I do not know why, maybe it was the boredom, there was no revelation or epiphany, I simply decided to ask him his side of the story, and tell it. Being no “virgin” to the attention of the press, I knew they were getting the story wrong – they always do. I also knew any reporter would die to have his story first and exclusively. Why not beat them to it? The best revenge is success.
Besides, one thing was for sure. Any reporter telling his story was going to be telling it from an angle already decided by an editor. I was going to propose to him that we tell his story, from his angle.
However, the opportunity to speak to “the guy” did not arise for about four days. Like I said, nothing happens immediately in here. Fortunately for me, my cell is directly in front of the TV in the day room. At some point, everyone passes it. “He’s here,” Nike said.
“Who’s here?” I asked.
I step to the door to take a look out. He’s literally standing right next to me, except of course for the locked cell door in between us. I tap gently on the glass; “Hey… Hey…” I say.
I startle him a bit and he moves away from the window apologizing, “I’m sorry… didn’t mean to block your view.”
I moved quickly to alleviate his fear or apprehension. “Oh, no…you’re cool. I do want to ask you a question, though.”
He leaned in close to the door, along the border where the door meets the foundation, and with his head slightly bowed he said, “Uh…. OK.”
“You can tell me to fuck off if you want. I don’t want to be in your business, but I was wondering if you would want to talk to me about your story. I’m reading the papers and the one thing that’s obvious is that their goal, the press that is, is to make you guys look like animals. While what happened is completely fucked up, no one’s completely good while someone else is completely bad. By the time your trial gets here, you’re already guilty, and understand its being done by design.”
“I know,” he said. “They’re not even getting it right. I walked into the station about a week after the incident and told the story to the detectives…”
“Trust me,” I interrupted, “I know a lot about the press getting it or not getting it right. I just wanted to know if you’d like to tell your side through me. Not that I am anybody mind you, but I can try to help get your version out there.You and I can take two or three unlocks, I’ll interview you through the door just like we’re talking now. I don’t know the entire story, and frankly I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, but as it stands, there’s no way you guys are getting a fair trial around here. The press has already seen to that.”
“It’s funny you should say that. My lawyer has already asked for a change of venue.”
As he said that, I waited until we made eye contact and I grimaced. “That’s a hard one. Judges don’t seem to like to do that.”
“Yeah, I know.” He then mentioned the name of some researcher in that area whose name I didn’t catch, “he is a college professor who writes about this kind of stuff, you know, change of venues and all that, and he says his preliminary evaluation shows about a 90% chance that I won’t get a fair trial, normally it’s around 40%, and so the judge has alotted money… I think it is $15,000 so far, for him to study it. I guess he needs around $30,000.”
“That’s good,” I said, “but my understanding is that that almost never happens. At any rate, I was just wondering if you wanted to talk about it.”
“You know,” he said. “I might like to do that. We can do that. Like I said, I went in and told the detectives everything. I’m just worried the press keeps getting it all wrong.” He thought for a few seconds, “What’s your name?”
“Adams,” I said.
“Well Adams, my name’s Gene Combs.”
I smiled at him. “I know.”
Gene Combs obviously had other things to do and began to look around the room. I surely understood that. Unlock time is precious time. “Look,” he said, “I’m going to sit down and play some cards with these guys.”
“OK,” I said. “We don’t have to do anything this minute. I’ll come up with some questions and when you’re ready, we’ll do it.”
“OK,” he said. There was another pause, and then Gene said, “I’m going to go over here now and play pinochle, but we’ll do it.”
“OK,” I said again.
Gene walked away from my cell door and I retreated to my bunk. I actually felt very good about having something to look forward to, something to do to break the monotony of each day in here. I know that if I didn’t change the focus of my mind, I was going to drive myself “nuts” in here.
I immediately began to formulate in my head the questions I wanted to ask him. They were going to be the tough questions, the ones that everyone wanted answered, but more importantly, they were going to bring out the real story and not some editor’s angle.
I spent the better part of the evening writing out questions. My mind was spinning so fast I had needed to slow it down by writing them out. “This is a story”, I imagined “that could launch a career in journalism”. And here I was in here, getting it. Surely this was a bit egocentric on my part, but I convinced myself that a story by “the little man” was the story worth being told. The papers were never going to treat Gene Combs as a human being.
At first I thought about the introduction. This needed to take the format of a story, not your typical news piece where the editor assumes the reader is only going to see the opening paragraph and so tries to “crunch” the story into a sentence. We needed to find out about Gene Combs.
I knew I was overthinking it. “Relax”, I kept telling myself; “have a conversation, a real conversation with Gene and let the story tell itself.”
With that I decided on bullet points:
- Who are you, Gene? I mean, if it were you who had died, and not Matt Garcia, what would your best friend be saying at your eulogy?
- What would your worst enemy be saying?
- Why is that?
- How old are you? When is your birthday?
- Where were you born?
- What was it like growing up?
- What was your family like?
- Where did you go to high school?
- What was that like?
- What activities were you involved in?
- What did you want to be when you were 12? 16?
- What were your dreams for the future?
- Did you go to college? Where? Why not?
- What did you study?
- What do you do for a living?
- How’d you get into that?
- Are you married? Girlfriend? Significant other?
- Any children?
- Tell me about them.
- What are your dreams/hopes for their future?
- What do you do for fun?
- Where do you live (in what kind of community, what type of neighborhood)?
- Drug use? How long? When did you start?
- Why did you start?
- Any therapy/rehab?
- How often do you use drugs?
- How do you put that together in your mind raising children or having a family?
- Think back to that night – now, what was going on the day before? What was your day like? What did you do?
- The papers “pen” this as a drug deal gone bad. What was really going on?
- Why’d you go there?
- What was your goal? Money back? Drugs? Revenge?
- Who were the people with you? Why were they with you? It seems to me three people for one guy was looking for trouble.
- I’m confused; none of them knew the guy you were looking for? Why did you think Garcia was the guy?
- Did you guys talk with him, or just go in shooting? Why? Again, what was the goal?
- How do you feel about that decision now?
- I see you reading the papers from time to time. How do you feel when you read the stories? The family’s sadness? The tributes to Garcia?
- What do you want to say to the DA?
- What do you expect form the DA?
- Now I read you turned yourself in, but do you have anything you’d like to say to the family?
- Matt Garcia is never coming home. What do you say to them?
- How do you make this up to Matt Garcia?
- What do you want the average citizen reading this article to know about you?