There are times I wonder why things happen the way they do. I wonder what causes similar people from similar situations to behave drastically different. I look at outside stimuli and other factors that shape human behavior. After intense study and thought, I am still in the dark. What makes a person turn into a criminal and another become a respected member of society? Perhaps a have a good idea.
I have a friend who took the wrong path. Actually, Jamie was more a friend of a friend. Bobby Glen had known Jamie most of his life, and they had been friends since elementary school. One of Bobby Glen’s first memories of their relationship was when he would pay Jamie cigarettes to let him ride Jamie’s father’s big white horse. They were still in elementary school, but Jamie was always a little more streetwise than the rest of us. Jamie was the baby of his family, the seventh child to his parents. His father was, as Jamie described him, part time preacher, part time painter, and part time drunk. He could never really do anything full-time. I had met him on several occasions and he was always nice to me, but Jamie had horrible stories of the abuse his father put him through, usually when he was off the wagon.
Jamie’s mother was a little Pentecostal lady, with a tall bun of hair on her head and thick wire rim glasses. She was small and stern, and the glue that held the family together. She worked as a janitor, a housekeeper, and as a lunch room lady. She was the main breadwinner of the home. She always looked much older than she was; she was only in her mid twenties when Jamie was born. She had lived a hard life, and her faith prevented her from wearing makeup, even if she could afford it.
Jamie lived in an old board and batten wood frame house out in the country. His older siblings were always around when I visited and usually had spouses and kids with them. The house was always busy. Jamie had attended several of the smaller country schools in Angelina County, and had been kicked out of all of them. When he turned sixteen he got his drivers license and quit school for good. His first full time job was as a carpenter’s assistant for a local builder. One of his original responsibilities was to take the carpenter he worked for to the beer store and drive him home after he got drunk. Soon Jamie would get as drunk as his boss would, so he had to find another job. He worked at various tire stores, filling stations and construction jobs. Jamie was a good worker, but had a problem with responsibility. He had a bad habit of not showing up for work, especially after a night drinking. He employers would usually give him several warnings before they would have to let him go.
Jamie was a good-looking guy, and he knew it. He was thin and blonde, with light blue eyes and a devilish smile that drove women wild. He looked like a young Paul Newman, and acted like James Dean. He was a tormented youth, and he played the part perfectly. He was also a smooth talker, and he practiced his art often. He was the kind of guy that as a seventeen-year-old could always buy beer. He didn’t look eighteen, but he could talk it. He also would pay the clerks a little extra to buy the beer, but never used his money. He would buy beer for his buddies with their money and them help the drink it. He had a variety of cars while I knew him, most of which he had junked out. He thought that he was a great mechanic, but all he usually was able to do was tear a car up and then leave it that way. The car he owned I remember most was an old Dodge charger. When Jamie was working the car always looked good, but when he was between jobs, the charger suffered.
He liked the ladies, and they liked him. He got a girlfriend pregnant and did the right thing and married her. The marriage lasted almost as long as the pregnancy, and then Jamie was back in circulation. He treated women badly, but he treated everyone badly. Jamie was sorry, he was sorry white trash. He would sell you out for almost nothing, and would lie, cheat, or steal to save his own skin. He liked to smoke grass, and that got him in some tight spots. An uncle of his was busted for growing marijuana behind his garage, and everybody knew that Jamie had been the one who planted the plants. He never came forward to confess, but he had told several of his friends what he had done. That’s the way he was if you got caught, you were on your own. We all understood this, and most of us were constantly checking around our homes to make sure Jamie wasn’t trying to grow dope on our places.
For all his bad habits, Jamie always had people around him. He was fun to be around. He was a ladies man and could set a friend up with girls that would show them a good time. He had a lot of stories and told them well. He was always willing to party and would never quit, until the beer or money ran out. He was crazy, and his tales were thing legends were made of. He was always in trouble with the law. He had at least one DWI, and probably more. He had a few possession arrests and even a burglary charge. He had stolen his landlords riding lawnmower once. He rationalized the incident by claiming that the man had several riding lawn mowers and that wasn’t fair. Of course, what Jamie didn’t always tell about the incident is that he tore off the cutting deck and raced the mower around his neighborhood, running into trees and bushes. By the time the police arrived the mower was a wreck. That’s the way Jamie was, but people still liked him.
It was the pot that finally got him in serious trouble. He was arrested after trying to sell a lid to an undercover officer, and was sentenced to nine months in jail. The county jail was badly overcrowded, so he spent time in TDC. When he got out he was a changed man. I only saw him once after his stay with the state, and that was enough. His blonde hair was long and stringy. His light blue eyes had sunken into his now gaunt face. Jamie had always had a couple of homemade tattoos, his initials on his right arm and a cross on his left shoulder. After his incarceration he had lots of tattoos. His arms were covered with snakes and swastikas, and he even had what appeared to be a grapevine painted up his neck to his ear. He looked spooky, and he had lost a few teeth while in prison. His attitude had changed as well. Being poor white trash, he had always been a racist. Now he was a full-fledged white supremacist. Bobby Glen took me to where Jamie was staying, and even he was uncomfortable around him. We didn’t hang around long.
After we left, Bobby Glen and I discussed our shock at what Jamie had become. Bobby Glen had even heard that Jamie was messing with crack cocaine after be released and we both knew that it would not be long until his was back in the penitentiary. We were shocked at what Jamie did next. In East Texas there are still wet counties and dry counties, wet counties sell beer and liquor in stores and dry counties don’t. At the county lines of wet counties that are by dry counties, small areas of commerce pop up. These are usually a few liquor store and beer stores and maybe a gas station or two. Jamie visited one about sixty miles from his home. What he was doing way up there no one knows. He picked up two cases of Bud and wanted a carton of smokes. After the clerk rang the total up, instead of pulling out a wallet, Jamie pulled a gun. He shot the clerk between her eyes, and then bent over the check out stand and pumped two more shoots into her body. He must have realized later that he wasn’t alone in the store and panicked. He started to shoot wildly and picked up the cigarettes and a twelve pack. He ran out of the beer store and as people watched in amazement, climbed into the passenger side of an old Dodge charger and speed away.
It did not take the law long to find him. They arrested him at a sister’s home, with his seventeen-year-old companion. The police didn’t even have her out the door before she was ready to turn states evidence. The jury didn’t give Jamie the death sentence, but did give him life.
I sometimes wonder why did Jamie go to prison for life and I live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood, with a wonderful family. We both grew up in a rural home with lots of siblings and religious parents. My parents were much better educated and I took advantage of the opportunities for education in my life. I did not grow up an abused child, and for that I am grateful. Most of Jamie’s friends blame his problems on drugs, but Jamie started his slide into drugs long before people considered it a problem. I blame society. Jamie always wanted attention and fame. He craved acceptance in everything he did, which is why people always surrounded him. Society usually doesn’t give fame and attention to good people who go about their lives taking care of their families and doing their jobs. They talk about the outlaw, the scoundrel, and the hoodlum. We make robbers and murderers folk heroes and surround them with legend, when was the last time you saw a book written about an accountant and loving father? Jamie wanted to be remembered by people, he wanted folks to talk about him and to glorify him, and to a small extent, that's what he got.
Jamie will probably die in prison, but that’s the price he will pay for fame. After all, he is the topic of this essay, when did someone write about a small-time writer?