It’s late on a Wednesday night and I am thinking about prison. No, I don’t want to go and no one is threatening me with it. As the old saying goes “I’m clean.” But I’m thinking about how it must be to spend many years there.
It’s unknown to me how or why memories choose their visitation time. The memory of an adventurous evening of chasing a bank robber paid a visit to me this evening. The memory took residence in my mind as I was sitting by the pool at the end of today’s work. I was sitting at the same deck table I was sitting at 12 years ago when my phone rang. It was the police station telling me I was being summoned to track an escapee from our jail. He was freshly gone, crawling below an observation window and bolting out a door an officer left unclosed.
The man’s name was William Thayer. He liked to be called “Wild Bill”, his self administered nickname. Our Chief of Police was not a happy man that evening. Wild Bill was on the loose.
A seven man team tracked him to a poverty stricken residential area of
I was destined to play a major role in this small drama. I want to tell you the whole story someday. It is truly a made for TV story. However my focus tonight is prison, so I will give you a quick cliff notes and save the details for later.
Thayer had stolen a car moments after escaping. We found the car. Thayer was not in the area. So I was left to provide undercover surveillance on the car while the marked police units circled a larger perimeter. Wild Bill finally showed up around 3am, hitching a ride with another man that let him out next to the car. I followed him through residential streets long enough to positively ID him, then called in the marked units. This resulted in a high speed auto pursuit through the streets, including some off road dust raising antics worthy of Starsky and Hutch. Wild Bill abandoned the vehicle while leaving it in gear (a common bad guy practice) and took off on foot. While the trailing pursuit car secured the unmanned vehicle, I stopped mine and went into foot pursuit.
Wild Bill and I had quite a race. I didn’t know at the time if he was armed, but I was ‘guns on’ and I was screaming at him to stop or he would meet God shortly. I used language that might have embarrassed the actors on Deadwood. Since he was endangering an entire neighborhood with his vehicle, the Chief had given us authority over the radio to kill him earlier in the pursuit. My memory is forever etched with the words of Wild Bill as he turned and yelled back during our foot race, “go ahead, shoot me”.
I’m fast enough that I caught Mr. Bad Boy on foot. It took 4 blocks and the scaling of 3 chain link fences and a wild and somewhat frantic physical showdown. Mr. Thayer lost. With handcuffs bound tightly he was returned to our jail. He had a long list of prior convictions in
And tonight 12 years later I feel sadness for William. I don’t really know where it is coming from, but it is a heavy and infiltrating sadness. Maybe its because its 105 degrees every day in DFW this August, just like that summer in 1994.
Maybe it’s because, like William, I can’t imagine a fate worse that spending the center years of my life imprisoned. I found his Department of Corrections records tonight. His projected release is 2029. (See below)
The power to take away another man’s freedom is a power that can create reflection. Some would argue that he took his own freedom.
I have come to a point in the dialogue where it’s important for me to wonder out loud if we have thought this through. Is this the deepest we can think? Is this the most humanitarian and effective way we can deal with the William Thayers of the world.
To have my freedom taken away is a terrifying prospect to me. I know that it terrified William as well. He preferred to die that day in 1994. He was 31 years old that dark morning when my handcuffs sealed his fate.
I don’t know the answer to my own questions.
But it’s why I am not sleeping tonight. In 1994 I threatened to kill William. I almost did as he clung to the top of a fence he was climbing. I had the barrel of my handgun centered on his skull and he paused in mid climb and stood completely still encouraging and daring me at the same time. I holstered and continued to chase him. I’m glad I did.
But tonight, I’m sad for William and I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about living in a cell until 2029.
Maybe tomorrow’s memories will wash this one away.
And maybe someday we will know how to not take a persons freedom from them. Maybe. I pray for them and for us.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Maximum Sentence Date:
Projected Release Date:
Parole Eligibility Date: