What are the odds that after spending 15 years in prison for robbing a shoe store in Toms River, parolee Christopher Miller, by coincidence, would end up back in that same store hours after being released -attempting to rob it again?
The answer is 43%. Except for the fact that he walked into the same place looking to rob it all over again, it should be no surprise at all that Mr. Miller was sent back to prison just hours after being released. Writer Gary Buiso details in the New York Post, Christopher Miller’s journey from juvenile delinquent to serial criminal, an interview that Buiso describes as ranging “from humorous to hopeless.”
Ever since I read about Miller’s pathetic trip from a troubled childhood to jail, from jail to freedom and from freedom back to jail again -I can’t stop thinking about it. Christopher Miller and I are the same age. He and I went to the same high school at nearly the same time. Miller graduated two years after I would have if I didn’t drop out. He didn’t meet his father until he was an adult. I didn’t meet mine until I was 16.
While Christopher Miller was breaking into lockers at our high school, I was working part time as a janitor in the school cafeteria. It’s likely that our paths have crossed many times. Growing up our lives had been headed in the same direction, as well. By the time he was shoplifting and breaking into neighbor’s homes, I too was making my way into bigger crimes. But suddenly and abruptly this is where our paths diverge.
When I was arrested as a teenager by the same police department that just rearrested Miller, the detectives were very kind to me, despite my brazenness. They were kind to me and didn’t press the prosecution as hard as they might have, because unlike Miller, I had a big family at home that passionately advocated for me.
From the moment the detectives came to our house my grandmother and grandfather, as well as my mother and stepfather were insistent that despite whatever I had done I was redeemable. They never said I was innocent. I simply had a future in their eyes. My family wanted the police, the prosecutor and the judge to deal with me in the same way –as if I had a future. Thank God they did convincingly, because they were able to persuade me that I was worth saving too.
This is what Miller told Buiso during their jailhouse interview, “My life as far as having any wife, children, family, all that was over 15 years ago when I did what I did. When I came in, there was really no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Christopher Miller has led his entire life without hope. He and I share strikingly similar backgrounds, except for a few major details. I had a mother and stepfather at home who were willing to fight for me. I had a grandmother and grandfather at home willing to support me. I had the family that Miller did not. I had a mother and a father figure at home, a necessity that Miller didn’t seem to have.
Prison shouldn’t be a revolving door, but neither should our homes. A stable family: a mother and a father, and the promotion of the family at all levels of our society would be the first step in making lives like Christopher’s hopeful. From the Boys and Girls Club to the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County there are charitable services that can match at risk people to the services that they need. Both groups are deserving of our support. Sadly charity and compassion must often come from strangers instead of from our homes.
Imagine what a different life Chris Miller would have had if his mother and father had been in his life growing up.
In the Biblical story the Prodigal Son the younger of two siblings goes to his father and asks him for his inheritance. He goes off and squanders it all. Destitute, he returns home penniless, humbled and willing to work in his father’s house as a servant. He rides the emotional roller coaster that every young man gets on: From pride to humility, from rebellion to reunion, he learns a lesson only a father can teach his son.
I pray Christopher Miller is wrong about himself and that one day he too will have a family to whom he will teach these lessons.
Ernesto Cullari is a former candidate for Congress from New Jersey’s 6th congressional district. This piece was first published in May 15th edition of triCityNews.