My father was 37 years old when he got into trouble. Of course, trouble had been mounting for months. But I didn’t know it. My brother didn’t know it. And my mother didn’t know it.
What we knew — the man we knew — was just a husband. He was just my playmate, my prince, my basketball coach, and my dad.
But all that changed when an unmarked car pulled into our driveway. When three men in suits came to our door and asked my father to go with them. When they said four words: “Sir, come with us.”
On that day, we learned my father had been embezzling money from the United States Postal Service — and he had been doing so for months … maybe even years.
Truth be told, I do not know for how long or how for much money because I’ve never wanted to know; I’ve never asked. Of course, looking back, it all seems surreal. The police escort. The public resignation. The very public airing of his crimes and our family’s business. The court case. The massive local media coverage with reporters outside our door, cameras aimed at our house, and our home phone that never stopped ringing.
It was so much for my 10-year-old mind to process that I sometimes wonder what’s real and what’s not. I don’t know where the truth ends and my then-elaborate imagination begins. But what I do know, is that my father was convicted of a federal crime. He was sentenced, fined, and placed on parole. And while he was a felon, he wasn’t a bad person. Or a bad parent. Or a bad guy.
Not all criminals are “bad guys.” Make no mistake, I know how absurd that sounds. I’m fighting semantics over crooks and convicts. I’m defending illicit behaviors and supporting criminal activities. But I think we can all agree there are different types of criminals — and a wide array of infractions and crimes, as well as motivations to commit said crimes. Some criminals earn the title of “felon” for assault and battery or vandalism. My father earned it for stealing from his job — to pay the bills. He stole money to provide for his family.
Does that make it right? No, not at all. His actions were still wrong, and he paid for his crimes. I assure you he paid, not just financially, but personally. He didn’t just lose his job, his friends, and his home, but he also lost his life. Less than a year after his conviction, he died due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. But I do not share his story — or my story — for pity. I do not want your sympathy or empathy, but do I want your compassion and humanity.
I want you to remember that criminals are people, too. My dad was a human being, too. I promise that if you knew the man he was, you wouldn’t talk about his crimes. You would talk about how he was a loving and jovial man. I would share stories about the many months he spent teaching me how to swim or ride my bike. I could talk about the rainy Sunday afternoons we passed playing video games, eating Cocoa Puffs, and burping the alphabet. And you would talk about the kindness he imparted; the generosity and goodwill he shared.
Please remember that criminals are more than their crimes. They are more than police reports and public records — they are people first. They are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and they are someone’s child. Every criminal is someone’s daughter or son.
And while they may be ill or misguided, not all stories are cut and dry. Not all stories can be taken at face value. And not every criminal you read about or meet is a bad person.