He Looked Like a Good-for-Nothing Criminal

[by Susan Ashline]

He wanted to know how he looked.

I’d just come from Jon’s court appearance, and he called me.

“How did I look? I mean… did I look alright? Did I look good?”

I could answer that quickly.

He looked like a dirt bag; nothing more and nothing less. In his orange jumpsuit, escorted in handcuffs, sitting in the defendant section, he didn’t look like a person. He looked like every criminal I’d always seen – actually, didn’t see – in that courtroom in all the years I’d covered courts as a news reporter. He was invisible.

He was nothing.

Why was he asking? It threw me.

I guessed he was asking because we all care about how we look, and he was getting out of prison in a couple of months. And here I was, not even considering that he was a human being.

Inmates in the same clothing are paraded in handcuffs through the courtroom to the same desk, and then brought to the same podium, and I’d seen them all as good-for-nothing nobodies.

This time when I looked at Jon, I no longer saw the guy who laughed at inappropriate times, engaged in deep conversation for hours, loved his dogs, and dreamed of riding in a helicopter. Gone was the talented remodeler and eager writer. Lost was the quiet guy with a gut-busting sense of humor. No more careful planner who labored over details and laughed like a little boy when tickled, held on fiercely when hugged and cried deeply when hurt.

He asked me how he looked.

Maybe, like everyone, he just needed validation that someone values some part of him.

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Also published on Medium.

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