There are places in geography.
There are places in the heart.
There are places in time.
Where shall we start?
– Indy Beagle
Places in Geography:
“We have thought how places are able to evoke moods, as color and line in a picture may capture and warp us to a pattern the painter intended.”
– John Steinbeck, Sea of Cortez, p. 256
Places in the Heart:
“God only knows what I’d be without you. If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on, believe me, the world could show nothing to me. So what good would living do me?”
– Brian Wilson
Places in Time:
“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed; some forever, not for better. Some have gone, and some remain. All these places had their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living. In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
– John Lennon
My favorite singer-songwriter, James Taylor, was interviewed recently. When James was asked about his life-controlling addiction to drugs as a young man, he answered with these words:
“The key for an addict is how much of a relief the addict felt when they first discovered their drug of choice. When that really works for them, watch out for the backend, because you’ll hold on until the very end. You’ll be the last person to admit that it’s gotta go.”
I was considering these places and spaces in the darkness of early morning when the tone of an arriving text turned my eyes toward the telephone. My friend had been reading the Monday Morning Memos in the archives from 15 years ago and had a couple of questions for me. One of those questions triggered the memory of someone whose life briefly intersected with Pennie’s and mine 38 years ago.
And Now We Shall Start:
Patrick is two years older than me. He is insightful and articulate, but his life has been shattered into sharp little shards. When a person has been irretrievably shattered, they have a hard time holding themselves together.
When he was a boy, Patrick saw his mother kill his father in the street outside their home. He and his mother did not get along after that.
And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Patrick together again.
Watching your father fall is not at all like watching the rainfall, or the snowfall, or the light fall softly on the window pane. Watching your father fall is different. In Patrick’s case it led to him being held tightly in the sharp talons of the law like an eagle holds tightly to a mouse.
Policemen are attracted to Patrick like iron to a magnet. And Patrick is pulled toward prison like a moth is pulled toward the flame.
Patrick was headed back to prison when Pennie and I let him sleep in our spare bedroom 38 years ago. He was there for only a few weeks, but it was long enough to get to know him and all the monsters he was fighting in his mind.
Patrick’s life has a rhythm. He serves his time, gets out of prison, and promptly goes back to prison again.
Patrick isn’t crazy. He has a sharp, clear mind, an impressive vocabulary, and a deep understanding of the reality that surrounds him. His crime is that he uses illegal chemicals to escape that reality, and he is smart enough to manufacture those chemicals himself.
“Uh-oh. That’s a no-no. We’re going to have to put you back in your cage, Patrick.”
In the 67 years of Patrick’s lonely life, his only romantic interest has been his love for chemical escape. Chemicals are the music of his life. To him, they are like the Big Band music of Glenn Miller and Cole Porter. In my mind, I see Patrick dancing with a mirror-image of himself as he looks back at the day he first learned how to escape his pain.
“That’s the way it began, we were hand-in-hand, Glenn Miller’s Band was better than before. We yelled and screamed for more. And the Porter tunes made us dance across the room. It ended all too soon. And on the way back home I promised you’d never be alone. Hurry, don’t be late, I can hardly wait. I said to myself, ‘When we’re old, we’ll go dancing in the dark, walking through the park, and reminiscing.'”*
Patrick is now old and dancing in the dark of an Oklahoma prison, reminiscing his lifelong love affair with perception-altering chemicals. But his sharp mind, his impressive vocabulary and his deep understanding of the reality around him rose to an unprecedented height in 2020 when he borrowed some legal books from the prison library, wrote his own legal petition, and filed a case with the United States Supreme Court.
I think we can agree the odds are low that an incarcerated felon could write their own petition and have it not only reviewed but ruled upon by the United States Supreme Court.
But that’s what happened. In July of 2020, Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh read Patrick’s petition and ruled in his favor. From what I can gather online, it didn’t get him released from prison, but it did overrule and reverse certain judgments of the lower court regarding Patrick’s case, and it opened the door for his appeal.
I hope to see Patrick again. But more than that, I hope to see Patrick escape the torture of the monsters in his mind.
Roy H. Williams
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
– Jesus, in Matthew chapter 25
*lyrics by Graeham Goble, guitarist of Little River Band (1978)
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