Thirteen years ago today a skinny, strung-out, zombified version of me staggered into a Circle K with a stolen pistol demanding Newports, Optimos, and all the cash in the register. An hour later, police K-9s found me hiding in a field off 9 Mile Road. The dog bites were bad enough to require stitches. The next morning, I was released from the hospital and booked into the now-condemned central booking and detention unit of the Escambia County jail. I remember scouring the floor for pieces of crack and scanning the ceilings for a place to hang myself. Good times. And there was reason to believe things weren’t going to get much better.
Friends faded, the Feds indicted me, the state was pushing for life imprisonment. I ended up getting 379 months. I was 31 years old at the time. This sentence meant it would be another 31 years before I breathed free air again. Sorta like a life sentence with a little daylight… if I made it that far. Once in prison, I immediately reverted to my old patterns — getting high, gambling, and living unconsciously.
There is a Bob Seger lyric from Against the Wind that I have always loved. “The years rolled slowly past. I found myself alone. Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends. Found myself further and further from my home…” Soundtrack of my life. Things were getting consistently worse.
Then in 2009, in the midst of a nine-month stint in solitary confinement, it occurred to me what a colossal mess I’d made of my life. And by occurred I mean it fell on me like an imploding building. I was 35 years old with no home, no property, no career, no pension, no children, no freedom, no future, and no legacy except for the lengthy criminal record that dated back to my 13th birthday. I had to do something to turn the momentum. Quitting dope was a good start but it wasn’t enough. I needed to rebuild myself. This is where the books come from. A few years, four novels, and one miraculous Supreme Court ruling later, my entire life has changed. Saved by the craft.
There is a scene in my latest novel, Sticks & Stones, where a skinny, hollow-eyed crackhead walks into a convenience store and pulls a gun on the petrified clerk, a scene very similar to a chapter of my own life. Except in this story, the protagonist — an ex-convict — steps forward to stop the robbery. A monumental struggle ensues. This is bigger than just two men battling it out on the page. This is good versus evil, past versus future, Christopher versus Malcolm.
Spoiler alert: The good guy wins.