The eyes of a murderer

Posted: April 27, 2013 in jail

They were soft and amber. I had never seen amber eyes before. They had small flecks of gold that you could only see when the light hit his eyes just right.

His face was smooth and flawless. I envied his skin as it seemed pore less. His hair was thick, pure black and cut short. His build was slight but strong.

He sat quietly and listened as I spoke to him. He was calm and I found myself relaxing as I talked. He nodded at the appropriate times and once in a while a slight smile would cross his face. He was a sponge and was trying to absorb every piece of information and advice that I could give him.

Looking at him, I began to realize that my words carried a great deal of weight with him. I found that realization unsettling and a bit disturbing.

I could not recall anyone listening to me so intently and politely before.

I cleared my throat and stopped talking. If my words were going to mean so much to him, then I needed to take more care in what I said.

“Does that make sense what I just went over?” I asked. The room was noisy as the other students worked and talked with each other. I would get to them soon enough, but right now Jose had my attention.

He nodded and smiled. His teeth were white and perfect. “Yes Ms. Susan, that does make sense to me. I appreciate you taking the time to help me,” he said.

I smiled back. “No problem. Now, let’s get back to this point right here…” I said as I turned the book around for him to read. I pointed to a paragraph.

He looked down. His eyes scanned the page and he nodded and looked up. “Yes, I understand,” he said.

“OK, then tell me what it means to you, in your own words,” I said and waited.

His brow furrowed and he sat back and put his hands in his pockets. He looked around and then back at me.

His calmness was gone and was replaced by a slight degree of annoyance. The smile disappeared and then suddenly reappeared.

“No, that’s fine. I got it,” he said and smiled.

A perfect smile. On a perfect face.

How could anyone look at that face and not believe what he said?

I thought for a moment about what to say.

“Can’t we just go onto the next part?” he asked. He began tapping his leg under the table.

I knew what was wrong.

“No, we can’t,” I said. “It’s very important that you understand this book in your own way. Not the way I say it is. Not the way you THINK you should. You need to understand this for YOU. Not me. So, tell me what you think about what you just read,” I said and sat back.

He was being held, without bail, for first degree murder. He had been incarcerated for over a year. He wanted to learn and had signed-up for the class.

For a brief moment, I saw rage and hate cross his face and then he caught it and looked away. He was agitated and nervous. He began looking around the room as if he needed to escape. His calmness was gone.

“What’s wrong Jose?” I asked. “Do you want to tell me what is really going on?”

His head snapped back at me. He bit his lower lip and shook his head. “Nah, it’s OK. I just don’t feel like reading tonight.”

“You can’t read, can you?” I asked as quietly as possible. It was a whisper that only he could hear.

Shame crossed his face. He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward. I leaned towards him until our noses were almost touching.

“Please don’t tell anyone. Please,” he said and leaned back. His eyes were pleading.

“I won’t,” I said. I realized that up until now, he had been gliding along in the lectures and this was the first time I had sat down with him and asked him to read.

And so began my adventure of tutoring someone to teach them how to read. I had never done it before, but we learned together. I bought children’s books and we struggled together quietly while the other students worked with my staff.

It was our little secret.

One night I showed up and he was gone. I knew his trial was coming up. He had been moved to another facility to hold him during his trial for his safety.

I knew I would never see him again.

That murderer was eventually convicted and sent away.

That face that I grew to know and like belonged to a murderer. The person that I tutored and mentored was now gone.

That face belonged to a 13-year old kid.

  1. Susan, I work with CASA kids, so I am familiar with children of all colors and backgrounds. I find stories like this fairly often-and it is tragic. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for just being you. Your insight, compassion, and effort are making a difference. I know they are.

    Ellen Wright
    Troup County, GA

    • Susan Lewis says:


      You’re most welcome. Yes there are so many stories like this one. It’s easy to dismiss people we lock up without knowing anything about them and what they’ve been through.

      I hope I am making a difference, even a small one. I’ll take it.