Many Judged Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Commentary by Angelo Anderson

Editor’s Note:  Paul is a representation of many different people in Anderson’s neighborhood.

             Paul had just gotten paid; it was his first check for new job on the outside.  Mostly his attention was elsewhere.  He had a spring in his step as he breathed in the good air of freedom.  There is a feeling of euphoria that comes with not having a guard watching every move and with being able to come and go as you please without restrictions and time limits, and he was basking in the glow.

            It was just sunset and Paul had taken a shortcut down one alley that let to the alley that he lived in.  The check cashing placed was on Cedar, and he should have been paying more attention, because he suddenly heard a voice say, “Stop right there, Mothafuckah!”

 He looked up to see a young man not more than twenty but built for power.  “Stop right there.  Gimme the money an’ you might get off with a ass whoopin,” the man said.

 But Paul had already stopped.  He spread his legs wide enough to give him both stability and power as the young giant approached.  There was nobody else in sight, and even if there had been, Paul doubted if they would have interfered with the trouble about to come down.  He wasn’t a man but a killing machine built on the body of a boy who had been sent off to jail and forgotten.

             “You could try to stop me,” the young man said as he reached for Paul’s neck.  Paul tried to block he hand but was slapped down to the grown.  The older ex-con rose up delivering a powerful uppercut to the mugger’s abdomen but he might as well have socked an oak tree or a granite rock.  The next blow was a fist that sprawled Paul out on the floor of the alley.  Two kicks followed in quick succession.

             Paul felt himself being lifted from the ground, but even that powerhouse couldn’t lift Paul from his feet.  There was more than two hundred and sixty pounds to the Cleveland ex-con.  He le his full weight hand dead, and the mugger was forced to drip him.


            “All right,” Paul yelled from the ground.  “You can have the money.”

             With that, Paul, who had never lost a fight because in the world where he came from there was no rematch, picked himself and produced the envelope that contained two hundred sixty-nine dollars and eighty five cents.

             The mugger took his prize

            “Turn out yo’ pockets, old man.”

            “That’s all I got,” Paul said

            “Empty out yo’ pockets, else I’m gonna hafta hurt you.”

             The mugger slapped Paul across the face with the back of his hand.  It was too fast to block, so Paul didn’t even try.  The mugger was so smug that he didn’t see the palm-sized stone that Paul had picked up with his left hand, and once the slap was delivered, the mugger had no limb to block the hard rock from crashing into the side of his head.

              Paul felt the bone crunching.  He heard the high-pitched wheeze of the boy’s last breath.

             Paul put the bloody stone in his pocket, reached down to retrieve his envelope and walked the few back alley blocks to his home.

             He washed the stone and threw it away.  He put his pants into strips and flushed them down the toilet because of the blood in the pocket; then he sat in a chair and waited for the police to come.

             The police always came.  They came when a grocery store was robbed or a child mugged.  They came for every dead body with questions and insinuations.  Sometimes they took him off to jail.

             They had searched house and given him a ticket for not having license for his two-legged dog.  They dropped by on a whim at times in case he had done something that even they couldn’t suspect because Paul was guilty, guilty all the way around.  He was big and he was black; he was an ex-convict and he was poor.

             The police were coming, so he sat in a chair and waited wondering if there was some other man like that mugger waiting for him in jail….

             Most people didn’t know what it’s like to live in a world like the one Paul lives in – a world where good jobs better housing and better neighborhoods are out of reach because you’re an ex-con, and although you’ve done the time, you are still labeled by society with a label that follows you no matter how hard you want to leave the past behind.

             I recently testified before the State Senate on the need to have this changed.  Because of the testimony of myself and others, and the hard work of Sate Representative Barbara Boyd, the Senate passed House bill 484.  It will study ways to improve the future of non-violent felons by easing restrictions on in place, opening the door to better jobs, providing he chance for people who have worked hard to better themselves – the opportunity to work and live in the manner which they’re entitled to.

 Paul’s story will continue in the next issue of the Homeless Grapevine.

  Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 38  October – November, 1999