Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Staring out the heavily tinted glass window of his penthouse suite, John D. Stiller sipped on his third Macallan Scotch this morning.
“It is over!”
“Malcolm P. Wesson! That little weasel embezzled from a hedge fund gets caught. After all, I have done for him he turns state’s evidence against me. If I could get my hands around his scrawny neck!”
John set his Scotch down then picked up this morning’s newspaper for the umpteenth time and glared at the headline.
Wesson Sentenced — Will John D. Stiller Get Indited?”
Malcolm Wesson, the Managing Partner at Warren, Buffet, and Wesson Finances, Inc., worked his way from a junior financial advisor to managing partner by successfully representing some of the most affluent people in town. Marrying the founder’s daughter didn’t hurt.
Stiller set the paper down, and screamed, “WE WERE FRIENDS! I was your best man! I was Malcolm Junior’s godfather, and you betrayed me!”
Pacing back and forth, John continued his tirade, “Why? Why? WHY didn’t you listen to me? We had a good thing going, and you had to embezzle money from that account. I warned you. I told you, this is how more bankers, accountants, and investment brokers end in jail!”
Sipping and thinking, John sat at his desk and thought back over his life:
Unlike Malcolm, the betrayer, who had an Ivy league education, I worked my way off the streets into this penthouse through my street smarts.
I wish I had let Wesson handle only my legitimate investments. I should have seen it coming. Once Malcolm tasted the wealth created by laundering my money, he could not stop. He became too greedy.
John’s mind raced back to his foster care upbringing, shuffled from one foster home to another; as a ten-year-old boy begging, pleading that they would not separate his little sister Alicia from him. “She is all the family I have. I promised my dying mother I would take care of her.”
John joined the army at eighteen, became the legal guardian for Alicia, four years his junior. While in the service, John earned his bachelor’s in business. He started as a legitimate businessman opening several drycleaning businesses.
Then the light went out. Alicia — the bright spot of his life — was killed in a mugging. Something snapped. The bitterness ate away at him then consumed him. Through some old street connections, John found and killed the man who took his little sister from him. Yet, the bitterness did not go away.
Smart, resourceful and increasingly brutal, John D Stiller crossed the lines of legality and ethics. The following decade, John became a powerful crime kingpin. He had politicians, judges, and law enforcement on his payroll.
First I lose the most important person in my life then Malcolm, my brother, my Judas Iscariot has betrayed me for his thirty pieces of silver. My brother has broken my heart.
Ignoring his lawyer’s phone calls this morning, John waited for the knock at the door. Law enforcement with a warrant for his arrest.
In case Stiller resisted arrest, the police showed up an hour later in full force. Broken and deflated by his most trusted friend’s betrayal, John Stiller surrendered without resistance.
Times headline: Stiller Convicted-Get’s Thirty Years!
Very quickly, John Stiller established himself as someone in which to reckon and soon became the king of his prison castle. Despite his imprisonment, He still had a considerable amount of money and influence on the outside. What Assets were not frozen, he safely stashed in offshore bank accounts. Even in prison money still buys influence. He surrounded himself with a gang of the most dangerous convicts.
The prison cafeteria’s noise was almost deafening as the convicts talked amongst themselves. In the sea of orange jumpsuits, the inmates segregated themselves by race, creed, gang membership, or ethnicity. To survive, everyone joined someone. Loners did not last very long.
For protection every inmate associated with some group. It was survival. Then one peculiar convict showed up. The noise ceased, and every con turned to see Hyland Powers enter.
A small man of about 5’6″, medium build, and salt and pepper hair and beard: Hyland looked around fifty-five.
The word spread quickly of the new odd little convict. None of the guards knew anything about him. The word coming out of the warden’s office was Hyland Powers was a unique situation. He just showed up one day. Oddly, no one messed with Hyland Powers. Power’s had this infectious kindness that seemed to soften the hardest of criminals.
The mystery around Hyland Powers troubled Stiller. “Who is this Hyland Powers that he walks alone in my prison without my protection?”
John Stiller observed Powers from a distance like a lion stalking a zebra. He watched him at meals, work, and during yard time. He could not place a finger on what bothered him about this man.
Hyland usually kept to himself unless a guard or an inmate stopped to chat with him.
Powers lacked the usual undercurrent of anger, rage, the tough guy facade that dominated most of the inmate population. The guy oozed of authentic transparency, peace, and kindness. Despite his circumstances, he always had a smile on his face and was pleasant, non-judgemental towards his fellow convicts.
Bothered by this inmate, Hyland Powers, John called a meeting with the other gang leaders. “What can you tell me about this guy, Powers?”
Ibrahim Jamil, leader of the Muslims, “Nobody knows anything about him. Recently, I spoke with the lead bible thumper, Josh Smith. Smith is not here because he is conducting a Bible Study tonight. Mostly, Powers keeps to himself, but when you engage him, he is friendly and very forthcoming. Smith and I have our speculations about Powers. We think he is a mystic or something. You know like into Sufism, Monasticism, or something.”
John threw up his hands in disbelief, “A mystic? What the hell is he doing in prison?
A smirk formed on Stiller’s face, “It sounds like the judge should have sentenced Powers to a monastery or ashram instead of this cage. Or, maybe he could play Fred Rogers in the reboot of Mr. Roger’sNeighborhood or something.”
After the snickering died down, John turned grave, “Does anyone know what he is in for? He could be a CI for the state or worse the feds. We have a good operation running between the guards and us. I don’t want some nark screwing up the works.”
Argo Williams, the Aryan leader, spoke up, “Even the guards are unsure of why he is here. It is like he appeared out of nowhere. One of my boys works in the Warden’s office. The Warden’s office is hush about Powers.”
John’s agitation over Hyland Powers became unbearable. Stiller sent two of his toughest guys to bring Hyland Powers to his cell for a meeting. He told his boys, “By force if necessary but don’t maim or kill him. I want to feel him out. The more comfortable and safe he feels, he is more likely to open up.”
They came back and told John, “The little guy was not in his cell. We couldn’t find him anywhere.”
That night before lockup, returning from a poker game, John opened the door to his cell to find Hyland sitting on the edge of his bed.
Hyland looked up at John, “I think it is time that we meet.”
Agitated that Hyland would have the gall to sit on his bed, John looked up and sighed out heavily to bring his impulse under control. He wanted to smack Powers for this egregious violation. Thinking to himself, “The big picture John, We need to find out who this guy is and what he is up to.”
Smiling and looking down at Hyland who was still sitting on Stiller’s bed, “You are new here. In case you are unaware of who I am, I am John Stiller. I may be an inmate just like you. But I own this prison. I own the guards. I own the other prisoners. I own you. I make it my business to know everyone that I am dealing with.”
Hyland nodded, but the smile never left his face. Looking into Hyland’s eyes, John saw something he had not seen for many years. Something that stirred him deeply.
John could not detect any fear or weakness in Hyland. He set his face like a stone as he continued his speech, “YOU run alone. That places you in a precarious position. I am surprised you haven’t been beaten, raped, or shivved already.
One word from me, all of that can happen. Or worse if you cross me, you might go out of here in a body bag.
Why you haven’t aligned yourself with me already is crazy on your part.”
Despite the threats, Hyland’s calm composure remained unchanged.
John paused to see if his intimidation of Hyland worked. “The guy is either stupid or deaf.”
Hyland had leaned back and crossed his straightened legs like they were having a friendly conversation.
At six foot two, John towered over him, yet Hyland just sat patiently listening to John speak.
Confounded, John thought, “This guy is not normal. By this time they usually cower.”
Hyland’s unresponsiveness continually agitated Stiller further. He turned up the heat and volume leaning over him and pointed his finger inches from Hyland’s face, “Nobody knows why you are here or who you are. I am going to get to the bottom of all this. You are going to tell me one way or another.
ARE. YOU. A. STOOLIE?
Tell me the truth. Your life depends on it!”
The serene smile never left Hyland’s face; compassion filled his eyes.
Finally, Hyland spoke, “John! I have come to liberate you.”
Thinking Powers was speaking prison break; John backed off to hear what Powers had to say.
John’s eyes lightened, “You have an escape plan.”
Hyland sat back up but never broke eye contact with John, “As far as who I am. I am who I am.”
Hyland chuckled, “No, John, escape from this prison would not liberate you. Your true prison is inside you. Your imprisonment began long before your sentencing to here. I am here to liberate you from yourself. You brag of riches. But in your soul, you are barren and destitute.”
John’s eyes narrowed, Even from behind these bars, I am a wealthy and influential man. My words are life and death to anyone one I choose, here or on the outside. What kind of fool would talk to me like this?’
Unmoved by John’s threatening tone, Hyland stood and leaned in close to John, “John. You may have material wealth, but you are poverty-stricken in your soul.
You may have had penthouses, limousines, large bank accounts, people at your beck-and-call and even in here you move freely about, but since your sister’s murder, your guilt, anger, and bitterness have imprisoned you. It has driven you to kill your sister’s murderer and others who stood in your way.now. Yet, none of this has given you the peace, the joy or the freedom in which you so long. Nor has it helped your capacity to love and be loved.
Accumulating all the influence, power, and money has done nothing for you as a being.”
John realized that Hyland was not condemning him but compassionately declaring what was so. Hyland’s words affected John deeply. He sighed heavily and continually. Hyland had courageously and compassionately told John D. Stiller what he had known all along but was in self-denial. The tough guy facade melted from his face. Hyland Powers had reached John Stiller.
What came next completely leveled the house of cards.
Tears formed in Hyland’s eyes as he recounted the story, “I came upon your sister lying in a pool of her blood dying alone in that poorly lit alley.
Alicia was a good and tender soul.
She was dragged there by her mugger, Tom Silvi, who you later found and killed. She died because of his need for a fix.
While walking, I heard her screams from across the street and saw a darkened figure running from the alley. I ran into the alley and saw her sprawled on the ground, blood pooling. I kneeled to help her. It was too late.”
John D. Stiller had not shed a tear since his childhood. One of his foster dads would beat him every time John cried. The beatings engrained in John that REAL men don’t shed tears. This day changed everything. The dam had burst.
Hyland continued, “You asked why I am here? I am here to keep a promise. I am here to answer the final prayer of a young woman who I found dying alone in an alley. Alicia’s last words were, ‘John my brother always loved and cared for me. Please, help him. I know him. He will carry the guilt for this. It will destroy him.’
In between, dying rasps, she said to tell John Stiller that I love him and that I will always look up to my older brother.”
John had lowered his head. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
Hyland placed his hand on John’s shoulder, “John, you may be in this prison for the rest of your life. But you can be liberated from the prison in your soul. Let go, Let go of the pain and find true freedom and true riches.”
John had adored his little sister. Through tear-drenched eyes, John looked up at Hyland, “Why did you wait so long to tell me her final words?”
Hyland took a deep breath, “I tried to reach out to you repeatedly, but you were not ready or willing until now.”
Hyland’s final words were, “John forgive yourself, let go of the guilt over your sister’s death, let go of the anger, let go of the bitterness. You have much for which to make amends. You have hurt many. Make amends where possible. Then you will find the true riches and freedom. Hyland grabbed both John’s shoulders, gave one last penetrating search looking into John’s eyes. Hyland nodded to John before walking out of his cell.
John sat there, alone, crying. The burden fell off him that night.
The next day, John contemplated and reflected over what had transpired. “I need to talk to Hyland some more. I will invite him to sit at my table for breakfast.” In the cafeteria, he looked all over for him, “Has anyone seen Powers this morning?”
Overhearing John’s question, a guard interjected, “Haven’t you heard. Powers was released. The story is that Powers was falsely convicted for starting a riot. He had no lawyer nor did he defend himself at the trial.
You might think that maybe the guy wanted to go to prison. New evidence of his innocence came to light. The governor gave the order for his immediate release came late last night. He is a free man.”
John just smiled to himself. “I know why he was here. He came to set me free and show me the true riches. Now, where do I start? I have wrongs to make right.”