It was a chilly winters’ day as I drove towards what would become a bright vibrant hot spot of Denver, called LoDo.
This was a decade before the construction began, tearing down the old wasted vacant buildings, dilapidated bridges and old railroad tracks.
I was headed towards the Speer boulevard bridge to Highlands Garden, slightly passing 5 Points on a busy street.
Noticing a tall, well mannered thin black man carrying a small cardboard box. It was sunny as most days are in Denver Colorado, however bone chilly; enough for me to have a jacket on and heat blowing in my car.
He was walking at a steady pace, but his thinned short sleeved shirt ~ well seemed a bit odd. Reasonably clean and dressed, I could not take my eyes off of him. Slowing my car down, without giving a thought to my actions and what I was about to do, I turned right onto the street where this man had crossed and was continuing his walking mission.
Pulling up beside him, hitting the button to roll down the passenger side window, I asked “would you like a ride somewhere.” He was very polite and asked how far down I was going. I replied, “I am not in a hurry today, where is it that you need to go?”
He leaned into the passenger car window with a smile, “Ma’am I would appreciate the ride and my name is”….. “Yes, I said, it is chilly out, please do get in and warm yourself.”
He opened the door, repeating his name, climbed in, gently and notably methodically put the small box between his long legs, adroitly pulling the seat belt in position to latch.
Something was different about this man and I had to observe him carefully. He was kindly mannered, well mannered, and politely appreciative. This is 5 Points, a very mixed neighborhood and for someone to be walking in a shirt sleeve during the chill of winter, well it all seemed to be amiss.
Introducing myself, asking where are you going, he said to his mothers’ house down the road a bit. “Well please give me good directions to get you to her house. And why are you not wearing a jacket, you must be chilly?” Yes Ma’ame I am” as I turned up the heat. “are you alright, do you need something to drink before we get to your mothers’ house?
Again with a methodical polite demeanor he said “No thank you, I appreciate you asking about my well being Ma’am .” And then he began to tell me in a simple manner, his story. “I was just let out of jail and there was no one able to pick me up, so I had to walk from the jail to my mothers’ house.” I was stunned. “Your mother does not drive?” “No Ma’am , she does not have a car, she can not afford a car and we do not have a car.”
His repetitive slow articulation appeared to be developmental slowness, as he continued to tell me his story about the last couple of years.
“You see Ma’ame , I am retarded and I am a bit slow, that is why I was walking home, we are not educated enough to have things like cars.” “But your mother has her own house?” “Yes Ma’ame , it was given to her by her folks and maintained by my father, but he died a number of years ago.”
“And why where you in jail?” I was in jail for I had done somethen wrong Ma’ame, it is good of you ta give me a ride, I was cold ~ turn down this road please Ma’ame .”
“You see Ma’am , I have a girlfriend, we are getting married as soon as I get out of jail. We have been plannin to get married for a long time; we have been together four years now, even while I was in jail.”
At this point, I am dumbfound and incredulous ~ thinking what in the world could this incredible gentle man, who knows he is retarded, could had done to be in jail? Of course I had to ask; how long where you in jail?
“Yes Ma’am , I was there for a year and about a half, I did something wrong, they told me so I had ta spend time in jail and I did what they told me ta do, I went ta jail after court hearing, that is when they took me ta jail. My Mom does not have a car and that is why I was walking with my belongings in this here box.”
“My girlfriend and I are going ta get married now that she is of age.” My eyes and thinking sunk as low as my stomach to my feet. This lovely gentle man, who is retarded was put in jail because his girlfriend was under 18 years old; consensual – legal age – damn.
“You see Ma’am , I had sex with my girlfriend when she was seventeen and that was bad of me, I did wrong and had ta go ta jail. Now that she is over eighteen we can get married.” Please take the next turn, you do not need ta drive me all the way ta my mother’s house.” “I am in no rush and concerned about you. It is a shame someone could not pick up after spending time in jail.” (For a crime that truly was not truly a crime, I thought to myself). “Oh no Ma’am , I broke the law and I had ta spend my time in jail, I was wrong from having sex with my girlfriend, but now we get ta be married.”
My heart sunk and holding back the tears I could feel the anger of our unjust nefarious racist legal system rile deep inside. What was the point in putting a man, a retarded man in prison for a year and half, when this young couple wanted was to be in love and together?
How many teens have sex at fourteen, fifteen through eighteen? How many true rapes re-victimize the rape victim and the rapist goes free – for unfounded reasons or a powerful father paying their way out of the legal system. With reasons given as: the way a girl is dressed ~ trampy~ not to the liking of the judge and jury; where she might had partied that evening only to be given a dirty cocktail and ganged raped. Damn I counseled so many young girls about rape. And here, two young people fell in love innocently, a retarded couple who did not know the difference of age consent; what was the sense to lock him up? I was furious; nonetheless I could not show him my disdain for the law at this moment, only wished him well.
“Ma’am if you could pull up ta this corner I can walk the rest of the way.” “I can take you to your mothers house and make sure you are safe, I am not in a hurry.” Whether I had something to do or not, at this point my time was not the compulsory at this moment; it was the injustice of our world and for a moment, this moment I might make life a little easier for this gentle man who did no harm.
“When do you expect you will be getting married?” “Oh we are planning ta get married very soon, we love each other. She use ta come ta the jail ta see me when she turned eighteen.” At this point the tears began to well up in my eyes and it took everything in me to not curse about the abomination of our legal ways and law. What a *A#$^( waste of time, tax payers dollars and this man’s life.
“You see Ma’am , I broke the law and I had ta do my time in jail. Now I know the law I will not break the law again. And we can get married in a month or some, we are making plans for our wedding.”
We pulled up to a little house in 5Points. There were several stoops of ascending concrete stairs to the turn of the Turn of 20th century ~ two story brick house. These houses were predominately black neighborhoods with homes that had been passed down through family members for decades. My own 1800’s Historical Victorian was only a mile or so from this area and I dearly loved the eclectic area of Denver.
As I pulled to the curb, this gentle man gathered his little cardboard box from between his long legs, unfastened his seat belt faultlessly allowing the belt to move slowly back into its’ casing.
Gingerly he reached for the door handle, with a slight turn back to me he said, “thank you Ma’ame for the ride, it sure felt better in your warm car. I do appreciate the ride; this was very nice of you – a stranger taking the time out of your day.”
It was my pleasure to help you, more my honor. You have a wonderful wedding and I hope you are happy the rest of your life with your girlfriend. You deserve happiness in your life.”
“Yes Ma’am, I know we will be happy, we love each other very much and we have been together since she was sixteen. I know I did wrong now and I will not do that again. Thank you again Ma’ame for the ride, you are very kind lady.”
I drove off to Highland Gardens really pissed! Cursing inside my car, loudly, banging the steering wheel for a moment; this enraged me. What good was this action taken by our legal system? Taking another black man to jail, (wondering did they meet their quota for that year of black crimes committed by black men? A simpleton, highly functional, diagnosed retarded black man, what good did this serve to put him in jail? What point did this prove?
Stopping at one of my favorite writing haunts, Bang café after stopping at the Denver Bread company for some Rosemary Focaccia bread. I felt the furry of heated flames inside me burning with rage at the audacity of our system and its’ apparent uselessness. Damn what good did this serve anyone?
Now two decades later, I still ask – Damn what good did this action do anyone? There was no harm done, they are getting married and still deeply in love. If there are crimes and punishment to be delivered, take a look at the true rapist who mutilate women, scar them for life – emotionally, physically as the victimized women are tormented (many times) for the rest of their lives.
Take a closer look at pedophiles and those who kidnapped children, holding them as hostage for nefarious sexual demands and tormenting years, often leading to their deaths (gratefully by the child who has been tortured for years). It is heinous, I know, I had worked with many of these victims, who were adults still facing their agonized persecuted years of memories.
The rage of this moment never relinquished. This story is one I could never forget for he was such an honest gentle person, retarded thereby not capable to fully understand the perimeters of sexual age consent. What a waste.
On the other hand, the loving couple never lost their bond. Such deep love should be reveled in our lives, not cremated. Now, in less than two months the couple would resume their happy relationship without the law egregiously interfering. I do hope they are happy and if they had children, I know they would be of normal intelligence, more they would be greatly loved.
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About the Author: MicheleElys is a Neurobehaviorist ~ Writer ~ Educator ~ Keynote Speaker.
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