Tommy’s Story

When you are in jail, suddenly, time seems to stand still. Some people use that time to write letters to loved ones and friends. Some use the time to make amends and right wrongs. Others let the time pass them by, gaining nothing while they sit idle. Not Tommy though. He had a plan. And he was bound to see it through.

Tommy was sent to jail to await a hearing for a crime that he didn’t commit. With the bond posted so high he couldn’t afford it, plus lawyer’s fees, and fines he had to pay while he was there, he had no way to bond out of jail while he waited for the hearing, so he remained locked up. Prison would’ve been a better alternative, because at least he would have had access to better resources that he could’ve used to really improve his life. In jail, however, resources were minimal at best. So, what was he to do while he waited?

Anyone else would’ve been bitter at the predicament that Tommy found himself in but he knew that this time he would spend behind bars was an opportunity to do some things that he might not otherwise have a chance to do. So, he came up with three goals: 1) read the entire old testament, 2) Read Moby Dick (one of the world’s greatest novels), and 3) learn the scales on piano. Now the first two would be easy enough to do. Get the books. Read them. Done. But how on earth was he going to be able to learn and practice his scales inside a jail cell with no piano to be found? He was going to have to get creative.

So where did this love for music come from that spurred him to set a goal so seemingly unachievable? In his early fifties, Tommy had read a book called “Classical Music for Dummies,”, and he fell in love with the interesting harmonies, chords, and melodies, and how they all worked together to produce such emotion-inducing symphonies. It wasn’t long after that he met a west coast musician who had given him some tips on learning the piano, and it was following these that he learned to play his first song: When the Saints Go Marching In. He learned a few others until he worked his way up to Greensleeves. His musician friend was impressed. Greensleeves was a challenge to play for any musician, but Tommy’s rendition was beautiful. With this new vote of confidence, he wanted to learn more and get even better at his new hobby. And now that he wouldn’t have those everyday distractions keeping him preoccupied, he was free to practice all he wanted to, if only he could come up with a solution to not actually having a piano. 

Then it came to him: a cut out model of piano keys. He didn’t need to hear them necessarily, but he needed to be able to figure out which key went to which note and in what order to play them. So, creatively using the inside of an old cracker box, Tommy crafted a small, but nearly scale model, of piano keys. He would practice running his fingers up and down the scales trying to build his muscle memory up so that when he made it to the outside, he could hear all the notes that he had been so diligently practicing.

Now that he’s here with us at Gospel Rescue Mission where we have a piano on site, Tommy is reflecting on his 3 goals and is pleased with how he had accomplished them. His relationship with God has grown since reading the old testament, he’s proud to say that he’s read #17 on the list of top 100 Greatest Books of All Time, and he’s excited to strengthen his piano skills, now that he has one he can actually practice on. When we asked what made him want to set those goals after being sentenced, he said, “If you want to change the world, change your mind.” He is focused on getting employment in the midst of the pandemic and until then, is a member of our Work Start Program here at GRM. After a huge setback so late in life, Tommy is in high spirits, and we’re sure it won’t be too long before he’s back on his feet!

Nine months later when it came time for his hearing, the charges were dropped. He was not convicted and immediately released. But what he came back to was devastating. He had lost his home, had no job, and a relationship was damaged in the process. The rug was just pulled out from under him, and he received no compensation of any kind for being wrongfully charged. Where was he to go now?