The Beginning of the End of a Criminal’s Career

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The technical legal term for what I did is “B&E,” which does not mean the beginning of the end, though it could be. In a spiritual sense, it was the beginning of the end, for which I will always praise God. But in the legal world, it means breaking and entering. It’s when a criminal wants something so much that he breaks into a place to steal it.

Only Dopes Do Dope

I had a drug business during my high school days. Robby, the oldest brother, supplied me with marijuana, and I would sell it for him. I never made a profit, or you could say that all my profit went up in smoke. I had a specially made jacket where I sewed several pockets on the inside. Each hidden pocket had different “brands” and sizes of marijuana so our customers could choose what they wanted, e.g., Columbian, Acapulco Gold. They would line up in the restroom between classes to shop.

As my little business grew, I needed some scales to weigh the marijuana. Someone suggested that the “Thomas boys” could break into our local high school. The science department had quite a few scales. I am not sure who concocted this brain-dumb idea, but Gary and Dwayne were on board, so we made a plan.

Part of our motivation was a business decision. But, honestly, it’s what we did; it’s who we were. I started stealing when I was 12 years old. I was 15 when we decided to break into the high school. Like Bonnie and Clyde, the shelf-life of a thief is usually short. During this disturbing season in my life, we broke into two church buildings and stole things from various local stores and malls.

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Ephesians 4:28).

Sodas and Cigars

The first store I remember ripping off was a “mom and pop,” called J. L. Austins. It was a local hardware, food store on Main Street in Wingate, NC. We would enter through the back door, which had an unlocked screen during the day. We crawled in on our hands and knees like cats, maneuvered to the soda box, and took what we wanted. Then crawled back out to enjoy our haul.

The last time we broke into Austins was the day we were training my friend, Joe Woodson. Joe was a bit green but eager. We had crawled in, ducking from the sight-lines of the front counter. Joe was following us, but rather than crawling, he walked in standing up. He then let the door slam behind him. It made a loud noise; we were startled at his blunder, as all the “cats” rotated their heads and stared at him wide-eyed. Someone from the front realized what was going on and hollered in our direction. That was the end of our hardware store escapades.

Another short season, I stole cherry blend cigars from a local one-person gas station on Highway 74. Joe and I would go into the woods to smoke. We did this the entire summer. That fall, we went out for the midget league football team. The coach had us running laps around the Wingate Elementary School baseball field as part of our drills. Joe and I finished dead last. We could not breathe.

Those practices ended my cigar smoking days.

The End of My Crime Days

We continued our life of crime up to that fateful high school break-in. We would have gotten away with what we did, but the law was suspicious of some things they thought our older brothers were doing. They were on their trail, looking for their secret hideout.

Their trail led to one of our grandmother’s out-buildings where they found our stash from the high school. How ironic: they were looking for their stuff and found ours. I do not know if they ever found what they were looking for from my brothers, but what the police weren’t looking for, they found, and it was a significant turning point in my life.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and what I felt was unfair back then was God’s kindness to me.

The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.