I have a cousin, Tony, who I only knew as a small child. He was about 10 or 12 years older than me, and I worshiped him. When I was about 4, we moved to a homestead outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, and we really didn't know anything at all about living in that kind of environment. He was raised there, so he came out to stay with us and show us how to do all of the things we had to do...(when I say 'we', I mean my mom...I was, after all, 4). We had no phone, no running water, a coal burning pot bellied stove for heat, a broken down Ford Bronco for transportation, and a sled team that we fed but didn't have pull us around, to my disappointment.
Well, when I was about 6, Tony went away. I don't remember where he went...seems like it was too early yet for it to be pipeline work, though that's what everyone in Alaska did at the time. But he left. I was devistated. Cried and cried and cried, because I KNEW I would never see him again. And I didn't. We lost track of that part of our family when we came back to California, and that was that.
A couple of years ago, I was working on some genealogy stuff, and I 'met' a second cousin online, who is my cousin Tony's niece. I got in touch with my aunt through her, and then with Tony, via snail mail. He is just as wonderful and kind as I remembered. But there's a rub. He's in prison. Maybe forever. When he was very young, probably within a year or two of when I last saw him, he got involved in drugs. Somehow he thought that getting high and robbing a cab would be a good idea. It wasn't. He shot and killed the cab driver. When we came down from his 'high', he couldn't even believe that he had done such a thing, didn't believe it, wouldn't accept it. It took several years for him to come to some kind of terms with his actions, with what it meant to that man and his family, and now to himself and his own family, who must see him rotting away in prison. He's been there ever since. And yet, he still has this gentle, wonderful quality to him that hasn't been squashed out by the horrible circumstances in which he finds himself. Amazing.
His experience, or what I know of it, has opened my eyes a bit to the world of a criminal. How someone can do something so horrid, so inexcusable as murder, and find redemption. How others live on the outside and do horrid things every day, and get away with them. It's not simple, easy, or defined for me. I feel very conflicted about the whole thing. What I know is, he's my cousin, and I love him very much.
If you're interested in reading some of his stuff, you can read a column here. It's from '98. I don't know if he's written anything lately. Muh.