I wanted to ask him how that made him feel, but I resisted. The object here was still to find out his story, not psychoanalyze him, at least not yet.
“I didn’t hear you mention anything about sports or hobbies in Y.A. What do you like to do?”
“Echo Glen was great. It was beautiful. There were nice cottages and we got to ski and things, but I never did anything like play sports really.”
“So how did you get to California?” I asked.
“After I got out of Y.A., my mom remarried and her husband was moving his business. We moved first to Sacramento and then to Fremont.”
“So how did you meet your wife?”
“We met in rehab.”
“Rehab… How long you been taking drugs?”
“I started when I was 16 or 17 years of age.”
“My cousins and friends were doing it.”
“But it was you who made the decision,” I said, without being too confrontational. Our conversation was beginning to get easier and I didn’t’ want my judgments to get in the way. “You have any kids?”
“Yeah, I’ve got two boys. One fourteen and the other…the other is about to turn 13.”
“And they live with your wife, right?” He nodded. “By the way,” I continued. “How’s she doing with all this?”
“OK, I guess.”
“What is she doing now?”
“She’s professional…works for the city.”
“Let me interrupt you here, I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want your wife brought into this. I think she’s important to where your head was at, but I’d really like to protect her privacy. I wouldn’t want her having any problems at work or whatever. “My real reason for asking was just to get a feel for where and how you were living. You know… what kind of neighborhood.”
“We lived in Berkeley in a very good neighborhood with manicured lawns in a great house.”
Without warning the tower officer appeared on the overhead announcing the end of their “unlock”. I had gotten lost in his story. I suggested to Gene that it might be easier for him to write down the next phase of the interview since it would deal exclusively with what happened that night. Yet he did not take the opportunity to end our conversation. He commented– once again –on how “the papers had gotten things all wrong”.
I felt bad for him. It was easy to see the direct path his life had taken to get him here, but it was equally easy to see that this guy was not the heinous murderer we reading about in the papers. I also knew just how very difficult it was to be in his position; it is worse to be persecuted on inaccurate information.
That meeting told me two things – one, that I had been successful in establishing some connection, and two, that Gene desperately wanted to tell his side. That I could certainly understand. At having watched in horror the media frenzy surrounding the death of one of my patients, and the fact that the press had gotten it all wrong, I knew quite well what he was talking about.
“We are going to have to end now,” I said, “at least the first portion of it” (and again I proposed my suggestion). “So why don’t you just write down your thoughts. Hell, neither of us is going anywhere.”
“Well…” he began. “I’ve had that conversation with my lawyer, and I’m just not comfortable doing that. He doesn’t want me writing things down for anybody.”
“Okay, then,” I said. “We’ll talk at your next unlock.” (He couldn’t talk at mine because I was housed on the bottom tier of the module and strictly forbidden to take the flight of stairs to the upper tier.)
Gene left my door to collect his things before returning to his cell. I went about tidying things up in my cell. A few seconds later there was a knock at my cell window and it was Gene. “You know,” he said. “You could write down some questions and I could answer them. That might be okay.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do that and get them to you somehow.” With that, Gene walked away. I felt good about getting his story. I simply reveled in the opportunity to get his story straight from him, without the slanted view by some aging editor who was never going to take the opportunity to talk with Gene personally.
I went straight at it. I pulled out my notes, looked at what I thought needed to be asked to keep the conversation and the story going, added a few questions, changed the tone of others, and got the final result to Gene through what can only be called “the prison underground mail system,” the mod workers.