The release date for Where Excuses Go to Die has finally arrived.
My reasons are simple. First, with today’s official publication of Where Excuses Go to Die, I’ve paid myself back for the opportunities, experiences, friends, and belongings that the consequences of my actions took from me. Second, a prison sentence was the first thing I ever started and saw through to the end, and the long journey of bringing this book to market would never have begun if I hadn’t formulated and maintained a relationship with delayed gratification. Neither would certain realizations have been triggered by the input of those I encountered along the way. The late comedienne Lotus Weinstock, for example, encouraged me to consider developing my newfound voice under less isolating circumstances, and her advice came just as the meaning of the concept — having a voice at all — was finally becoming clear.
Where Excuses Go to Die contains a good number of instances where the lights came on. But this is the most important of all:
I’d been arrested and charged with multiple armed robberies. Between State and Federal prosecutors, it took nine weeks for evidence to be substantiated, assembled, and presented at my preliminary hearing. As I’d gone on quite a spree, the evidence continued to trickle in after that, too. The judge marveled at my lack of criminal history. Even the prosecutor dropped his pretense, at one point lowering his folder and asking me point blank, “What were you thinking!?”
Preliminary hearings are basically presentations of some or most of the evidence against you in order to confirm the need for a trial. When you’re attending your own, you don’t look around much. On TV, defendants always seem to be looking behind them, smiling or grimacing at unseen persons. I can’t imagine doing that! The defendant’s chair is scary as hell, and the last thing you want to convey to a judge is that you aren’t paying attention or that the world around you is more interesting than what he’s saying. I looked straight ahead, which is why I didn’t catch the arrival of the many witnesses lined up to testify against me on behalf of the State.
One by one, each of them came forward to tell their version of events, and as they did, I sank deeper and deeper into my chair. In a courtroom, with all of its bearing, permanence, and officiated morality, it’s difficult for anyone to speak openly into a microphone, so it couldn’t have been easy on these people. But they conducted themselves as if they were there to perform a civic duty — all the way up until I entered their accounts. Almost to a person, the witnesses embellished details, exaggerated my demeanor, and flat out lied. (Stick with me here…this isn’t a blame-the-victim story.)
The first witness said I’d screamed, pulled out a gun, and pointed it everywhere. The woman who followed testified that I’d shoved her into a closet. I flat out panicked. I absolutely had robbed these people, but I’d never touched anyone, removed the movie prop .38 from my waistband, or raised my voice. I didn’t need to! That was my big idea: that the implication of a threat would do all the work for me.
I scribbled frantically on my yellow legal pad and slid it to my attorney, but he waved it away and whispered, “Don’t worry about it. It’s just a preliminary hearing.”
!!!!! Easy for him to say.
Witness after witness was sympathized with and patiently allowed to collect themselves, which made perfect sense. These were victims. My victims. They had every right to be compensated for what I’d put them through, but did they have to make things up? Oh yeah, they were gettin’ me back, and I guess they’d earned that right, too. The bottom line was, I was powerless to do anything about it.
By my own actions, I had surrendered my control over how people saw me or who they decided I was as a person. I’d willingly relinquished my ability to influence how others perceived my actions. That’s something people never think about in terms of getting into trouble: at some point, witnesses will be given carte blanche to say what they will, and defending attorneys have to work their way back from those accusations. As a defendant, the process can be torturous. I knew I hadn’t been and wasn’t the monster people were making me out to be, but that didn’t matter for shit.
And there was no one to blame but me. I was the one who opened the door for future witnesses to color their experience any way they wanted. I had no character, so I became a character: a young man with all of the attributes those witnesses cared to ascribe.
So here’s your origin of “get character or become one.” It’s the most important advice I can offer the world, and it applies well beyond the courtroom. As of today, with Where Excuses Go to Die’s public debut, that lesson is set free. I’m once again allowing my worth to be determined by others — but this time it’s for positive reasons rather than a cringe-worthy, humiliating wake-up call.
And it’s all brought to you by my voice, the one I was helped to find behind bars.