Monday, October 12, 2009

Lorenzo (or "Penal Rehab Doesn't Work")

by Richard Crews

After I retired in 2000, I spent three years living alone in a used mobile home in very wild Texas back country. When I first moved there, the property--20 acres--was covered with thickly tangled, thorny shrubs five feet high with tangled vines; a 7-acre section was a thick woods, deeply gullied, also with thick, tangled vines. One could not walk onto the property, much less across it. There was no access to water, sewage, or electricity. The nearest neighbors were a half-mile away down a dirt road; they were a pair of ex-felons who lived with one of their girl friends and a baby, plus various other people who came and went. They all lived (crowded) in another broken-down, used mobile home.

When I first arrived, I rented a cabin several miles away. Each morning I drove over and spent the day with clippers and chain saw--later with a small garden/mowing tractor--clearing my way onto the property. In a few weeks I had enough area cleared so I could have a small, second-hand mobile home hauled in. Then I spent my time clearing more of the land, planting a garden and some fruit trees, building fences and a shed so that I could have chickens and a couple of goats, cutting paths through the woods. I built a shed, put up a windmill and solar pannels, and set up a system of gutters and barels for rain-water catchement. I drove 20 miles into town most every day to get my mail, and to shop at the grocery, hardware, and lumber stores.

After I had been living in the mobile home for a few weeks, a character named Lorenzo showed up at my door one day looking for work. Over the next two-and-a-half years, he came by often to work with me. He became a good friend--my "best friend," I would say--and he is the subject of this morality play--which is entirely true, by the way.

Lorenzo was a short, wiry man of dark complexion. He was in his late 30s when I knew him, very bright and energetic (enhanced by the fact that he was usually high on cocaine or methadrine). He was always smiling, laughing, joking--but he was also quick to take offense and savage with his fists or a knife or any weapon that was handy if he felt he had been cheated or threatened. He had served several terms in the state penitentiary and in county and local penal facilities, mostly for dealing drugs but also for various crimes of robbery and assault. As we got to know one another, we developed a mutual trust and respect; I came to rely on his judgment and help in a work task; he was always honest and completely "up front" with me (as far as I knew).

Two examples to illustrate Lorenzo's personality: One evening I looked out into the dusk and saw a wiry figure carrying something, running from my shed out to a waiting car. I knew it was Lorenzo (Lorenzo ran everywhere he went), and I chastised myself for leaving the shed unlocked. When I saw him a couple of days later, I asked him about the episode. He replied that he had borrowed the angle-grinder, and had since put it back, and--by the way--had cleaned it and greased the bearings while he had it.

Another example: After he had worked with me on some job for a few hours, I would drive him home (he lived in a small, doorless, broken-down camper in the woods on a corner of his father's property). Along the way he would have me stop at one or more places he knew of until he could "score" some cocaine or speed to turn the $20 or $30 he had earned into a day or two high. At one stop, I saw him running back towards the car, along a driveway, over a chain-link fence, and diagonally across a back yard, when suddenly--to my alarm--I saw that he had invaded the territory of a guard dog, a 70 or 80-pound Rottweiler, who was chasing him full-tilt and about to catch him from behind. I shouted to Lorenzo to "look out," and he turned and saw the dog just before it hit him. When Lorenzo turned and saw the dog, he did not run to escape or crouch to defend himself--he attacked the dog, rushing at it, ready to do battle--unarmed except for his tremendous energy and ferocious will. The dog hauled to a stop in surprise--no, in terror--and ran as fast as it could to escape. I feel sure that Lorenzo would have killed it if he had caught it--killed it with his bare hands.

Lorenzo was an expert welder--he had learned that during one of his stints in the State Pen. He also was an excellent auto mechanic--another skill gleaned in prison. And hairdresser. What other talents or skills he had I do not know, though he could always mend or fix anything that was broken around my property--even if he had to go off on his own for a couple of hours to steal the parts he needed.

Lorenzo had no fear of going back to jail. In fact, if the winter storms were particularly harsh, he would go downtown, into a bar, pick a fight, and get arrested--and have few days or weeks of three meals a day and a warm dry place to sleep. When he was ready to get out of jail, he would cut a deal--he would "burn" two or three small drug dealers in our neighborhood, and be released in compensation.

The moral of this story is that Lorenzo, as far as I could tell, was utterly and totally unrehabilitable. He could have gotten a job any time he wanted one (and he did, from time to time) welding, fixing cars, or flexing any of several other significant skills. He had a "social support system"--he had grown up in the area, his father and grown brother lived there--worked in construction and housing development. During the time I knew him, he met and fell in love with and married an enormously fat girl (he liked them the fatter the better), and even had a child with her--a child who was removed from the "home" within a few months after birth by the local Social Service (Child Protective) agency.

I have not seen or heard from Lorenzo since I left Texas to return to California five years ago. I suspect that he is either dead or in jail, or if not, that he is living a life very much like the one I knew--one that he had been living for a couple of decades before we met. I doubt very much that he has "gone straight" or "been rehabilitated" despite the state's best efforts, despite his remarkable abilities and skills, and despite the social network in which he had grown up and that was available to him.