You can say my story is of a poor boy who made good. My father was a violent alcoholic who had a burning rage inside. He terrorized his own family and one night beat my mother to the floor and put a .45 in her mouth while screaming he would blow her head off. I ran out the door to call the police, and he yelled he would break my goddamn neck. I believed him and ran like the wind as he chased me in his car through the Brentwood Projects. His car knocked over clotheslines and garbage cans as he drove over the sidewalks and through the yards. The cops caught up to him, but even seeing my bloodied and beaten mom was not enough for an arrest. Not in Jacksonville, Florida, in those days. He terrorized other people also, and when he was in jail for murder, my mother escaped with her five children still living at home.
Food stamps and free cheese helped us get by. Once a fiery hell raiser, Mom had been beaten to a shell of herself, and alcohol and cigarettes took their grim toll. She had all she could do to wash the clothes, cook and clean. She had her last child when she was forty-five years old, and all her remaining maternal energy was expended on my little sister. This left the rest of us to do what we wanted. Running the streets in the inner city of Jacksonville was great fun. I developed my skills in avoiding school, adults, and the cops.
At fourteen, I started working in a fiberglass shop and then building pools with a Vietnam vet who had been shot to pieces. I loved working physically and being outside. Eventually, I managed to move the family down to Melbourne, FL. It was a nice middle-class area, but I was living in a new culture that I still sometimes struggle to understand. After a few years working in construction, I started taking classes at night at Brevard Community College. I made a startling discovery that if I paid attention in class and made a slight effort, I could make good grades. I owe a lot to BCC. The teachers overlooked that I often showed up with muddy boots, ragged clothes, and a sharp smell. I eventually worked my way through BCC, UCF, and FSU law school. For an internship at the State Attorney’s Office in Key West, I bought my first suit and learned how to tie a tie. First steps into a new world.
I was working as a mason when I took the Bar Exam and got hired by the Public Defender’s Office. It was a pay cut, but with benefits, I figured I was breaking even. I was right at home representing indigent criminals. It was the easiest job I had ever had. I worked my way up and eventually was one of five attorneys in the “elite” Capital Crimes Unit. Capital Sexual Battery and Murder were the only cases we handled. I moved into private practice and slowly shifted from criminal law to divorce litigation. While criminals are badly behaved until they are in legal proceedings, divorcing spouses tend to be vicious once the litigation starts.
It is a good living, and I have mostly retired. My wife is an attorney who runs our office and tolerates my occasional suggestions. These days, I spend my time tickling my keyboard while sitting on my pool deck.
I have always loved to write. Ideas in my head would bother me until I wrote them down. Relieved after a paragraph or a page, I would put the scribbles in a box for some undefined future time. Now I have the time, and books and poems are flowing out.
Before a jury, every case is a story. I learned to write a clear, concise opening statement to captivate the jury. That is just one of the ways my legal career helped me develop my writing.