Something I wish I could tell all nursing and medical school graduates as well, as those now practicing, is that without a sound moral foundation they will one day be forced to make a decision (or decisions) that will not only endanger their career, but their livelihood and reputation as well. I made a choice that was wrong and resulted in the death of a patient; others have painted it as a compassionate choice to end the suffering of a family (the woman in question had been diagnosed as brain dead at some point prior to my caring for her this last time and had been in ICU for months), but I cannot honestly say that this was in my thinking at the time. I’d like to think it was; in light of subsequent events, however, I cannot categorically state that wanting to end the family’s struggle was even in my thoughts that night.
An indictment and subsequent conviction for murder followed and I entered the prison system without a real expectation of ever coming out or even surviving if I had a release date (I didn’t!). My sisters and Mom would write me, occasionally visiting (my Dad had died some years earlier), but it was my wife who would be the main support through the years; she said that she’d seen something in me years before and decided to stick around and see what happened after I was convicted. Friends vanished almost instantaneously with the judges’ gavel striking down when he pronounced sentence and I entered Central Prison.
I arrived there in the early morning in February in the middle of a storm with sleet falling; getting out of the car to shuffle to the door (I was handcuffed and shackled), I stopped for a moment to look up at the wall surrounding this dark place and remember thinking that this was where I belonged. Honestly, I expected to be killed in a short time; my idea of what life in prison were somewhat vague as the only time I’d ever been in a jail was as a paramedic to pick up a patient. It was horrific and the first weeks were a blur as I tried to apply the lessons one man had taught me while in jail prior to my sentencing (he’d been a repeat offender and had spent many years ‘inside’ and given me some advice laughingly calling it “Prison 101”). You never really trust anyone, especially those in authority, and the idea of keeping your head on a swivel (checking six in fighter pilot parlance) at all times, but at the same time, as the commercial once put it, “never let them see you sweat.” If you act like a victim or others sense your fear, you are toast!
As I studied Scripture (finding the Bible Broadcasting Network station within range of whatever prison camp I was transferred to was always priority one!) I began a journey that continues to this day. Having been released a little over three years ago I have adapted pretty well to my new reality, re-connecting with the Chapel Hill Bible Church (this time listening with a new heart and seeking desperately to apply what I learn) and becoming involved in different ways in the community, but still without meaningful work outside of those volunteer activities (USO-NC, Our Children’s Place, Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, and Job Partners). Not having a job despite over 450 applications (to date) has been troubling; between my age and my felony I've learned that opportunities are few and far between. Because of an old back injury while working as an ICU nurse that was exacerbated through the health care offered ‘inside’ I am unable to perform much of the tasks that ex-felons are normally funneled toward (dish-washing, manual labor, etc.) and despite picking up an Associate’s degree in computers while in prison, no one seems willing to hire me. From office work to garbage pickup for an apartment complex Kathy and lived at for a while (until they found out about my felony), my efforts to obtain work have fallen flat and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find full-time work.
With no prospects and my only regular addition to the family income being my Social Security retirement check (not much because of the 23+ years in prison), I am adjusting to my new reality as house husband to Kathy (at least she likes my cooking!) and find satisfaction in helping others through the volunteer activities. Recently, however, there seems to be something else stirring in my heart that I have a hard time articulating and so have begun to reach out to those I respect for advice and suggestions. I’m not sure where this new ‘thing’ will take me or even if it will go anywhere. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you updated.