Friday, January 27, 2006

Inspired by Actual Events

When I first read your book, I was awed. Your story was so moving, so harrowing. You faced many difficult trials. The tortured, alcohol-fueled rages. The encounter with that motorcycle gang. The date with the homely debutante.

I’ve had my own problems, but yours made mine seem small by comparison. Sure, the missteps that led to prison constituted something of an awkward stage for me. I was still finding myself. The addictions and the poorly constructed betting pools. I leapt from one hobby to another. But it was kid’s stuff compared to your spending the night in an overfull laundry hamper in a Colombian cocaine cartel’s clubroom. Sure, the cellblock riot I started a few years back caused a bit of a mess. But I never brought down a passenger plane when I drunkenly left a half-eaten panini in one of the jet turbines. My sins were nothing compared to yours.

Your story gave me immense hope. You made it through all that. You faced your demons. You wrote it all down and got that fat book deal.

But even though your words were duplicated several million times and were read by people all over the world, it was as if you were speaking to me alone. Even in the opium-induced haze in which I contemplated your story, I sensed that immediately.

So imagine my surprise when I heard it was all a lie.

You faked your own memoir? Even after the thousands of hours I’ve spent ingesting the contents of the prison library while researching my appeal, I find I lack the words to express my disappointment, my anger, my outsized sense of personal betrayal.

How dare you inspire me to better myself with your invented life? Now when I see your book on the library’s “New and Notable” shelf, I find myself filled with disgust. The words I savored seem empty and weightless. Robbed of reality, the story you tell there is nothing more than fiction.

If you didn’t really consume a gram of black tar heroin daily for three years, how can I be sure you really loved you father as much as you claim? If I have to doubt the truth about those years you posed as a Mormon elder just to keep a steady supply of young wives working your meth lab, what’s to say you felt any pain at the death of your sister? If that running gun battle with the border patrol was just made-up, maybe your feelings of gratitude for your AA sponsor were a similar flight of fancy.

If something didn’t happen—and happen exactly as it is said to have happened—then it’s a useless fairy tale. It seems clear to me now: Redemption is a lie. All my efforts to educate myself, to make amends with those I’ve harmed, to work toward bettering the lives of those around me . . . none of it has any meaning. That’s what the real story of your story has taught me.

Thanks for helping me waste the best years of my life on that crap.