A Split Second. A Life’s Sentence.

It’s those seemingly inconsequential choices that turn innocents into outlaws

| Mar.-Apr. 2008

On the night of June 29, 1996, Andrew Papke, then 19, was driving drunk through South Austin, Texas, when he caused a head-on collision, instantly killing the couple in the other vehicle. After the accident, Papke became active in Alcoholics Anonymous. At his trial, he pleaded guilty and received back-to-back 20-year sentences for intoxication manslaughter. In prison, Papke has worked as a chaplain’s assistant, studied for sociology and paralegal degrees, and become an advocate against drunk driving. His release date is December 16, 2036.


Lady Justice is not blind. She has 20/20 vision. Her actions shriek “How you live is how you die,” assuring us that all ends are born of their means. Death by lethal injection is but a circle come full.

Convicts know this all too well. They sense that the public doesn’t want to hear it, and why should it? The convicts didn’t when they were out in the free world running hard and fast. They thought “I could never end up like that” and dismissed the notion of consequences. But convicts were once citizens, and that makes citizens uncomfortable.

Some cannot view prisoners beyond the fact that they are locked away paying their debts to society. Images of convicts busting rocks on a chain gang, that’s the stereotype. The public wraps its mind around the character gained from hard labor, just as convicts wrap their hands around the bars of cells and holler down the run after rack time. They know that as public issues go, they are at best gnats, flying around the heads of a dismissive citizenry, swiped away by the sweaty backhand of some lying politician hell-bent on a crime crackdown.

Sadly (but truly) for some convicts, prison is a bed-and-breakfast for the lazy, a celebration funded by taxpayers where the jester is king. For some it is a riviera where the wicked meet new associates. Others were just marionettes of a sort. They tied strings to their hands, feet, and jaws and waited for some cosmic puppet master to move them. Then one day, wooden dolls that they were, they came to life, told some lies, and ran away from home believing themselves worth no more than kindling fit for fire. They got messed up. Now, here they are in the belly of the beast . . . er, whale.