A true story from a prisoner in the Missouri Dept. of Corrections
Preface: An epic paean dedicated to my mother, chronicling an elemental 10 minute period of my life that took 15 years to comprehend, and 24 months to compose. THE CONVICTION OF LOVEJust as a sunbeam can't separate itself from the sunand a wave can't separate itself from the ocean; we can't separate ourselves from one another. We are all part of a vast sea of love one indivisible divine wind.Marianne Williamson
"Rise before your jurors," said the judge. "Stand to hear the verdict," said his Honor. The white paper was passed from the foreman to the bailiff to the justice. Unfolded and read, refolded and passed back, the creased paper made its monotonous journey, its agonizingly slow way to the nicotine-stained fingers of the dumpy, middle-aged white man, with dirty spectacles riding low on the bridge of his lumpy nose.
As I rose to my feet, my legs felt weak, my knees trembled. With great will not to show any emotion, not to reveal the agony, the terror, the horror coursing through my body, devouring my soul, I stood straight. Erect, like a man should when facing judgment for his sins, at numb attention I remained. My face was an unreadable mask, a carefully constructed composure the court would later use to bludgeon me.
My lawyer straightened his tie, glanced at his watch, tugged on his ear. My vision narrowed to the face of fate. He is sweating. His fingers palsy slightly as he unfolds the paper. I can see nothing but the man ready to pass judgment on me. The rumble of the court fades from my ears. The foreman draws his breath, gathering what I realize in an instant of piercing insight is for courage to pass verdict on me.
Part of me feels compassion for the troubled man. Immediately, in a flash of a second, I berate myself. Compassion for him? "What a fool," my inner voice cries out in mocking condescension. I am the one going to prison for most, if not all, of the rest of my all-too-young life. Anger filled my heart. Anger at the foreman. Anger at the judge. Anger at my lawyer. Anger at everyone. Anger so deeply rooted at myself, it would take years to find, and even longer to soothe.
Clearing his throat, the man fumbled as he opened the crisp white paper, the paper with my destiny so neatly, so succinctly printed upon its fibers. I knew the answer. I knew the answer the moment I committed the crime. The arrest, though spectacular; the trial, though arduous and humiliating; the verdict was anticlimactic. Still, though, I inwardly flinched each of the five times the foreman read: "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!"
Somewhere off in the far recesses of my mind I had dreamed of a miracle I knew could never be. The final verdict, to my long slide into the abyss, had been declared. At last, I knew, it would be years before I would be a free man once again -- if then. A peace, a calmness of sorts settled onto my shoulders, like a shroud of relief.
The revelry was short lived. The court's master reread my sins. I did not feel the splash of mud this time, for I had long ago chosen to wallow in it anyway. An anxious impatience is what I felt. Get on with it, was my wish. Even though I knew the seriousness of my transgressions, I was not prepared for their consequences ... "Thirty years for count one," decreed the judge. "Thirty years for count two," declared the judge. "Ten years for count three," demanded the judge. "Ten years for count four," dictated the judge, "to be run concurrently with count three. One year for count five," the justice decided.
Seventy-one years in all was what my actions had reaped of the whirlwind. His Honor lambasted my carefully crafted countenance. He called me unemotional and unrepentant. "Like father, like son," he pontificated. "Not in my court!" he proclaimed.
I was nauseous. The room was tilting. I fought to keep the breakfast of jail gruel from spilling forth. My attorney closed his briefcase, turned and left without a look, a word or a nod. The judge moved off the bench, stepped through the door, and was gone to the rest of his life. The spectators, of whom there were many, quietly mumbling to themselves, filed away. The deputies firmly, though not forcefully, pulled my hands behind me, cuffing my wrists together. Struggling to keep my 19-year-old frame upright, tightly clenching my elbows, the sheriffs guided me out the side door to the private elevator, ready to return me to the first of many cells I was to inhabit. I was never more alone in the misery of my life than I was at that moment in time.
Amidst the confusing, pulsating despair of ultimate depression and self deprecation, an epiphany of instantaneous spiritually calming comprehension revealed. I knew then what Peter meant when he said: "I am certain that the Lord sent this angel to rescue me" (Acts 12:11). I heard a voice calling my name. "Jon Marc." Struggling to turn my head to the sound, I saw through the crazily swimming vision of my shock -- my mother. She was standing at the end of the hallway, the closest she was allowed to approach. Her posture erect. Her hands tightly clutched before herself. Her proud face composed, tear-stained, red-eyed. When she saw my attention focus, within the hubbub of the building, with quiet dignity, that today bespeaks to me of regality, she spoke three simple, ultimately life affirming and saving words, "I love you."
My knees buckled. The deputies held me upright. After all I had done to others; after all I had done to myself; after all I had subjected the woman who gave me life, support and unconditional love; I was still loved. At that moment in time, the elevator doors opened, and I was carried into its coffin. The saving grace of an angel's voice spoke once before the gate of Hades closed. "I love you, Jon Marc."
Today, I know at which point my life salvation was granted. Today, I know when there were but a single pair of footprints in the sands of my existence. Today, I marvel at my good graces, and wonder with the awe at the bountifulness of love in my life. Today, I know what beneficence truly is. Today, I know that the love of my mother saved me at the precipice of the abyss, and the love of God saved my soul.
Jon Marc Taylor has lived the past 24 years in correctional institutions in Indiana and Missouri. He is also an award-winning writer and editor and has earned both a bachelor's and master's degree while incarcerated. He recently completed his doctoral dissertation. "The Conviction of Love" is his true story.