Tri-City Ledger -

By Lou Vickery
Guest Writer 

The Sunshine Report

 

June 25, 2020



I met Alexander Hart in the year 2000. I was part of a volunteer program for prisons. At the time Alexander was in his 46th year in a maximum security prison. He was convicted at age 20 to life without parole. His crime? He was an accessory to murder.

Alexander was one of four young black men from Detroit who headed south during the segregation days, with no real purpose in mind. The two young men in the front seat talked about how they would like to “stir up the waters,” without going into any detail. Much to Alexander’s surprise, stir it up they did.

On a stop to a small country store in North Alabama, the two men in the front seat exited the car and entered the store to make a purchase and use the restroom. The store owner denied them assess to the restroom. An argument ensued and one of the young men produced a firearm, shooting and killing the store owner.

Alexander and his fellow back seat passenger were both still in the car, when suddenly they heard a gunshot coming from inside the store. Fearing the worst and not certain who was doing the shooting, they exited the car and began to run. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The two who perpetuated the crime were located and in a shootout with lawmen, both were killed.

Alexander and the other young man were captured three days later hiding out in a barn on a nearby farm. They had no knowledge of what had happened in the store, other than hearing a gunshot. Yet, they were charged and convicted.

“I only lived a small fraction of my life free,” Alexander once told me as a tear popped up in the corner of his eye. “But I have a real calling here.”

I didn’t ask him what he meant by “a calling,” but I had noticed on previous visits to the prison how some of the younger inmates really looked up to Alexander. It was obvious that he served as a mentor to many.

Prior to this visit, the prison had been locked down for a week because of a prison escape by four inmates. After being confined to their cells for a week, attitudes among the rest of the inmates were not good. Tension was high. Tempers short.

That was the atmosphere I headed into as I made entry into the prison to fulfill a request from the warden, “to come and provide an inspirational speech to those inmates who would like to attend.”

Entry into the prison carries one through two security doors to the cafeteria which was to be the meeting site. The click of doors locking behind me always stir my emotions.

Alexander met me at the door, “Mr. Lou, it’s great to see you,” he said energetically through a smile of pearly white teeth.

“Great to see you as well, Alexander,” I responded in kind. His energy was always something I enjoyed being around.

“What you going to be saying to these boys tonight?” He asked firmly.

“The warden asked me to give them a good pep talk,” I said not exactly sure what he wanted me to say. “What do you think, Alexander?” I asked.

“What you need to be talking about is hope!” Alexander stated unhesitant, with emphasis.

“Hope?” I questioned.

“Yep, hope is an acronym,” Alexander said dragging out the word ‘a-c-r-o-n-y-m.’ Without hesitation, he continued, “H. stands for Helping. O. stands for Others. P. stands for Prepare (with the word “for” in parenthesis). And the E. stands for Eternity,” his voice rising with each letter. Then Alexander added this post script, “That’s the only hope we have in here.”

Alexander’s inspiration was my inspiration. I don’t remember what I said in the ten minutes that I talked, but that big pearly white smile of Alexander’s told me that I was on track.

I had no longer finished when I young inmate approached me, tears streaming down his face. A prison guard stepped in, but I motioned to him that it was okay. The young man threw his arms around me and through his sobs said, “I only made one mistake. I only made one mistake in my whole life.” Later, I learned that his “big mistake” would keep him in prison for the rest of his natural life.

I held the young inmate tightly for several seconds, as others gathered around. I didn’t say anything. It was not a time for words. Numerous others offered their comments of thanks and appreciation. The warden stopped by and expressed his approval.

Shortly, the guard stepped in and told us, almost apologetically, that it was time for the inmates to return to their individual cells. Alexander walked me to the first security door to say goodbye. His last words to me were, “Mr. Lou, you left some hope in here tonight.” His nod and big pearly smile told me I had done good.

Folks, regardless of our situation, there is always hope.

 
 

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