Fugitive

The word ‘fugitive’ conjures up all kinds of images. What brought this to mind was a documentary I saw last week on Bobby Ryan, the newest Ottawa Senator, and his childhood spent on the lam from the law with his mother and father. They travelled from Cherry Hill, New Jersey to California, always with the police on their tail. Bobby’s father had badly beaten up his wife (Bobby’s mother), putting her in the hospital. The father then fled, but curiously the couple reunited. They changed the family name from Stevenson to Ryan and led a fugitive lifestyle, always just a nervous step ahead of the authorities. Eventually, as is usually the case, the law caught up with the fleeing family, and now, having served his time, Mr. Ryan Sr. is back with his wife. Of course such an incident could never be forgotten, but to his wife’s credit, it is forgiven. The human soul is remarkable.

Some of us have our own personal stories with those who ran on the other side of the law. It was the 1989-90 school year and my wife was enrolled  at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec’s Eastern Townships to do her Master’s in French Literature. Yours’ truly was  also working on my Master’s in Education. Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, I was fortunate enough to secure a part-time  teaching job at Alexander Galt Regional High School, just outside of Lennoxville. So not quite  a full-time anything, I submitted a brief first draft of my thesis to my advising prof. He promptly rejected it as too journalistic in style and not suitably academic. Insulted at not having my considerable gifts instantly recognized, I cast about to fill my time with another diversion, preferably a paying one.

There was an opening at the juvenile detention centre, named Le Relais, in Sherbrooke. For $35.00/hr. I would tutor a seventeen year old delinquent through his high school English matriculation, helping him to his diploma and a new life on a more straight-and-narrow path.

Kevin and I hit it off instantly. Maybe it helped that if his homework wasn’t done or he mouthed off I could lock him up and still be paid. Sweet deal. Over the next few weeks, between lessons in short stories and iambic pentameter, his story came out.

Kevin and his English teacher had trouble seeing eye-to-eye and the problem was made worse by the fact that the principal was said English teacher’s husband. One day in the middle of a bad afternoon Kevin threw a computer out of a second floor window and then followed it down to the parking lot where he slashed his teacher’s tires. “I hitch-hiked home that afternoon,” he recalled to me. “The next day I was helping my father re-shingle our barn’s roof when a SWAT team surrounded our property, complete with megaphones, telling me that if I gave myself up then no one would get hurt. And so here I am.”

Despite Kevin’s brief  lapse in judgement he was a bright student and we  had no problems racing through the English curriculum together.  He received his high school diploma that June. His time at the correctional institute also coincided with the ending of my stay in Sherbrooke and Lennoxville. Smug in what I considered to be a job well done, and content that I had rescued a psychopath-in-waiting from a wasted life behind prison bars, I was ready to give Kevin the address of my Ontario residence. After all, he might need a new pied-a-terre to get established away from Sherbrooke, where his reputation preceded him. However, distractions abounded and said invitation, for whatever reasons, was never proferred.

It was a year later, visiting friends after our cherished year in the Townships, that I asked Kevin’s former principal about my protégé’s new law-abiding lifestyle after a year under my mentorship. “No one knows where Kevin is,” I was told. “Shortly after being released from Le Relais he robbed a pizza delivery man, slit his throat and left him to die. Thankfully, the guy recovered, but there’s been no trace of Kevin for three months.” I gulped, chastened by my lack of success in Kevin’s rehabilitation and also relieved that my own procrastination had possibly kept Kevin from my Ontario door.

Finally, weeks later, I received word that Kevin had been caught and was serving his time in Sherbrooke’s maximum security institution. He was over eighteen years of age and so there would be no more high school classes at the Relais juvenile detention centre.

Successful as he was as a fugitive in those brief months of freedom between crimes it will be difficult for Kevin to practise his skills ever again. While in prison he killed another convict and is now serving a life sentence for first degree murder.

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