THE PRISONER FREED
After twenty years in prison for murder, he knew
A.A. was the spot for him . . . if he wanted to stay on
I BEGAN DRINKING as a kid, shortly after I reached my fourteenth birthday. My father was alive, and I had to do as he wanted, so I drank under cover. In 1918, he finally passed away, and the fear of him left me. I didn’t have to worry about him any longer. I rolled along with the mob this way, that way and the other way, but in those years nothing really bad happened to me. That was still to come.
On July 23rd of 1926 I went on a drunk. When I wended my way home four days later, on the 27th, there was a detective waiting for me. During the course of that drinking, I had shot and killed one person and almost completed the job on a second one. I was immediately arrested, arraigned in Homicide Court, held without bail, and remanded to the old Tombs Prison to await trial. I was indicted for the crime of murder in the first degree. The trial lasted about a week, and whether or not I was going to the Death House was anybody’s guess. However, a verdict was brought in of murder in the second degree. For that crime I received a minimum of twenty years and a maximum of natural life. In the meantime I had been indicted for the second crime, attempted
murder. I received an additional fifteen years for that, making a minimum of thirty-five years and a maximum of natural life.
On October 28th, I was sent to Sing Sing with a minimum of thirty-three and a half years to serve out of that thirty-five. There was no time off for so-called good behavior, first-timers, or anything else. However, as time went on laws were enacted that reduced the sentence. I spent about six or seven weeks in Sing Sing, and was finally sent off to Dannemora in the Adirondacks. I have spent eighteen years in that institution. An ailment developed in one of my eyes, and I was transferred back to Sing Sing and operated upon. I remained there for about ten months. In September of 1945, I was sent to a place called Wallkill, a so-called rehabilitation center.
I spent my last seventeen months in Wallkill, and it was there that I first got my introduction to A.A. When I had heard about it, it meant nothing but just two letters to me, but some friends of mine in the institution were very active in the program and really believed in it. They kept harping on it, that I go. One evening I decided to go because two of those friends were to speak. I rounded up a few more of my friends and off we went to the meeting, not for anything we would gain from it as much as to make a burlesque out of it. However, before the meeting got started, a group from the outside came in unexpectedly. I had enough decency so that I dismissed the idea of doing any clowning, and I did listen.
After hearing the first speaker I could tell myself that my own lot was rather mild. He had been in and out of Mattewan and many other mental institutions
as a result of his drinking. He had gone through the windshields of cars a couple of times and was pretty well banged up. After the meeting was over and we had returned to the cell block again, I was asked how I was impressed. “Oh,” I said, “that’s not for me! Those poor stiffs probably went to a doctor and were told that if they quit they’d live three weeks and if they didn’t they’d die in one.” That was my attitude toward A.A. at that time. However, my two friends kept coaxing and cajoling to get me back again. Most of my attendance there was when people would come in from the outside. I clung to the outfit for the balance of my time, and finally I was released on April 5th, 1947, after having spent twenty years and nine months behind bars.
I had an advantage in having an idea of what A.A. was about before coming out on the street. It wasn’t anything strange to me, and I knew if I wanted to stay on the outside, that would be the spot for me. But after I passed through the gates I took a change of heart and mind. So instead of going near A.A., I just browsed around for that first month. Each time I would make a report to the parole officer he would ask me, “Have you been to an A.A. meeting yet?” I’d say, “No, I don’t know where they’re at or when they meet. I don’t know anyone in the program.” After I had made my third report, I stepped downtown, met some of the old crowd, and of course you know the answer.
I staggered home next morning. I couldn’t tell you how I got there. When my mother opened the door, I almost fell on my face. She asked me, was I going to do this to her all over again? That really stopped
me for a little bit. I said, no I wasn’t. She was the one who really helped me to make a go of that twenty years and nine months in prison. She’s still alive today at the age of eighty-two.
So I went to an A.A. meeting the first chance I got, and I listened. I started prowling around with a couple of these A.A. boys, which kept me pretty busy and kept my mind off of downtown. I went along pretty well for the next ten months. Then instead of going out with A.A. again I went out with some of the other crowd, and off again I went.
That woke me up. I’ve stuck pretty close to A.A. ever since then, taken it day by day, not biting off more than I can chew. The days have grown into a little better than four years of sobriety. I don’t have any regrets. I don’t miss any of the old crowd nor do I miss any of their parties. I have my ups and downs the same as the rest. It’s no bed of roses, but somehow or other I’ve been able to make it, through the kindness of people in A.A. If something does come along that sort of upsets me, instead of walking in and throwing a buck at the barman and asking for a drink, I walk into a telephone booth, drop a dime in the box, and call somebody who was so kind as to give me his name and telephone number to meet such an emergency. I don’t have any resentments. I had a rough lot, but I don’t worry about that, after hearing the stories of many others. I think I am very lucky that there are people like A.A.’s and an A.A. program to hang on to and carry me through.