When Should An Accident Be A Crime?

“Now it is time to forgive and comfort him.”  – 1 Corinthians 2:76 NLT

“Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families.” – Charles Dickens

      A few weeks ago, in Des Moines, Iowa, a police officer left his K-9 partner in the car on a hot day, went into the police station and forgot about him. When he remembered, he ran outside and found the dog dead.

      I was saddened by the article in the Des Moines Register. I knew that it would create a flurry of attention and it did. There was an investigation and the officer was suspended for a few days. There were, of course, those who cried out that there should have been criminal charges relating to cruelty to animals, but there were none. Nor do I feel there should have been.

      It was an accident, not callous disregard for the welfare of this animal who was more than an animal to the man. He was his partner. Justice would not have been served by bringing charges against the officer.

      In the same paper several weeks prior to that was another story about a young man who tied a dog in his backyard without water for several days. That dog also died and that young man was charged, although in this case it seemed appropriate since the man knowingly left the dog helpless and without water for three days.

      In the October 16th Des Moines Register, another tragic death was reported. This did not involve a dog but rather a 16-year-old boy named Corey Hamilton, Jr. A group of friends were playing with a gun that they believed to be empty. It was not. The bullet they did not see when they emptied the gun was in the chamber and when Dontavius Sharkey pointed the gun at Corey’s head and jokingly pulled the trigger, the life of one boy ended and the life of another was altered forever.

      Dontavius was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. The district attorney wants to try him as an adult. Corey Hamilton’s mother doesn’t want him charged at all since she sees it for what it is: a horribly stupid game that resulted in the completely accidental death of a young boy’s best friend. Corey’s mother sees the truth in the fact that nothing further can be gained since Dontavius has already been sentenced to a lifetime of carrying with him the knowledge that a moment of careless play took the life of a young man and he was responsible.

      To the mother who sees no crime in the accident that has taken her son I say, “God bless you and thank you for seeing the real truth at the heart of is senseless tragedy.   And to the man who so callously and foolishly believes that there is some sort of justice to be served by not only prosecuting the unfortunate young man who pulled the trigger but trying him as an adult as well I say, “I pray that if you have children, they will never indulge in completely childish, irresponsible behavior that ends in a tragedy. However, if they do, I also pray that the decision on how to deal with them falls into the hands of someone with more common sense and compassion than you.”

      This young man’s life has been forever changed. Gone, for the foreseeable future, is his ability to smile, to be young and to experience the joys of youth. Gone forever is his friend, Corey.

      I do not know the prosecutor’s name nor do I care. He is a misguided individual who obviously needs a lesson in what constitutes crime and what constitutes tragedy. Crime is punished by the law. Tragedy has its own way of punishing people. Dontavius Sharkey is in the process of realizing that now.

      Stupid people should never be allowed hold positions of power – even little ones. This man gives the concept of justice a bad name and should find a new line of work.

The Son, He Lives

It’s incredible seeing the amount of traffic TOC is getting, even when nothing is being posted. Thank you all for reading my dad’s posts!

I don’t remember the last time I wrote for TOC — how sad. But this place is about my dad, not me. It continues to grow, and he continues to write. I’m off job-hunting and feeling life’s path.

These days I’m in Oregon, working for my alma mater (Oregon State University) temporarily. I’m spending weekends climbing mountains and running long distances on Northwest trails. But I’m never too busy to respond to questions.

Having a family member in prison is difficult to endure. We ask ourselves questions — most of which we cannot answer. That’s what friends are for.

If there’s something you wish to ask me, don’t hesitate. I’m here: anthony.casson at gmail dot com

Forgive the odd address. It’s to (help) save me from spammers.



“A Terrible Place for Terrible News”

 “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”  2 Chronicles    NLT

“Grief is a tree that has tears for its fruit.”   Philemon

      There are three of us who work in “The Butcher Shop”. It is a refuge of sorts from the daily chaos and confusion that are part and parcel of operating an institutional foodservice facility. Although we are certainly an integral part in the maelstrom of meal preparation, our part in the process takes place in the relative peace and quiet of a 40 degree walk-in cooler that is roughly 8′ wide by 20′ long and contains a long stainless steel table, a sink, a slicer, and various racks on which to store product. When we report to work, the door is unlocked and re-locked after we enter. This is not a form of punishment or to make sure we don’t leave our posts. The lock is to safeguard the food we are working with….to make sure IT doesn’t wander off and become a part of the prison economy.

      Our business is meat, therefore, we are “The Butchers”, although “Meat Preparation Specialists” would be a more accurate title for us. Simply put, we take boxes of frozen meat and get it into and onto various pans and racks. The cooks then take it after it is prepped and work their own special brand of ‘magic’ on it (cough cough).

      As I said, there are three of us, and I have been there the longest. I am joined in that cold, damp, quiet place by two young men named Nate and Derek. Their two ages together fall one year short of equaling my own ‘ripe old age’ of 58. In age, they are both somewhere between my daughter and my son. I bear the brunt of many jokes about being the old man. I suppose I do look upon them both with a certain paternal attitude and I like them as individuals. I also feel pain for the circumstances that cause them to be in a place like this and I feel pain for the families they both have who support them and wait for the day when they return home.

      Derek and I not only work together, we share the same housing unit so we see more of each other. I have known him longer and have learned more about him and his family over the year and a half or so that he has been here. He also is second with seniority in “The Butcher Shop”. We work well together and I respect his abilities, his work ethic, his intelligence and his sense of humor even when I am on the receiving end of it. Derek is short, so I call him “Shorty”. He calls me old. We like each other.

      Derek is also a very talented learning artist and is constantly sharing with me things that he has drawn. He drew a beautiful cross for me that I taped on my coffee mug. His mom has sent him many books on drawing that he always shares with me, as well as other books on subjects that he enjoys. He is unique not only in his talents, but in the fact that his family lives very close to hear, which is a rarity. His mom pops in very frequently for visits. They are very close emotionally as well, and Derek has shared with me sheets of photos his mom has printed out for him and tells me all about the different members of his family. It is very obvious that Derek and his mom’s relationship goes beyond that of just a mother and son. She is his best friend.

      Or was. Derek’s mom passed away completely unexpectedly on Easter Sunday. She was only 52. Apparently she had a stroke, and then started hemorrhaging. Such terrible, terrible news to receive. And this….this is the most terrible place to receive news like that.

      May all of you join me in prayer for Derek, his little brother, and the rest of their family. I know this will be difficult for all of them, but especially so for someone in a place like this. There are many who receive news like that in here. Perhaps while you are at it, you can pray for them as well.

      At times like these it is hardest to trust in God and His reasons, but it is at times like this that it is the most important to do so. Derek will miss his mom, I am sure. So will I. He introduced me to her in a way, and I thought she was pretty special.

      God bless Derek, and all of you.

“The Visit – A Visitors Perspective”

     Tony’s article “Faces in the Visiting Room” touches on a subject that happens in prison and detention facilities throughout this great land and around the world on a daily and weekly basis.  In many cases, lives of families are put on hold as they find the means and ways to drive hundreds of miles to visit family and friends on the inside.  The immediate impressions the 1st time a person arrives at the facility – miles of shiny razor wire and chain link fence glistening in the early morning dew, with the sun peering over the tree tops – will either scare the heck out of you, or once the dry heaves stop, provide a sense of calm that everything is not as bad as once envisioned.

     Much like the inmates, each and every visitor had their own story to tell:  while queuing in the 1st line in the parking lot some are willing to talk about how far they traveled, comments on the weather; some relying on their ‘visiting day savvy’ to remind the newbie you can’t wear khaki shorts inside (guilty. . .);  someone else offering to loan you a pair of jeans to avoid the long trip back to the hotel to change;  some opening up a little more about themselves, telling their story before moving to the next  line;  more people joining the conversation while more people arrive and filling the small space beneath the tree, telling you how this facility was better than others; all waiting for the hand from behind the slightly opened door across the lot to wave 10 people into the visitor processing center.  All everyday people, all with a different story that once told begins to sound just like the story a fellow visitor told only moments ago.

    In Tony’s most recent post he mentioned Aaron’s mom and stepdad.  We had the pleasure of meeting them, first through TOC, then email, phone calls and finally in person, when by God’s immense grace He arranged for them to visit the same weekend we did in early April.  Their timely presence was a true blessing as it helped provide a peaceful calm during a very difficult time – truly genuine people with huge hearts who took their time to help us, providing guidance and friendship that made the drive and arrival so much easier.  And they happened to have an extra pair of jeans that were just my size.  Go figure.

    Not knowing what to expect once inside visitor control, it was much like having to process thru an airport before queuing (again) to make the short walk to the actual visitor center (note: the people at the processing center are nicer than those at the airport). A clean, sparse, well kept facility with rows of chairs facing each other – nothing like the vision one carries from the boob tube that depicts a bunch of picnic tables, and no glass wall with telephone handsets to talk (although there was one glass wall/handset thingy off to the side, next to one video station used for, what I assume, more violent inmates, and a separate ‘interview’ rooms, the closest image commonly seen on TV).  A friendly visitor telling us the inmates had to sit on certain sides of the row so the COs could monitor their behavior via the cameras in the ceiling.

    A row of vending machines lined the far wall, awaiting the newly arrived people who again queue up to load their quarters into the machine (only quarters, no bills, all in a Ziploc bag, the more seasoned visitor using a fancy zippered bag – have to remember next visit), purchasing frozen double cheeseburgers, bbq wings, steak sandwiches, mini-pizza – reportedly something really good – and then queuing again around lunch time, warming them in a single tiny microwave, perched on a low shelf near the bathroom doors.  You might recognize the pattern – kind of gives you a sense of life as an inmate – queuing up, waiting for everything.

    I must say I did not recognize Tony when he walked thru the door.  It might have been the fact he was actually wearing something other than a t-shirt and shorts (his usual attire ‘at home’), instead wearing the same khaki shirt and pants and black boots as everyone else who walked thru the door; it might have been the graying goatee, or the baggy uniform.  Looking different than he did since he self-surrendered a year ago April – an expectation one would believe true given a year ‘away’.   Then he smiled when he saw us – “there he is!” – can’t forget that smile.  Many hugs, so good to hold him again. . . . As always he was full of energy, with stories that were many and full of cheerful and somber anecdotes of his life in the unit. It was so good to see him, hearing first hand he has adapted to life on the inside and was doing well – all things considered.       

    Tony’s astute observation about the young families visiting, the tears, the lap-crawling, is telling of the lives led by many people impacted by the debts paid for the crimes people are convicted.  He said it well – the smiles and laughter of some, the grief of so many others;  as noted in many cases, the blank stares and muted small talk only a few minutes after the visit begins – especially for those whose visits are frequent (something one learns while queuing to enter the visitor center).  This scenario existed both days we visited and one would have to assume this occurs every day across the country.  As much as I love Tony and enjoyed the visit, and as everyone who knows me, I am not much of conversationalist. Sure I can talk about most anything, but – not that I didn’t enjoy 5-1/2 hours of sitting in a hard plastic chair, no book to read, no BB to check, listening to the many stories – I am someone who multi-tasks, never idle, sitting restlessly, watching people interact with others and with themselves.  I did notice the goings-on Tony described during both days we visited.  Real people, real emotions, lives affected.

         As the day progressed and the visits of some concluded, the khaki dressed inmates lined up for ‘inspection’ prior to their return to general population, with a white jumpsuit attired inmate waited for his return to the SHU.  Families queued up one last time for the walk back to the visitor center.  The end of trying day for some; sore backs, long drives home,   extra quarters jingling in the Ziploc bag, ready for the next visit. And I almost forgot the picture – the ‘residents’ at Oakdale can pay for a picture of family taken during visitation.

    Admittedly it was a visit I did not look forward to other than to accompany Kathy, and help her cope with the arrival and deal with many and varied impressions she has carried this past year.  In the end, though, I realize it was something I needed and am so grateful to have made the trip, to have hugged my brother and able to tell him I loved him – in person instead of the limited phone calls now and again. In hindsight, the hugging part is something I know I didn’t do enough of under different and better circumstances. I know and can vouch that Tony’s ok, and certainly in a better place than he was a year ago, even under these extreme conditions.

     The visit – to place the Faces of Felons on real people, in real situations, their families, in a world that does exist.

Transparency is My Solution

When my dad entered Oakdale, I had two options: hide reality from people around me, or be completely transparent about the situation.

Perhaps the best and worst part about me is my natural tendency to trust people. Instead of making people work for trust first, I give them a healthy amount with which to play–they can either build on that trust or let it crumble.

Friends and coworkers often ask me about my dad; they’ll find out about our blog or hear one of my joking comments and want more information. I tell them what happened. I tell them about his attempted suicide in 2009, and how I flew to Austin, Texas, alone for a Longhorns football game–the one he and I was supposed to see together. I tell them about giving him a kiss and a hug at Dulles International Airport before I flew back to Seattle–days before he walked through Oakdale’s doors. I tell them what he was charged with. I tell them how he’s doing–quite well–and how I’m handling it. I lay everything on the table when they say, “What happened to your dad?”

How can someone hit you if you’re giving him a hug?

Some folks may choose to stay quiet and reduce any risk of getting hurt; vulnerability is a terrible feeling. But I can’t do that. Humans are distinguished from other things because of their emotions and how they are able to control those emotions, and I believe story and truth has greater impact when a person’s emotions get involved. Can it have consequences? Yes. Do I put myself in a risky position? Yes. But I didn’t do what my dad did, and my knowing that is enough for me to be OK with people knowing the whole situation.

Societal reputation is something on my mind at all times. I’m seeking a career in public relations, and reputation is a big part of the job. People have asked me if I think my easy admittance of everything puts my career at risk, and I say, “maybe.” After all, a person might hear my story and think that since I’m Tony’s son we’re the same people. The reality, however, is that I don’t think about that; I love my dad and everything he has done to make himself an improved person. Growth gets my respect, and growth during hard times is worthy of storytelling–but who else will tell the story?

I’m transparent because it’s necessary, and I’m transparent because I’m strong enough, as is my dad.

A Word About the Visit

Seeing my sister and her husband was much more renewing than I could have imagined. Sitting close to, talking with, and hugging people who love me and show concern for me reminded me of why I stay positive, hopeful, keep smiling, and thank the Lord every day! THIS will not last forever, but the renewed sense of a connection to LIFE, to FAMILY, to my CHILDREN, will carry me and help me hold my head a little higher and smile a little broader.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a hug speaks volumes!
There will be more on the visitation experience coming soon.

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last long.”  2 corinthians 4:13 NLT

An Anniversary (of sorts)

It’s been a year since I walked through the gates here at Oakdale and I must say, I am surprised at how quickly time has passed. It will never pass quickly enough, of course (until I am out and then it will pass TOO quickly), but it does go by. Perhaps that is a testament to the people I have met and how the time here is utilized. At any rate, I thank the Lord for each new day, and I pray for continued patience until it is time to hug those I love outside of these fences.
Speaking of hugs: My sister, Kathy, and my favorite brother (in law), Larry, are coming to visit me next weekend. That will be a welcome break in the sameness. We’ll be taking pictures, so when I get them back, maybe I’ll share.
Thanks for reading. Sorry things have been slow. I slow down to ease then burden I place on those who try to help me.

For Alan

“This is the day the Lord has made.We will rejoice and be glad in it.”Psalm 118:24
I know the family of my friend Alan is doing just that this evening! Rejoicing as Alan walked away from here a free man this afternoon, released by the 5th Circuit Court Of Appeals in New Orleans after they unanimously overturned his conviction and 15 YEAR sentence in a case they said ‘should never have gone before a jury’.
I will be writing more on this story, and on this man, but I wanted this out there because I have prayed for this man and his family since I first met him almost a year ago and he told me his story. He never should have been here, but I am thankful that he was. He has helped me tremendously finding my path with God and I feel I can go it without him now, although I will miss him tremendously.
His family wants him home and it is with tears of joy in my eyes that I applaud their reunion. JUSTICE has been done, and a WRONG has been righted. While no one can take back what was taken from them, they will all come back stronger than before because , with God, NOTHING is impossible.
I love you, Alan. You are a GOOD man!

I think I made him happy…

Laguna Seca 2008

When I find a new opportunity, I swipe it away from my competitors — yes, as students, we are competitors. And when I seize the opportunity, I tell my friends and family about it.

My dad sent me an email to check on me and hear how things were progressing at school — – in life. He does this often, mind you. But my response was a little different than usual. I’m a busy person (horrid understatement), and my reply messages to him tend to include that much — “Just being busy”. This round, however, the reply included an update on the newest phase of my life.

Over winter break, something was bothering me. The previous January, I started my studies in a new major — New Media Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. After two years of engineering and living every day for the hope that I could reach my biggest goals, things were different. Writing was on my mind, and I told myself regularly that professional writing was the life for me; it wasn’t enough 12 months later.

If you’re given a gift, use it. If you’re given multiple gifts, use them all.

Between the contributions from my mom and dad, I have so many personality traits and odd talents that I have trouble grasping who “me” really is. But I sought clarity in December, and happy is “me”. For the first time in over a year, I saw a trail leading to something good — something secure, admirable, desirable, pleasant.

Friends and family prior to my stretch of writing madness knew me as the “racecar guy”. A job in motorsport was everything I wanted. When engineering died, the dream died. And I’m proud to say the dream returned, because I saw opportunity.

What my mom has: Fire, competitive spirit, confidence, infectious determination, and a nothing-is-impossible vision of life

What my dad has: Feel for humanity, character, compassion, a crazy-awesome sense of humor, constant optimism, and a do-only-what-makes-you-happy vision of life

The combination of the traits contribute to my interesting personality classification: INFJ (we had to take a test for a class).

I think I made my dad happy when I said motorsport Public Relations is my new goal, because he responded with “Very good idea. Maybe some of that flair comes from the old man ;-)”

No — ALL of that flair comes from my old man…but mom added the kick. Happy Valentines Day.

“A Note of Thanks”

I would like, first of all, to thank my sister’s husband, Larry, for volunteering to help Anthony unburden himself from typing some of my ramblings so that he may also focus more on his schooling, his work and being a young man.

My brother (he told me to drop the ‘in-law’) is a wonderful man and I am grateful to him for many things – not just this.  My sister Kathy, too.  I am blessed, truly.

As for Anthony – well to him I owe more than I can ever repay.  For a father to ask a child to type is his words as he described his attempt to end his own life; as he describes his pain and his demons; as he tries to make a sense out of things that make no sense and explain the unexplainable – all I can say is I simply could not be more in awe of his strength, his sense of humor, his honesty, and his love, and I could not be more proud of him than I am.

There could be no greater wealth a man can have than the riches of the love and devotion my son has shown me.  I am humbled by how great he is to me. He is a giant in my eyes and I will be eternally grateful to him for all that he has done, all that he has sacrificed, all that he is.

I love you, my son.

I’m sorry you have to live through this with me., but I am glad you stand beside me, and I will make things right.  It’s an honor and a priviledge to know you – your Grandmother would be – is proud.

As for all of you who are kind enough to read all that has been written to this point and, hopefully, will stick around to see what happens next – THANK YOU!


Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures though every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT