continues to endure.

Thank You, jb, for your insights. Dave needed help at a time when governments worldwide were touting the virtues of "deinstitutionalisation" which basically meant closing many of the mental hospitals. Governments loved it because they saved heaps of money on acute mental health services, and they sold it to the public as a case of giving people the chance to remain in their communities, even though they were mentally ill. Unfortunately, little of the money saved went towards keeping tabs on people like Dave and providing him with the medication and counselling he required. Like many others, Dave slipped through the cracks in the system, lapsed into a psychotic state and committed his crime. Instead of swapping a mental health institution for the safety and support of his community, he swapped it for prison. It is a far too common story.<br />
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Thanks for reinforcing the fact that whole families suffer when a family member is imprisoned. I would take it a step further and say that the offender's whole community suffers, by having a potentially productive citizen wasting time in a toxic atmosphere. I have read that more than one per cent of the US population is currently imprisoned. Given that a large majority of these are fit young men and women, that amounts to an enormous waste of valuable human resources.<br />
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The only real possibility of a solution to these problems lies in the direction of crime prevention, early detection and treatment of mental illness, and community support for genuine rehabilitation programs. Unfortunately there are too many prisons run by private enterprise, such as Wackenhut Corporation. In those facilities, the aim is to make money for shareholders, which means keeping costs to a minimum. And the incentive to rehabilitate offenders is reduced, as these corporations don't mind at all if their human cattle keep coming back and back.

Awww, Thank You sarah!. I love it when you drop by and read my stories, and leave such encouraging comments! <br />
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wow, another amazing story so well delivered...I love reading your stuff....<br />
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God bless!<br />
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Thank You for that powerful personal insight, ithink! It is hard enough for those of us on the outside to keep up with the frenetic pace of change, never mind for someone whose world view has not changed for 15 years, and has always been limited to his slot and his barred window and the exercise yard. So our system takes people who, by and large, are already disadvantaged, seals them in a time capsule while it sucks out as much of their human dignity as possible, traumatises and brutalises them... and then lets them out! They give them $50 and their 15 year-old clothes and expect them to fit in with the world that rejected them. No wonder the recidivism rate is so high.<br />
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These policies are the end result of the mindless law and order auctions that political parties engage in at election times, each side trying to outmuscle the other with their macho promises of tougher penalties and reduced 'privileges'. There are very few votes to be won by promising workable counselling and education programs for inmates (who themselves are disenfranchised of the vote, of course) and the hope of genuine rehabilitation -a word which means, at its literal base "bringing back to life".

Not everyone in prison is a criminal. Internal angst is a bigger prison than stone walls and barb wire. I knew someone when I was down who had been down for 15 years. I remember the first time that person went out on a work crew with the rest of us and the amazement at how cars had changed and clothes and even buildings. It was that moment I knew that stone walls had nothing on the chains around the heart and mind from being locked up for so long. Everyone makes mistakes - some pay for them harder than others.

Thank You for your kind comment, cocopops. It is sweet of you to say so. I refer you to the final sentence of my comment above your own!<br />
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You are as insightful as always, Moss. Freedom, happiness and success can all hinge on millimetres and on single moments in our lives, and we can never quite know for certain how we are going to react to the challenges that life presents. Ideally, our upbringing, our education and our mental health systems should equip us to handle these challenges in sane and rational ways. Alas, none of us lives in an ideal world.


Thank You for more heartwarming comments, everyone!<br />
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HeartOnnaLiveWire, I am sorry to hear about your husband's incarceration, and especially sorry to read that you feel noone understands why you are standing by him during his sentence. I think the reason is clear enough: you love him. I am sure you will find many here on EP who *do* understand, including members of the groups dedicated to people in just your situation. Anyone with any sensitivity can see how the imprisonment of one family member punishes the whole family, and not just the convicted offender. Your husband is lucky to have your dedication and support.<br />
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Polly, you are spot-on again in saying that we all change and grow throughout our lives, and noone deserves to be chained to their past.. Anyone who is determined to make positive changes in their lives -to start all over again at 50+, in Dave's case- deserves the support and trust of their community. I do hope to post some more stories of Dave's in the days to come.<br />
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Gryfnn, I Thank You for your generous assessment of my writing ability, and hope to live up to it.<br />
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Androo, I am glad your heart was warmed by my story, twisted as it is! (The story, I mean, rather than your heart!)<br />
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Fascade, I am pretty well certain that at least in Dave's case, prison did eventually fulfill its ideal aim of "correction", rather than just the warehousing of the dangerous, the violent, the addled and the unlucky. Unfortunately, in Dave's case the system worked to "correct" him through the sheer weight of years and pain, rather than by offering him alternatives to a life of crime through education and counselling. He is a beaten man, in many ways, but what survived intact was his humanity. I am not sure if inviting Dave to my home was because I am an especially friendly or trusting person. I think it was just that I met him literally metres from my from door, he expressed a simple need -to light his cigarette- that I knew I could fill, so I did. As to his rough appearance, it did not disturb or influence me, as there are quite a few people who live near me who look a little different from the 'normal' middle-class population... and I am no oil-painting myself!<br />
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Chipperchick, you make a good point about people not being considered human after serving their penance. The irony is that so often penal systems are set up to dehumanise inmates, so it is surprising that so many still manage to survive the prison experience with their humanity intact. I am interested, also, in your choice of the word "penance", which I take to imply that the inmate has undergone a process of self-assessment and attempted to attone for their criminal acts. I wish the various systems had this as their focus, but unfortunately it seems that containment of prisoners' collective criminal energies is the major consideration. I Thank You also for your comments on my coronary capacity! Ithinkitisamberdextrous'sheadthatisgettingbig!

Whoa.<br />
You are a good friend, Ambidex, a good friend, indeed.<br />
Thank you for sharing that story...too often most people are not considered human anymore after serving their penances.<br />

As far as him being likely or unlikely to do it again, I think you'd have to fairly ask that question of anyone you meet. At least this guy knows the downfalls of it, judging from amber's opinion of him.<br />
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Amber, was that you just being friendly, or were you feeling exceptionally kind at the moment, or...? Just wondering what was going through your mind when you asked this obviously rough looking character into your home.

That is definitely a heart warming twisted story. Not really. Heh wow

Amber, you are a very good writer.

thats awesome to welcome Him and make him feel normal.There are good people in the world that have just made wrong choices.Thank you for writting this story,My husband is in prison and noone understands why i have chosen to stay with him.be blessed

Vive la difference indeed, polly! What would life be without it? One big group on EP called "I am exactly the same as you", and we all write the same story? It is characters like Dave that make life the wonderfully diverse experience it is.<br />
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Thank You for your comments about trust and respect, and the complementary nature of friendships. It is a basic healthy human response, if someone treats us kindly, to wish to help them somehow in return. (Maybe it's part of *ubuntu*?)<br />
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As I wrote in my story, Dave's past is quite literally etched into his skin, and is an unavoidably large part of who he is today. But his crime was never his whole person, his entire story. I don't think of him as 'Dave the Murderer'. In fact, I think of him as 'Hairy Dave', as he has very long hair and a beard, and there are several Daves nearby. (One of these is "Dodgy Dave' and I won't be inviting him for dinner -he would steal my steak knife!) <br />
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I am certainly no expert on the criminal mind, polly, but I think I am a decent judge of character, and I'd say Dave's chance of reoffending would be next to nil.

Thank You, everyone, for your kind comments, reactions and recommendations.<br />
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Yes, seeingblue, it is a true story. I met Dave on the street near my home when he asked me for a light. I didn't have one, but I asked him back to my house for a coffee, where he spilled parts of his story to me while he smoked the butts he had picked up off the street. He drops in from time to time, but is careful, always, to make sure he is not intruding.<br />
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You are right, Leisah, Dave did his time. He doesn't need any further ostracism from society. And that quarter inch is such an important part of his story. It meant the difference, for his wife, between life and death. For Dave, it meant the difference between life and the "Un-death" of a long-term sentence.<br />
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Lilt, you show your own deeply compassionate humanity in your comments. You are so right in stating that we are not that different from eachother. I know that I have had my own moments of madness, and have been perhaps only seconds away from a similar fate to Dave's.<br />
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Wow, Lauren! I hope you write some stories about Lumpy and the way his jail experiences affected your relationship. Your assessment of my character is flattering... and welcome.<br />
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IT, you could have left the "chianti and fava beans" comment without feeling it was out of place. Humour is so often the best and most acceptable response to tragedy. It helps us heal. Dave was here an hour ago and he had a big laugh at the reference to Hannibal Lecter. Although he did make a point of saying "I never ate her, Dex!" with a look of disgust on his face.<br />
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Glow, you hit the nail on the head. It is so easy for us to judge a person, based on one incident in their life, when all the rest of their life has been devoted to paying for it. Dave had been in my house for maybe an hour before he told me about his crime, and I had by then already judged him as somebody "more sinned against than sinning", and the thought that he might suddenly up and stab me, too, has never crossed my mind, except while writing this story.

so this is a true story?? How did you meet this guy?

Nice story Dex. It is easy to judge, to fear. If someone is capable of madness, then they might give in again. But I wonder how close we have all come to that? How many times just one thread of sanity kept us from doing the unthinkable? <br />
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As the ever wise Lilt says - we are all human. We should remember that before we judge.

AD, had to laugh....read this story earlier and didn't comment because "chianti and fava beans" didn't seem like the right response. ;)

The way I see it, we all have a story. Not always a pretty story, but a human one. We should always take the moment to listen, before we make a judgment. Our lives are really never that different.

He did the time for the crime,, isn't that what jail and prison is for? He deserves a life now, to live and be the person he became, he learned, that killing her was wrong, and wished he hadn't. Only a quarter of an inch, that sticks with me.

Thank You, Lilt and giggles. It is nice of you to say so.<br />
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I have only known Dave for a few months, but I have seen him struggling to rid himself of the problems that his prison experiences have left him with, not least his having become institutionalised. During the 21 years he spent at one remove from life, the world changed a great deal and, with his lack of literacy skills, he has little real hope of ever catching up. I have helped him out with a couple of letters and a meal or two, and he has washed my dishes and my kitchen floors for me. So it works both ways: Dave is a good friend to me, too!

I agree with Lilt, you are a wonderful friend.

You are a good friend.

Thank You for reading and leaving a comment, Lilt. <br />
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I didn't cook him f-f-f-fava beans!... We had fillet steak and vegetables. The steak had to be extra tender, because Dave only has four teeth.

This is another interesting story from you, Amberdexterous. I have feeling you have many more to share with us.<br />
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I could get all political and talk about our justice system...but instead, I will ask, <br />
What did you make him for dinner?