Through Barbed Wire  

Don’t Follow My Prints
By Arnie King

In June 1972, a black teenager was tried, convicted, and sentenced for killing a young, white man in the Back Bay section of Boston. His co-defendant, a white teenager, was dying of leukemia, and, while in Boston City Hospital, he pled guilty to second-degree murder. As the jury was being empanelled, the Boston media blasted: “co-defendant pleads guilty to Back Bay murder.” This message reached the eyes and ears of the twelve evaluators, and he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility. The co-defendant died in late summer after the trial.

A man dies alone in his car of a gunshot to the head and societal norms demand punishment. The shooter grows old and may eventually die in the prison cell block. Both men were once young, energetic, and with great potential for success. The lives of both men, their families, and communities, have been traumatized by a senseless act.

My initial years of prison life consisted of adjusting to this extremely hostile location. Drugs and alcohol use were rampant and the intensity of violence within square footage was much higher than any Boston community. It was quite literally, “trying to get in where one fits in.” Daily survival tactics would be employed quite similar to the inner cities or foreign war experience, where a pause or slight hesitation could determine one’s fate.

I had a very difficult time accepting the fact that I had killed another human being. I may have tricked individuals, stole their property, and even assaulted them, but murder was the ultimate act, and I was unprepared for the label of “teenage killer.” I was embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed in my behavior and its consequences. Denial was the initial reaction. I pled not guilty and at first refused to acknowledge my direct responsibility. Rather, I blamed my youth, the influence of drugs and alcohol, or the sudden movement of the car, for leading to the gunshot and eventual death.

These excuses were obstacles in the pathway of my claiming self and cleansing soul. It is not easy to recover from a horrific episode without a thorough personal inventory and a support network of encouragement for change. By examining a list of mistakes in an honest and open manner, I became willing to make necessary adjustments during this journey. I don’t want to continue patterns of bad decision making, and, by sharing intimate aspects of my life, I hope to prevent others from creating similar errors in judgment.

Life in places like Walpole, Concord, and Norfolk have very few advantages. Violence and racial tension are carried into prison and intensified within an abnormal environment. There are many lonely moments, hungry nights, and unfulfilled dreams of a brighter future. This place is very easy to enter, but very difficult to exit. Just ask the other 2 million in chains trying to reach through barbed wire.

Arnie King writes from a Massachusetts prison cell, which he has occupied for over 35 years. Comments can be sent to Arnie at: or by mail c/o Bay State Correctional Center, Box 73, Norfolk, MA 02056.