“It is better to build strong boys than repair broken men.”–Frederick Douglass
Bio: Charles Micheaux
Too many of my boyhood friends went to jail for stealing cars, car parts and or smoking or selling weed. In 1997 I worked at the Maryland State Prison as a volunteer as a part of my ministry apprenticeship. I volunteered from 1997 to 2002. I met so many young men who had no idea how difficult they had made their life by one simple crime. Often I discovered their parent never took the time to educate their sons on the pitfall of incarceration, crime holds enormous consequences that are almost always insurmountable. In my own life I was truly blessed because my father’s worst nightmare was that I might do something criminal and get myself thrown in jail or prison.
One day when I was sixteen-years old my father invited me out to lunch, just he and I. Once we got in the car my father told me he had to stop at the Essex County Jail to meet with the sheriff for a brief meeting. My dad explained I could not go to the meeting, and I would have to stay in a jail cell while he was in the meeting. It was an empty jail cell. My father assured me the meeting would not be long. The sheriff smiled and shut the heavy steel jail cell door and turned the key and locked the door. I found myself behind bars like a criminal; it was surreal! I swore I was captured in a very bad dream. Soon five or six inmates surrounded my cell and they began cursing at me and threatening me. They swore they would beat the crap out of me when I was released into the general population. I tried in vain to explain to them I was simply waiting for my father they laughed and called me a liar. I was perplexed and not too pleased that my father would put me in such an unpleasant situation. After the twenty minutes of curses and threats against me my tormentors soon disbursed and I was alone again trying to understand what just happened. My dad and the sheriff arrived both men wore this big smile on their face. My dad joked, “Charlie, you alright son? You look like you saw a ghost.” I did not appreciate his attempt at levity.
We left the jail and my father drove to the popular Howard Johnson’s restaurant where we were seated and made our order of hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. The big smile left my father’s face and he looked sad as he searched my face looking for something. He rubbed the palm of his hands together, he exhaled. I waited for him to speak.
“Charlie, that place we just left, it’s a shit-hole, it’s a got damn shit-hole! And you never want to wind up there, they treat you like a dog. You have no rights. And your life is over! You won’t go to college, you won’t be able to buy a house, you won’t be able to get a job or buy a car! Charlie, you can never go to jail son. If you go to jail, your life will be over and I and your mother will disown you. I will take all of your stuff and put it on the front lawn. I don’t want you to come into my house, I’ll be done with you.
Charlie, if you need something, you come to me, and I will get it. You don’t have to steal, you shouldn’t steal, it’s wrong and there’s no excuse for you to do it. I love Charlie. Don’t ever let me down son. That jail back there is a pure shit-hole.”
Two weeks later my very best friend rolled up on me in a beautiful blue Buick and he offered me a ride. I knew this was not his car so fear came upon me. My friend called out to me to get in the car. I refused his offer remembering my father’s warning. My friend tried to mock me by telling me I was chicken and scared. I told him I was fearful, because my father had already warned me. My friend would not let up, he kept on badgering me until I became very angry and finally I clenched my fist and I shouted at him and told him to fuck off!
He laughed and drove away.
Later that day my friend James was arrested for stealing that car. He was no longer my best friend even though I still loved him. He would go on to steal many more cars and jail became his second home. I realized the genius of my father and the enormous investment he made in me on that day he had me put into a jail cell.
Today, I am convinced if my father had not come up with the plot to have me locked up, I surely would have gotten in the car with my friend James and I too would have gone to jail and my life would have been ruined like his.