A Tale of Two Bullets

A few weeks ago, late in November, I sent a postcard to Deval Patrick asking for clemency for Arnold King. Mr. King is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a Boston political aide in 1971. At this time, for the first time, the entire Parole Board was in favor of the commutation of King’s sentence. He had come up for parole hearings many times before and this was the first time that it was a unanimous decision.

Since Arnold King has been incarcerated he has earned undergraduate and master’s degrees, worked with incoming inmates as a counselor, and was extremely effective as a peer counselor. There are many ex-cons who have been helped by King’s work. They have completely changed their behaviors upon being released and attribute their success as societal citizens to the help they received from Arnold King. I have met a few of them and this impressed me enough to attend a workshop about King’s deeds while incarcerated.

I pondered the matter deeply before sending the card to Governor Deval Patrick. It is no simple matter to predict the behavior of a person when they are released from prison, especially after so many years on the inside. I felt, in my heart, that Arnold King would be an asset to our society on the outside and that is why I sent the postcard asking the Governor for clemency.

Governor Patrick, after much thought, declined to free Arnold King. This is the first commutation petition to come before Governor Patrick and he, in his decision, said, amongst other things, that, “while his (King) disciplinary record has improved over time, it has been far from exemplary.” He also said that he didn’t believe the petition should be granted, “at this time.” This does leave hope for the future.

I am one of the privileged people who receive e-mails from Arnold King and his friends, and I have also read some of his columns in Whats Up magazine, which now is a part of the Spare Change News. I was hoping that Arnold King would be pardoned.

However, I am not naive. I am an ex-con myself. Though I have been non-violent for most of my life, there was a period when I was young that I was far from non-violent and I also carried a small pistol.

Funny that I called it a small pistol. Sometimes my writing shows the error in my thought-train. Believe me when I tell you that the gun I carried was totally capable of killing another person. As a matter of fact, the only game usually killed by pistols are humans.

In 1967, I was arrested for sale of marijuana. Three joints for 50 cents. But it was still severe enough at that time to be held in Newark Street Jail for 9 days because my bail was $5000. My parents had a court hearing with a lawyer and my bail was reduced to $2500. They paid my bail and I was freed.

It was too late to save my job as a shipping clerk in a factory. I was bitter and not exactly an angel, at least not an angel of heaven at the time. The day I was fired from my job, which was the morning after court, I went with some friends into New York City to buy some heroin. In for a dime, in for a dollar. I had my snub-nose double-shot .38 in my pocket.

We had some trouble copping and the dope was not as strong as I liked. That was often the case. My temper was hot and I was bitching as I drove the car. We stopped at a traffic light and there was a police officer standing on the corner near us with his back to us.

I pulled out the pistol, pointed it at the center of his back, and said, “I’m going to kill that pig right now.”

My friends freaked out and said, “Marc, Marc, what the fuck are you doing? You’re going to get us all killed.”

I had my finger on the trigger and somehow, through my rage, I heard their voices. I lowered the gun and put it on the seat. I still remember my hand was shaking. I really wanted to do it but the stupidity and recklessness of the act was seeping into my addled brain.

Then I made a fateful decision, one that I have never regretted. I handed the gun to my friend. The magnitude of what I had been about to do hit me like an earthquake.

My friend said, “What do you want me to do with this?”, as he pointed at the gun. I told him I had just had my right to carry a firearm taken away. As crazy as I was, even in the depths of my addiction, I realized the impact of what I had almost done. In that moment, if I had pulled the trigger, not only might I have killed another human being (even though at that time I didn’t think cops were human), but the effect of the act would have reverberated through my life and the lives of everyone in the car and the lives of everyone who was family and friend to the police officer who was my target.

If I fired the gun, I would never have been able to take the bullet back. It is like being in a relationship with someone and saying something to them that strikes at the deepest part of their being. Afterwards, you can apologize, but the words are out there and can never be taken back. Irrevocable.

In a way, I am a parallel of Arnold King, the only difference being that I didn’t fire the gun. I’ve done time, only a few years, for drug crimes I’ve committed but if I were caught for every drug crime I committed, I’d probably be in prison for the rest of my life.

However, a miracle has occurred and I now am a committed servant of society and I am pleased to be just that, a worker among workers, a drug counselor and a poet who does other types of writing to get paid.

What does this have to do with Arnold King? Well, I am similar to Mr. King, in that I do work to atone for my sins because I am driven to do so by my heart. It may very well be that Mr. King is the better man because he has accomplished so much with the odds against him. I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree.

The only difference between Arnold King and myself is, in my case, the bullet didn’t leave the gun. I didn’t pull the trigger. I believe that was God’s work, not mine.

The fact is, in an e-mail I received from Arnold King’s supporters, it said that he was okay and was going to continue his work. I am sure he is disappointed. It is only human to be so. At one point in my life, while in prison, I tried to have my sentence reduced. The judge decided against me. I was torn, my heart ached; I went back to prison from court. I recovered. I was the prison librarian but I also mopped the floors in the offices and cleaned the toilets.

Will Arnold King ever be released? That is a question I cannot answer. I sent the postcard to the Governor. I felt that he should be released. I know that people change and he is not the same man that, one night on the Boston streets, put a gun in the face of a man and pulled the trigger.

It may very well be that the work Arnold King does will continue behind the walls. I believe he does this work because it is in his heart to do so and this setback, this refusal of clemency, will not change his continuing good works.

In my heart, I hope that one day he can do this work on the outside. I really do. But the one thing he cannot do, the one thing that is beyond the power of anyone to do, is to put the bullet back in the gun. For that, for John Labanara, the man who was shot, and his family, it is too late. The best they can do, all of them, including Arnold King, is to pray for forgiveness. And wait.