I do not mean pilfering or misappropriating an actual book, like sneaking one out of the library in your backpack. I am talking about seizing a potential writer's experiences and remembrances which could have made and will make a great book.
You see, Tony was one of the minor actors in the whole Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo Scandal Story in Cuyahoga County. These two County politicians found themselves charged with all sorts of corruption and crimes. Jimmy Dimora, one of our three County Commissioners, was found guilty of multiple offenses after a jury trial. He has been sentenced to 28 years in jail which is longer than somebody gets for killing their mother.
Russo, Dimora's one time buddy, turned snitch and betrayed everyone he could think of in order to get a reduced sentence. Poor Tony, a great attorney and compassionate man, was caught up in some minor way in the corruption and found himself charged with a crime. Eventually he was forced to give up his law license, compelled to admit his guilt, and then go to jail for a year and three months.
He and I had corresponded while he was in jail. He was a prolific letter writer, and sent out all sorts of mailings to many people, but writing all these by hand rather than through today's email or even typed the old fashioned way.
"I am technologically deficient," he confessed to me, as we sat in my law office and he told me of his great dreams which he had expressed to me in his prison letters as well. He wants to take his experiences and use these to help others
"My first idea is very simple," he declares. "There are agencies to help people who come out of jail and return to their communities. There are agencies that help those in jail. But there is nothing for those who are waiting to begin their jail term. After the judge sentences them, they await in this scary limbo until their reporting date."
Tony recalled his own feelings. "When I finally realized that I was going to jail, I was panicked shitless. I did not know what to expect. There are always these movies about what jail is really like on the inside. I knew to be careful going for a shower, but that's all.
"So seriously my goal is to set up a counseling service to help those who have been sentenced to jail, but have not yet begun their term and they are still in the community. This counseling would begin after the Judge has sentenced them, but before they report."
Tony had a second dream of writing a book about his jail experiences that also could help those headed for prison. Would it be a best seller? That is what all of us authors dream about. Maybe I could get Tony's experiences and….. No, no, I should not think those embezzling thoughts.
But let me divert now to give you Tony's background before discussing his twin dreams. Tony had been a great politician and local community leader. He had even been elected Mayor of a main and diverse Cleveland suburb. He also had been a hard-working member elected to Ohio's General Assembly. He had served the people well and then eventually returned to private practice.
I have a special yardstick by which I measure politicians. I very much support the position that each human life begins at conception when the egg from the mother is joined with a sperm given by the father. That is how each of us begins and we grow and thrive until eventually we begin to decline in old age and die a natural death.
Each human being has a God-given right to her or his life. Somebody who proposes to take that human life, whether in the womb or outside, had better have a very good reason to justify taking such a drastic action.
This is the whole issue in the abortion debate. Many politicians try to overlook these facts about our humble beginnings in the womb and try to duck this issue. They strain to give statements that will anger neither side of the controversy, hoping to get votes from both sides.
He was firmly prolife and strong in his views, never fearing to state these publicly. He and a fellow politician from his City had helped the prolife cause in their work and they let it be known that they were solidly prolife. So using my yardstick for politicians I had to give Tony a big A plus. I do not give him that grade so much for his views as the fact that he was steadfast and courageous.
I also have good friends on the pro-choice side whom I equally admire for their forthrightness although I disagree with the substance of their position. Tony was a very honorable person and that is why it was so sad and seemed even unfair when Tony got into legal trouble and then wound up behind prison walls.
But now he was out. He had called me one morning while I was working in my law office. "Joseph," his voice boomed through the telephone receiver, "I am at Stonemad Restaurant and we are enjoying a nice lunch. Can you join us?"
"I really want to say yes," I replied, "but already I have an appointment for lunch with another attorney."
"That's all right," said Tony. "I can come by your office later in the afternoon."
"Sure, it will really be good to see you again."
I then explained what roads and turns Tony would have to drive to get to our office. So later I returned from my lunch date and had just sat down at my desk when I hear this thunderous voice at the locked front entry.
"Meissner, where are you? Hey, Meissner!"
"Wait a second," I urge. "I will get the door." So I hobble across my office floor and open the door. How would he look? I wondered.
There he is, standing like a halfback. Strong and very fit. Funny, does that mean jail is good for your physique? "So what have you been doing? I said. "When did you get out?"
"A few weeks ago from the prison. Then I had some time at a halfway houses, and then house arrest at my home with an ankle bracelet. But that's all over and now I'm on probation."
"Come in," my arm waves him to my inner office.
"Sit down," I invite. "I want to hear everything." I knew from his prison letters that he wanted to write a book. I have earlier related some of our conversation about his "counseling" dream. Now to turn to his book-writing enterprise.
"Do you still want to write a book?" I myself have written three books and am working on another three. Also I look out for other book writing ideas and Tony's experiences and views should be a real gold mine waiting to be exploited, whether by Tony or somebody else robbing him.
"More than ever," Tony enthused
"Just get out the computer and start typing," I laughed.
"I cannot do that," he sheepishly confesses. "I can't even turn on the computer."
"Can't do email?"
"Nothing. What other ways are there to write the book?"
"Well," I search my brain, "You can use a tape recorder."
"I have seen these little recorders."
I immediately pull out my little one and show it to him.
"Yeah," he says, taking mine in his palm. "That is what I meant."
"But you still have a serious problem, "I explain. "You have to get all your material into the computer so you can get something out for the publisher and the printer. If you put it into the tape record, later somebody has to listen to that and painfully, slowly type it out.
"That is a real bear to accomplish. Remember when the courts tried to use a tape recording system? We would talk and there were different microphones scattered around the room to pick up what we said.
"But then somebody had to reduce all that sound to typewriting. That was very time consuming and costly.
"What else can I do?" he pleaded. "What about just writing it all into a big notebook, like the kind we used in college?"
"Okay," I hope I was encouraging him. "But you still have to get that typed. Of course, that is probably easier to do from a notebook, than trying to key up a tape recorder."
"I have a lot to say that can help others," he brags. He goes back to his dream.
"Well," I drag him back to earth, "then you have got to get the book out. That means you have to devote lots of time to it."
"There is so much to tell," he smiles. Careful, Tony, I am thinking, don't tell too much, write it down for the book and do not waste your energy in story-telling. You are baking the cake in your mind and not in the oven. Your listeners can always and should buy your finished book.
"You know," he continues, "in prison we had eighty square feet in which we lived. We called it the cube. Like in the offices where people work in cubes. We lived all the time confined in a cube."
I think back on the comic strip of Dilbert and contemplate all the office workers confined to cubical cells just like Tony had been.
"Long ago our family enjoyed summer cabins," Tony continued to spill his book's valuable narrative, "where we had lots of rooms that were each eighty square feet. Here I was, living with two other guys, all three of us confined in that all day and night."
"That is a room 10 by 8 feet," I calculate. "How do you manage to survive in that?
"It was even worse. You see there are the beds, a bunk bed with upper and lower and a single bed. Then there is a chair, one chair for us three. Then there is a locker for each of us, and a toilet. All of that takes up floor space and there is not much left.
"When I try to put on my shirt, I am constantly hitting the others with my elbows and trying to squeeze into it."
"Did you have the upper bunk bed?" I think Tony has to fit into the cell hierarchy.
"No, I was very lucky. I had two good cellies." (Vocabulary for a cellmate.) "They gave me the single bed and they took the bunks."
I try to imagine what kind of hell it would be to have the "wrong" people in the same tiny cell with you. "What was life like?" I am curious.
"You know everybody in there is constantly using the MF word. It is 'MF this' and 'MF that.' Every sentence is filled with 'MF's.' That's not my style, but I had to get use to that.
"I could not take the crowding and the constant rough language. I could not just stay there and lay in bed. So I made up my mind--and this is one of the lessons that will be in my book-- you got to get out of there. You have to escape from the cube."
"How do you do that?" Here is more gold for Tony's book, but now being released for nothing.
"You find every excuse for other activity. You sign up for every meeting and every class. I took all sorts of classes and that helped make the time go by and gave me something to schedule."
"What kind of meetings would you attend?"
"That's the surprising thing. Let me tell about one set of meetings. I had never been that religious outside. I of course went to church. I helped the kids in school with their homework including religion classes. I would say a few prayers, but I did nothing that serious.
"In jail there were these Bible sessions. We had a small group of six or seven and we would meet and discuss the Bible. I really got into that. I was reading verses I did not even know existed. I know that sounds odd but I really liked that. That is one thing I want to continue out here."
"So what about the book?" I get practical. Tony had better stop talking and start writing. "What is your plan?"
"I want to write all about that. What is your advice?
"You have to write every day," I warn him. "It makes no difference how much, whether ten pages or two pages. The important thing is to write every day. Do not let a day go by or fall asleep on your pillow in the evening without having written something. I think that was Hemmingway's advice. Write five pages a day and at the end of half a year, there is your book. Even if you do, say only two pages a day. In six months you got your book."
He seems to accept that advice. Actually this is good lawyer advice and I should send Tony my bill at $350 an hour. When he received that, he might think he had fallen back in with the prison thieves.
"What about your dream of setting up a counseling agency, I turn to his other ambition.
"Yes, that is the main goal. I think such counseling could have made it easier on me to know what to expect and how to adjust."
"How are you going to accomplish this?"
"I have to get permission from the judge who had my case. You see, as part of probation I have to stay away from anyone involved in felonies. But that is exactly who I will be working with. So I need to file a motion and get the court's permission for my work."
"Have you discussed with anyone how to do this?" I inquire.
"Yes, I have been in touch with Sister Rita at the Diocese while I was in jail. She encouraged me in this endeavor. Very recently I talked to her and she says I need to put together an outline of the idea and how it will work. She says she will present it to the Bishop."
"Good," I caution, "but do not wait for some kind of Diocesan stamp of approval. You could wait a long time, like more than the time you were in jail. When will you have an outline done?" (In my mind, I am thinking of poor Mother Teresa who spent years trying to get her ideas for a sisterhood accepted. Virtually every saint, attempting to establish a religious order, encountered that sluggish and painful bureaucracy.)
"Yes, I want it done next week," he emphasizes.
"If you want," I affirm, "I would like to see that outline. But the main goal is to get the motion filed. I would set a deadline. Let's say June 30. You will file the motion before June 30. Attach the outline and maybe a few letters of support."
"That's another good idea," he thanks me. (Another $350 fee I reflect.)
"Well, I have got to get going," he stands up.
"Just one more issue," I stop him. "What about your law license?"
"Well," he relates his strategy. "I did not want them to take it away. So I voluntarily surrendered it."
"That may be a good move," I muse. "Can you ask them to give it back?"
"I do not know," he says. "Others have lost their licenses. I need to ask them but I am not sure I want to go through all that."
"I know it's not your main goal, but it may be helpful. It may open doors for your main dreams."
"Okay, I will keep that in mind. I have to get move along." I have him write out his new address in Cleveland with a phone number.
"My last advice which repeats the earlier. Do not forget about the book. I have known too many who had an idea for a book, but never got it done. You have to start yesterday, Get together all those letters from jail. There is your framework. But again I stress you must begin the book immediately. Otherwise the days will drift by and nothing will ever be born."
"I'll remember that," he says as he walks out. As he departs, I contemplate what should I do. I promise myself that I will write a short article about Tony and his dreams and his book.
Am I stealing Tony's book when I write this article? No, no, actually I am boosting his book. So there, conscience, be quiet. When you see Tony, please bother him and ask, "What page is your book on?"
Authors need to be constantly whipped. Also when Tony does complete his book and starts on the harder task of distributing and selling it, please buy a copy. Nothing makes an author happier than to sell his book at $39.95 and actually have the public "provide a home for one of the author's babies."
PS: This article is really Chapter One about Tony's dreams and actions. So stay tuned for more.
Furthermore, there is a story that Jimmie Dimora is appealing to President Barack Obama for commutation of his 28 year's sentence. Have you written your letter to support Jimmie's plea?
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