Rob Azevedo has watched more than one friend of his go off to prison and come back a better man.
Recently, I sat in the Federal Courthouse in Concord, NH and watched one of my best friends of more than 20 years be sentence to eight-months house arrest for a single count of mail fraud, a crime that took place around 2006-07 during the mortgage boom. Then bust.
You remember 2006, right? If fondly, then you probably sold, built, wrote loans for, painted, invested in, lucked into, landscaped or repossessed homes back then. Everything was lining up, finally, for a whole lot of people from a whole bunch of different working classes.
It was a wonderful time to play rich and feel the infectious burn of hot, new money.
One minute you’re blowing leaves in the parking lot of an industrial park for $11 an hour. Next thing you know, you own a commercial landscaping company and paying six under-the-table workers to blow all them leaves into fat piles of cash.
Friends and family members were knotted up in anxiety sitting behind the very much loved defendant. For us, him, his mom, wife, dead father and him again, we all sat withering away in worry, trying not to picture his next life.
I figured he was a goner. Easy fourteen months on the inside, I thought.
Ugh. Double Ugh!
Then, with God’s good graces and a Frenchman’s stroke of fine luck, my friend, whom I’ve spent the last 754 Friday nights with barreling around the Queen City, was spared prison time by a clear minded and thoughtful judge. I could have listened to him for days.
Thankfully, when the judge stopped talking, the left side of the courtroom could breathe again. And our friend, who admitted his “foolishness” to everyone in the courtroom, looked noticeably relieved, ready for his eight month penance and an assorted goodie bag of fines, probation guidelines and restitutions.
Seeing a friend go “off to college” is something I’m fairly familiar with. A handful of people I know, all of whom I consider friends to best friends, had their freedom taken away for their own rank stupidity.
Consumption of ego and power mostly.
I can call these friends stupid because I’m stupid too. Most of us are. And these crimes, ranging from white collar to the absolute worst, were committed by people, most of whom again, I’d hand my kids over too if fate came knocking.
Still, as the judge considered our friends fate, and for countless weeks prior, I couldn’t help but pity my buddy for the rotten world he’d constructed for himself. Every horrible angle of prison life resurrected itself in my minds eye whenever his face would reappear on Wednesdays when Friday was charging round the bend.
Then, sadly, I had to admit that our streak of Friday nights were Dunsky.
For some of my friends, years have gone by since they left prison. They’ve reestablished themselves, their names, their idea about righteousness. They had children and more children. Second round business owners, organizers, clean hustlers now, guys with no good reason to be stupid again. No good reason to play with the pen.
Other friends went off too college for what seemed like forever. Long gone, as they say. Enter the system as a monster, come out loved by a full family with nieces and nephews, work to do, new love to consider and plenty of bills to pay.
And now, some of these old jail birds are getting married, seeing a life come to fruition that was as imaginable as running to Neptune for a frozen bottle of Honey Jack. It’s a beautiful thing.
Another friend, newly encased in his freedom, is mining his way through his new identity, I’m sure, mending fences, making up for lost time, building and rebuilding his name, his pride, his career and home life.
Making it happen.
And now, as my buddy settles in for a long winters slumber, it’s easy to embrace his good fortune and kiss the ring of justice. He’s pretty much a free man. He gets to roll the wife over at night, maybe knock a wall down or rewire his home during this period. Maybe even shed an inch or two around the gut.
Still, one thing is for certain, good fortune comes with a price. Freedom is worth a thousand kisses, but a streak is a streak and to see one broken with as much girth as our Friday Nights once held, well, that’s a sentence all its own.
Photo: v1ctor casale / flickr