I received a letter from prison the other day. That's right. Prison – joint, slammer, big house.
It never occurred to me that some of my readers might be incarcerated. It has, however, occurred to me, at least based on the email I receive, that some should be.
Nevertheless, when I looked at the inmate number stamped on the envelope, my reporting juices began flowing. This could be some notorious criminal wanting to get something off his chest. A serial killer perhaps. Maybe this is my Truman Capote, "In Cold Blood" moment – a best seller, interviews, fame.
Then, I opened the envelope. The only part of the letter that made any sense was, "I read your article." The rest was an unintelligible mish mosh of footnotes, book recommendations, names of legislators and I think a recipe for chutney but I can't be sure. I didn't know what it all meant nor did I have any idea what he was asking me to do, if anything. The only thing that seemed clear was he doesn't like politicians or the media, which I suppose doesn't make him much different than the rest of us.
Still, I was disappointed. No confession, no expressions of innocence to consider, not even a cruel suggestion to "crawl back into whatever hole I crawled out of."
I'm a dedicated consumer of crime documentaries and it's a common theme for the accused to use the media to tell their stories and prove their innocence. What about me? I'm here. I'm open-minded. I can tell a good story. I just won't make one up, if that's what you're looking for.
I have been approached by those who found themselves sideways with our legal system.
I was once asked by a notorious fraudster to ghost write his memoir, which would include his take on how he was unjustly targeted by law enforcement, which he wasn't. I declined. I knew he was guilty and couldn't in good conscience write a book proclaiming his innocence, though I'm sure it would have sold well.
Better yet, I was once approached by a Nazi who wanted me to tell the world his story, or at least his story according to him. This was a bona fide Nazi, as in World War II, Third Reich and so on.
He was an SS death camp guard during the war, but later made his way to the States, where he lived in relative obscurity until the feds picked him up in the early nineties. I covered his trial and, for some reason, he took a liking to me. Why me? To this day, I have to idea. Maybe it's my face. Could be that I have a trustworthy look. Could be that I look dumb enough to buy whichever yarn someone is spinning. Either is plausible.
Anyway, the guy wasn't in custody during the trial and he frequently cornered me in the hallway to tell me the feds had it all wrong, that he was just a simple tool and die maker. (Is it me or is tool and die making a chosen profession for former Nazis?) One time he followed me to the bathroom to tell me that he was forced by the Nazis to work at the camp and that he actually wasn't such a bad guy after all. I turned him down for a number of reasons, not the least of which was I didn't want to add, "Nazi sympathizer" to my CV.
The U.S. government proved that he was, indeed, a very bad guy and he died years later while awaiting extradition to Germany on murder charges.
Perhaps I missed my chance, but I would like to declare my availability to the accused and convicted, you know, if you need to unburden yourself. Again, not that I'm advertising.
On the other hand, if you only want to complain, you'll have to wait in line with everyone else.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at [email protected]