Gerry Boyle has had plenty of experience with criminals over the decades, both as a columnist for the Morning Sentinel and as a crime novelist. But none of that prepared him for an experience he had in Houston last month.

Boyle is a busy man. His crime novel “Straw Man,” the latest in the Jack McMorrow series, is due out in May. It tackles guns and religion, Boyle said recently over coffee at Jorgenson’s in Waterville. On top of that, he and his daughter, Emily Westbrooks, are collaborating on a book that takes place in Ireland, where she lives.

Still, while visiting family in Texas, Boyle jumped at a chance to “meet the bus” with his son and daughter.

Every afternoon, a bus drops off men and women released from Texas prisons at a Greyhound station in Houston. The riders are carrying a mesh bag with their belongings and little else.

“They’re all ages, sizes, races,” Boyle said recently.

The bus is met by volunteers in a group called 7more, founded by Irish friends of his daughter.

The volunteers ask the people on the bus if they want to “come across the street.”

Across the street is a room in the back of the Salvation Army building, where they’ll get a backpack or duffel bag to replace the see-through mesh sack they’re given by the prison that “marks you” as someone who’s just gotten out, Boyle said.

They’re also given shoes, other clothes they may need, snacks and conversation.

7more takes its name from a Christian fable. Its website explains, “There is an old story that tells of Jesus being asked how many times we should forgive — the law at the time was that you forgive no more than 7 times — Jesus shocked everyone by saying forgiveness shouldn’t be counted. Forgive 7 more times — forgive seventy times 7 times. 7more is about giving another chance.”

While 7more is a Christian organization, the former convicts aren’t proselytized or preached to. Though members do ask them their first names, how long they were in and if they have anyone they’d like prayed for.

“A couple of the guys said, ‘Pray to give me strength to stay strong,'” Boyle said. “And all the guys said that this was going to be a new life for them.”

They’re also offered use of a phone if they want to call someone to pick them up.

One of the men Boyle talked to was trying to call an aunt he hadn’t seen for years. He couldn’t think of anyone else to call. She didn’t pick up.

Boyle said he was struck by how little the men had and how lost, yet joyful, they seemed in “their first moment of freedom.”

He said they “seemed very surprised this was happening.”

As a newspaper columnist, he’d hung out with some of society’s darker elements. As a mystery novelist the past two decades, he’s written about them, too.

Boyle has long felt that “every crime shouldn’t carry a life sentence.” That people are human beings who have families, lives — lives that shouldn’t necessarily be defined by one act.

Don’t get the wrong idea — he isn’t a softy.

He feels strongly that there “are many people in prison who are evil and should stay behind bars a long, long time.” His son, Charlie, who met the bus with him, also reminded him that he was seeing the criminals, but their victims weren’t there to tell their side of the story.

And he acknowledges that the men who agreed to go across the street with the 7more volunteers were self-selected. They chose to go, and that meant maybe they weren’t a scientific sampling of the men getting off the bus.

Still, meeting the bus was an eye-opener.

“It’s one part of the whole chain I’d never been a part of.”

“These guys sincerely wanted to start again,” Boyle said. “The guys I talked to were desperate to start again.”

Meeting the bus emphasized to him that, “If we want people to change and rehabilitate, we need to treat them with respect.”

“If we’re going to define people solely by what they did 15 years ago, it’s hopeless for them and not good for us either.”

That’s the upshot of 7more’s simple philosophy: to forgive and to give another chance.

“It really struck me,” he said. “I thought I knew this world, but when these guys walked off the bus it was like they were being rescued from a desert island.”

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal. Email her at [email protected]. Twitter: mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month. For previous Kennebec Tales, go to centralmaine.com.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: