Ronnie is homeless. His squatter habits and my work in real estate bring us together more often than they should. We also know each other through our 127 year old Ebenezer Baptist Church. Last winter, Ronnie waded his 260 lb. frame to his full submersion Baptism in the cold Westo River. I prayed waiting on the bank holding a warm dry towel. Sallie Mae led the singing, “Wade in the Water,” then we all returned to the school house for the carefully prepared “covered dish” supper.
Now it is summer and the past few weeks have included several run-ins with the law for Ronnie and one crime account in the local Town Gazette. As we walk, Ronnie shares with me his frustration of a night spent in jail for being accused of stealing a golf cart. After some conversation, I asked him if he had a gun and whether he feared owning one. The answer developed into a great lesson in hunting. Hunting here, right on our 5 mile mainly resort island. “Mostly coons,” he explains. I didn’t like imagining the taste of a raccoon. My mind jumped to all the kids’ peanut butter crackers left on our golf cart and eventually ingested by raccoons, an indication that their meat was at least plump. How ironic. Wealthy people leave food out carelessly and accidently feed raccoons. Raccoons are then shot and eaten by our neighbors. Wouldn’t a soup kitchen be more efficient?
Ronnie encouraged me not to hunt in the summer. That is when the red bugs, diseases etc. may be around and it is dangerous to eat them. “Wait till that first day when youz come out of you house and you see that glittering water on the grass. That first day of frost is winter and it kills all them bugs. Also mating season is done.” What does mating season have to do with disease I wonder but don’t ask. Thankfully Ronnie answers.
“See ‘til I knowz about not shooting during mating season I got me a coon, cleaned her up and cut her open. Lo-rd. There… there was a whole bunch of coons, it was terrible. No. Wait till fall and winter and don’t hunt in mating season.” He pats his belly, “Squirrels is good too.”
Ronnie’s heart truly broke when he killed those baby raccoons which I contemplated with interest in the context of his next story.
Pausing for a short silence and several steps as we both admire the woods, Ronnie offers, “I decided I am going to tell you something,” he starts.
“Sure if you want,” I invite.
“I…Well, you asked me if I ever went to jail,” he starts, “I wuz in prison 11 years 8 months and 21 days.”
“Oh.” I mutter.
He continues, “I took a life. He tried to rape my baby sister. My dad left me in charge, told me to take care of my three sisters and this guy was trying to rape her. He beat her … the furniture was all knocked over… she was half undressed. I came in and scared him away. She was OK, he didn’t rape her. I thought it is over. One day I seez him at the bar. I walked in, saw him there and turned around and started to walk out. I should have. I wished I had. But I thought I can’t always keep out of places because of other peoples being there. So I went back in.”
“He saw me and right away began ‘someday I am a gonna finish what I started.’” Ronnie recounts the threat.
“Now I knew I should’ve left so I started for the door, ‘Ye-ah, I am gonna get her... she is mine…,’ he carried on and on. I turned to leave. He had a gun. He shot at me. My friends seen he had a gun and shot at me. I shot back. Really, it was just self defense. But I didn’t miss. Now I was mad. Right there I walked back to him and shot him again. I stood over him (now Ronnie motions with two hands on an imaginary gun pointed down at our path) I unloaded my gun (he begins counting), 9 bullets.”
“Wow, I am sorry.” My heart races from the towering imagine I have just witnessed. I viewed only a glimpse from twenty years prior. I ask a few more questions about the noise, the commotion, how he waited right there for the police, but mostly I explain that I am sorry. Ronnie reiterates his commitment to care for his sisters, updates me as to how they are doing, and reassures, “When someone sez I am dangerous, I asks, ‘you wanna mess with my sisters? You don’t wanna hurt my sistas, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Ronnie continues telling me without anger about the blessing of prison. The first two years were hard before he met Charlie, a mentor who explained, “Time was time. How you spend it is your choice.” Ronnie chose masonry, construction, and studying the Bible. His eyes sparkled as he described prison as a thriving university experience rather than a waste land.
My mind wanders. I am thinking, “me too.” I too took a life. Not a life of a threatening, harmful rapist. I took the life of an innocent baby in my womb. Not in a bar or with a gun, but in a clinic. I didn’t go to prison. Not for 11 years, 8 months, and 21 days. Not for a day. I, like Ronnie, have repented. Blessings constantly pour out on me. Society has accepted me. My future is bright. What about Ronnie’s?
If this post is a blessing to you, please share it. Thank you!