Tommy Cox

Thomas Cox and Daughter Tommy Cox

Tommy Cox (Thomas Edward Cox Jr.) is a friend. I planned on finishing Emperor Dung’s attempt to demand a free weekend at Saito-san’s Paradise Valley Casino. Emperor Dung’s idea was to win by Occupying Paradise Valley because someone else had already Occupied Wall Street and failed. Back to Tommy Cox.

I knew the bitter side of Tommy. The angry, wounded man who survived 37 years in prison. The man who boasted about robbing drug dealers and murdering a fellow inmate in prison. I met Tommy when he came through the door of the Boaz and Ruth halfway house I lived in after his release on parole. We were apprentices (clients) of Boaz and Ruth. Martha Rollins fought to get Tommy out and won. When he came through the door I saw a man carrying a small box with all his possessions after nearly four decades in custody. How was this man supposed to resume a life with a small box of possessions and no money?

Martha envisioned Tommy completing college and getting a nice, white-collar job as an accountant or social worker. He would retire with a pension and live comfortably until Christ called him home. The Tommy Cox who quelled a prison riot and fought for legislation to guarantee more humane treatment of prisoners in state custody. The man endured solitary confinement and was chained to his bed for too long. That Tommy Cox.

Beyond Cube Rat Life

How do you take a 54-year-old man who has only known prison for most of his adult life and ask him to start over as if he was twenty? Martha took the man out of prison. Taking the institutional culture of state prison out of Tommy wasn’t so easy. I saw that what this man needed was retirement. It was time to settle into Social Security, a small efficiency apartment, and maybe publish a book.

He didn’t qualify for Social Security because he never had a job with a paycheck. There is no union for drug dealer robbers. Early on he lived on handouts and the benevolence of Jo White. Eventually, my church became his support system and family. We walked him through applying for and qualifying for SSD. He had a guaranteed minimum income. He was still Tommy and still hustled us for money. But that’s what you do in a circumstance like Tommy’s.

And . . . for realz, what was he to do? Become a cube rat? Tommy’s animal spirit was a pit bull. Tommy, if anything, would eat the cube rat and hunt for more because they are crunchy and taste good with ketchup. So it’s good that St. Giles filled in the gaps left by SSD.

Hungry Man

Tommy, fresh out of prison, was hungry. He’s not alone in this. Just released, many guys want gluttony and lust. That was Tommy for a bit. Our halfway house had a fire escape on the back that led to an upstairs hallway. The house was supposed to be drug, alcohol, and sex free. 37 years with no woman, no getting high or drunk. What do you think happened on the fire escape? I don’t blame him or the neighborhood streetwalkers who comforted Tommy and the other guys who lived with us. We have needs and 37 years is a long time.

Some guys can’t see that the binges they start are not easy to stop before they escalate into recidivism and another bit behind bars. Tommy saw it and put his energy into writing, public speaking, and the Guardian Angels. He also started Saving Our Youth with Jo White in 2009. He wrote “Legacy of Evil” in 1987 while serving time in Mecklenburg Correctional Center. 32 years later he self-published his book on Amazon. It’s still available. The man judged ineligible for parole defied the expectations of the system and became a light of hope for his Highland Park community.

Not all heroes were born on Mount Olympus or have origin stories in the Marvel Universe. Some are deeply flawed. What makes Tommy a hero to me is that he didn’t stop with the fate assigned to him or let his past chain him down. He rose above his deplorable reputation as a convicted felon to become a mentor to troubled kids and a Guardian Angel. Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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