Sharks Among Us

I once met a criminal. Convicted, tried, and then paroled. He was a criminal not because he had a criminal past, it was because he had a criminal future. He was not reformed, he was not corrected, and he was not penitent. He simply did his time and planned not to get caught again, but his life had not changed. I traveled with him for several days.

Richard was a thief, a bully and a mean drunk. Traveling with him, hiking the back roads, sleeping in vacant lots together, and spending many hours waiting for car rides allowed me to see deeper than the mere surface. By all outward appearances Richard carried the marks of an untrustworthy man. There were physical scars from bar fights, and there were emotional scars that lay behind his eyes, that caused conversations to end awkwardly. I saw people wince, and cross streets to avoid a brief encounter. The police didn’t have to run a background check, Richard wore his background like clothes, an inappropriate swagger, a casual spit into the gutter, everything said, “I am who you think I am”

And the hours I spent with him verified this. Quietly sitting by the campfire there was little beneath the surface that was any different. To this day I do not know why I was not a victim, he was the closest thing to a sociopath that I’ve experienced, except that he did have emotions, so it wasn’t classic. Richard was just twisted and mean, with nothing redeeming at any level.

Regular people were simply prey. Sometimes he feasted well, sometimes he went without, but in all cases, he saw people as the source of his survival. Spending time with him was very dangerous, but there was a first hand lesson that was important to learn. Most people who end up making bad decisions are generally pretty decent, except for the bad decision. Possibly they are pretty decent even if they make bad decisions repeatedly. But there are people that really can’t be called people. They live outside that definition. They don’t join in, they slash at the edges, they feed on the weak and susceptible. They exist, have always existed, and will be a part of our future, like sharks among us. I watch for sharks.

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