Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wild Bill

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 Fort Worth. Actually it wasn’t that difficult since we knew William had a heroin addiction and that he would be headed for his nearest source. Where exactly he was bound was given to us by his younger brother (also in our jail) who rolled over on him for the promise of a reduced charge.

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 California and his worst nightmare was going back to prison. He told me later in interviews he would have preferred I kill him and that it had in fact been his goal.

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

SID Number:


TDCJ Number:










Maximum Sentence Date:


Current Facility:


Projected Release Date:


Parole Eligibility Date:



Enemy of the Republic said...

Interesting. Jail/Prison is generally a terrible place. I have always felt a big burden for people locked up, whether they deserve it or not. In Chicago, I did volunteer drives to get books in Cook Country as the state in their wisdom closed the library, the source of hope for many inmates and Cook County isn't pretty. I also worked with work relese inmates, teaching writing composition. Here in Philly I wanted to do the same with the Quakers, but it didn't pan out--probably because I'm not a Quaker. In a way, I am not cut out for the work. I'm too easy to fool. Even though I have big time trust issues with those who are close to me, I tend to believe people when they tell me things, and inmates are notorious liars. Even one guy I got close to--he came to my son's baptism and got very involved in the Catholic Church, always maintained his innocence, but we put two and two together and knew it wasn't so (big time drug dealing). He just had too much money in those days and he wasn't working the 9 to 5. But I wish we in America were less bent on punishment and more on rehibilitation. Prisons teach new tricks and maintain the old. They are filled with filth, roaches--some have rats, bad plumbing, worse food. We basically are telling people "who get caught", particularly the poor, that they are dirt while the politicians and CEOs who rob people of their life savings go to prison resorts. That's not right. One thing I always admired in Johnny Cash was his compassion for inmates. He never spent more than a night or two behind bars, but it was enough. When you rob people of their dignity, then what else is there?

Okay, this should have been a blog. But you get me, don't you?

Seven said...

Yes I get you, certainly. They are wretched horrible places that rob the spirit and bleed the soul. It's the source of my sadness that we have never figured out a better way. I appreciate your thoughts and your loving spirit. Warm thoughts to you.

Grant said...

The whole prison concept should be ditched in favor of corporal punishment and more killing. The Cherokee nation operated like that, with courts similar to our own but punishments generally limited to fines, whippings, and executions for extreme cases. Their system had fewer repeat offenders, and it wasn't such a burden on our society.

Prison could work for some, if handled more like a training facility to teach people to be productive members of society. In the meantime, my word should be treated as absolute law and I should legally be allowed to kill anyone I don't like. Write your congressperson about that.

Jenn said...

Oddly - just the other night I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be in prison. Not the scary other inmates...but the cell. I was watching something on TV and there was a guy in a prison sell. It looked to be a little smaller than my bedroom - where I was watching the show. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I could never leave my room. Which isn't even the same as prison. But it was still a terrifying thought.

Your question about is this the best we can It opens the door to so many possible solutions...but so many that will never happen. Our education system...our welfare system...our many problems.

It's our free will that dictates our behavior and choices...but it's that same free will that steals freedom for some people.

Seven said...

I think you are saying in a very articulate way what we may all feel. How horrible a fate to have no freedom; yet where to begin? You nicely illustrate just how big the the puzzle might be.
A big puzzle of frustration.

Spitfire said...

I have often thought about the same thing.

Leesa said...

It is a scary thought. I have a family member who is incarcerated. And even though it's not even close to being as long, to get their letters is heartbreaking. The things we take for granted comes to mind everytime.
And then what is even more sad to me, is that sometimes they get out... just to wind up back in.

Hope you got some sleep :)

Rick said...

The first murder trial I ever covered as a reporter involved a perp six months older than me (I was 22 at the time). He was a stupid kid from small-town Iowa who got stinkin' drunk with a 16-year-old girl, had sex with her, then panicked and killed her. Life in prison. My blood ran absolutely cold.

Seven said...

So sorry about your relative, but I know from this that you know the sadness I'm talking about. Surely there is a better way that will be revealed to us in time.

Leonard Leonard,
That's a very good example of serving a long time for a moment of immense stupidity and drunkenness. Sad for sure. I think for those of us that have covered, by reporting, or placed these folks there in the first place, the 'standing very near these people' reality of being in prison is truly overwhelming to the senses. At least it is for me.

Rob said...

7, I know you are a man of depth and compassion. How appropriate is it for you to visit Wild Bill one day and just say that Ol' Seven's been thinking about ya."?

Seven said...

Its a noble thought. It has to be done with kid gloves if at all. It is often interpreted as 'rubbing it in' and Thayer's perception of the world is likely to be differently colored than mine. I get to walk away after all. Thank you for a wonderful compliment. I'll be thinking about your suggestion; as I said the idea contains nobility.

Grant said...

The idea contains nobility as long as your visit doesn't consist of "Neener neener neener." But that would make for a good video.

Seven said...

Yep. Its a great set-up for comedy alright. Heartfelt "how ya doing" full of signiificant meaning followed by the parting mugging to the camera where the victim can't see it. hehehe Good point.

Lynilu said...

I've had great respect for law enforcers who conduct themselves with ethical and moral boundaries, as clearly you did. I've had them support me in many situations in which I was enormously glad they were there. The worlds of the social worker and the policeman are often in conflict and yet they weave back and forth into the other's territory in ways that neither should discount the other's work. I know I couldn't do the job you did. I'm way too soft and trusting in the ability of people to change, as was essential in being able to do my job. I've not lost sleep over it . . . well, not often, anyway . . . but I've never been a fan of our corrections system. It seems to be more penal than rehabilitative, thus is costly and perpetuates the problems. Few with whom I worked reflected being any better for the time served or the programs used in that time. Occasionally they do better because something that changed for them while incarcerated, but not often was it a planned component of the system itself. Sad. And it must be frustrating to those who are trying to enforce the law to see it fail over and over.

It occurs to me that if we had a system that actually did rehabilitate, there would be less need for the enforcers.

Seven said...

A world free of enforcers is a wonderful thought on your part. And it would be the eventual conclusion of the peace seeking spirit would it not? Your contributions here are always valued.

Lynilu said...

seven - one can *DREAM*! :-))

And thanks, I enjoy your company and the challenge of thought you provoke.