The kid stood before the judge with his head bowed, trying not to cry. He was eighteen and blue eyed, with long, layered blond hair ‑ a high‑school graduate, a child of the suburbs, a regular at Westland mall.
Evenings not long ago, that's where you'd find him. He'd trip the electric eye at the Emporium arcade, and the glass doors would shush open, and he would scuffle in on clunky Nikes, wearing Jordache jeans, gold earring, leather jacket, trailing a perfume of forty‑weight oil. He'd flash his smile and hearts would flutter. Gorgeous, the girls whispered. Awesome. A hunk.
His name was Gary Wayne Fannon Jr., and up until recently, he'd been waiting to hear about a grant from an automotive school in Detroit. That was his plan. A job as a mechanic, a nice wife, a couple of kids, a cool car, a house somewhere, not too expensive. He was a modern kid with modest dreams of just getting by. But now that was over. A month ago, a jury had convicted him. This morning he would learn his fate.
Standing there in the courtroom in an olive drab jumpsuit, his Nikes loose without shoestrings, Gary felt like he was standing on some tracks in front of a speeding train, waiting to be hit. Just a loud roaring sound getting louder and the headlight bearing closer and his feet planted, can't move. Like he was going to die. His knees buckled. His lawyer put an arm around his waist.
“Have a seat for a minute," said the judge.
Behind Gary, in the front row, his mother was surrounded by family, nine members. Gary's father had cut out fifteen years ago, leaving Linda with Gary and his newborn brother. Linda worked hard in a restaurant to support her two boys. Weekends, she'd drive on over to her mom's. Everyone would be there: aunts, uncles, all the cousins. They'd pile in a couple of cars and drive to Cedar Point amusement park or Toys "R" Us, or they'd stay close, and the kids would play kickball in the yard. During the trial, Linda's mom kept telling her: “Don't worry, everything will come out okay. They will not do this to an eighteen‑year‑old boy."
Now Gary was helped to his feet. The judge asked if he wished to speak.
“Yes," said Gary. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He sniffled, took a deep breath. “I'm truly sorry for what I've done and what I've gotten into," he said. "I feel I was tried in wrong ways and lies came out that convicted me. The police got up on the stand and lied. This whole thing is wrong.”
“Anything else?" asked the judge.
Gary hung his head.
"All right," said the judge. “I have here a stack of letters from your family and friends. They are all glowing as to how good a person you are. The court believes all of these things. But this court has no discretion whatsoever to give you any leniency. The legislators have determined the sentence in this case…
“You will be committed to the State Department of Corrections for a period of your natural life." An awful quiet descended over the courtroom. Gary sobbed. The marshals took his arms, led him away. Linda tried to climb over the rail. She was eighteen when Gary was born, and they had gone through hell together. Two of her brothers held her down. "Gary! I'll get you out!" Linda screamed.
Gary resisted a moment, looked back over his shoulder. "Mom...,” he mouthed.
A marshal shoved him out the door. Linda fainted.