One of the great things about driving a cab is the diversity of people in the back seat. Republicans, democrats, rich and poor, al races and nationalities. You are practically a mobile UN. People who would not normally share with others have no idea that they share my back seat every night.
One afternoon I received a page to pick up someone and take him to a car repair shop. I tried to find it on my GPS. I knew the street, but my smart phone could only find one auto repair place. I assumed that would be the one.
I go into a low income neighborhood to pick up the fare. The man that came out was big and stocky wearing jeans and a biker jacket. Big and stocky does not begin to describe his size. My grandmother used to say built like a brick outhouse when referring to people this big.
He got inside and in a soft voice said hello. So the big guy was a teddy bear. I told him I could only find one auto repair shop on that street and he told me he was really going to a bar on that street. I know the bar. Everyone knows the bar. It has a reputation. I told him I knew where THAT was and we were on our way.
I asked him why he did not just say he was going to the bar. He told me he did not want anyone to think he was the type of person that goes into that kind of bar. I asked him why that mattered.
"Look, I aint there to drink or be entertained. It's my first day working there."
I asked him what he would be doing there. I was not surprised to hear he was going to be a bouncer. I asked him if he was nervous.
"Damn right I'm nervous. I've never bounced before. But it's the only job I can get since I got out of prison 7 months ago. I'm glad to have a chance and I wanna make the most of it."
I asked him where he did his time. He told me. I have a few friends that are prison chaplains. His was a very rough place to be. I asked him what he did before he did time.
"I was going to school to learn to be a mechanic. Not much point in continuing. All these places say equal opportunity employers, but I'm not even good enough to flip burgers or work at a big box store. It sucks. So what's the point in going back to school when even the entry level places don't take you. All I know to do is do my best with this job and get used to life without dreams. That place I live in is as good as it gets for me no matter how good a person I am now. Don't get me wrong. I ain't gonna go back. I don't want to. But I get it. Life in there is better than life out here when you've gone to prison. There is a rush when you first walk out of the walls. You say, It's over. I made it out. I'm free. I paid my debt and did my time and now I can live my life. That lasts a day or two, then you realize that you are nothing but an ex con. Someone to be feared. Someone not good enough to hire. You are damaged and broken. You think its over. It's not. The walls are just invisible now."
His eyes welled up a little at this point. I asked him how old he was. 28 was the answer.
I told him about a neighbor of mine I had once. He did 2 years for possession and resisting arrest. He was a truck driver. When he got out he could not get a job driving. So he sold his car and bought a beat up used pick up and started collecting scrap metal. Last I had heard of him, he has 4 trucks and only hires ex cons. He says that it is about 50/50 on his hiring. Some try to rip him or others off and some are just glad to have a chance. They not only have a chance, they get medical and dental and 401k.
"It's never over till yer dead, kid. Your gonna have work three times as hard. You will always be judged. You will be seen as less. Ex con will be your identity and it sucks and its wrong. Get in there, do it the way they teach you and learn to dream again. You are not even 30. You got too long a road ahead of you to be this cynical."
"You ever done time, sir? You know what it is like?"
"No. I never have. I don't know what it's like. I have no clue what it is like to be you. I just know that life is not fair or just."
"How come you never asked me what I did?"
"Doesn't matter. I don't see an ex con. I see a man about to have is first day at work. Good luck." I held out my hand. He grabbed it with both of his hands and shook it vigorously and looked me in the eyes. We were men shaking hands. Equals and peers with mutual respect. All he wants is dignity and respect. He has earned it.