Many of us forget that the people involved in the criminal justice system are still people. After all, the only contact many of us knowingly have with such people is through the news, such not being a common topic of conversation in the more intimate encounters that we do have. We typically think of such people as simply criminals, quickly sketched forms with similar characteristics who do bad things and justly get punished.
However, as the stories in Good Intentions bring home, these are just as human of people as any of us. Consider the main character in the title story of the collection. He is a good man who must deal with the fact that his wife, who he met at his church, is slipping back into addiction. He has good intentions, as the title would indicate, but such have gotten him into trouble before:
In the mid-eighties, he’d gone to Atlanta- the only time he’d ever gone outside of southeast Georgia- to visit his sister Viola who lived here with her new husband after she graduated from Spellman College. Ike was riding the bus, reading his Bible. A black woman got on the bus with her little boy. A skinny black man with greasy hair under a black leather cap followed them. He sat next to the woman and leaned his mouth inches from her ear, talking to her just loud enough that Ike could make out a few words. The woman had her boy in her lap. She cupped her hands over her boy’s ears and tried to ignore the man herself. It only made the man talk louder. When the woman turned and slid away from the man, he started jabbing her in the arm with his long fingernails. The woman stood and the man grabbed her pocketbook, which she had hooked n the arm she had wrapped around her little boy. The man jerked again, knocking the boy to the floor. Ike shot up and grabbed the man’s wrist and squeezed. The man tried to jerk loose and went for something in his coat pocket. Ike bent the man’s arm back until he heard a crack and then another, louder crack. The man screamed. The bus braked hard. The woman yelled for Ike to stop hurting her husband. The boy sat on the floor, crying. The bus driver came running back, asking what was going on. The woman kept hollering. The man cussed, hollering his shoulder was broke. People ran out of the bus. Soon police officers stormed in. They slid the man in an ambulance and handcuffed Ike. He got carsick cramped in the back of the police car with his arms behind his back and bent over and twisted. He prayed.
As this section illustrates, the lives of these characters do not work out the way they plan. They are caught up in things beyond their control and are just trying to live as best they can.
Lacy conveys the reality of his criminal justice system character representatives in vivid detail, as this section from “Kylle” shows:
In the Ramada Inn alone I-95, six miles north of the Georgia-Florida border, Kylle’s parole party rocked into its sixth hour.
Kylle and Chandler fixed a few lines of meth on the toilet tank with a razor blade behind the locked bathroom door. Chandler pecked Kylle on the corner of the mouth and handed him a rolled bill. “Compliments of Raul.” Kylle bent and snorted half the line in one nostril, the other half in the other. Then he sprung and held his nostrils and snorted and shook his head. He wiped his nose and licked his mouth and fingers. “Things been going all right down in Yulee?”
Chandler plucked the bill from Kylle’s hand, knelt on the toilet seat, snorted the other line. “Raul’s treated me all right, I guess. I had to such his dick a couple of times, literally and figuratively.” Chandler held a nostril and inhaled deeply, coughed, inhaled the other. “I’m glad you’re back to help me deal with him.”
These worlds are often unpleasant, but Lacy reminds us that such worlds are more similar to our own than we often admit. Many of us may not be riding a lawnmower to work because of DUI probation, or have a wife descending back into crack addiction, but all of us are in the midst of things beyond our control and just trying to do the best we can.
I found the stories in Good Intentions to be darkly pleasurable to read. Full of gritty detail and piercing insight, they powerfully conjure a world that we often pretend is not just a few inches over from our own. Stories like these remind us to be grateful that our intentions worked out better than they might have, and to stay humble that it wasn’t a sure thing that they would.
David S. Atkinson is a Nebraska-born writer currently living in Denver. He holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. His stories have appeared in “Grey Sparrow,” “Children Churches and Daddies,” “Split Quarterly,” “Cannoli Pie,” “C4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,” “Atticus Review,” “Brave Blue Mice,” and “Fine Lines.” His book reviews have appeared in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “All Things Pankish.” The web site dedicated to his writing can be found at http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/. He currently serves as a reader for “Grey Sparrow” and in his non-literary time he works as a patent attorney in Denver.