An innocent man confronted the judge who had knowingly sent him to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Derek Wilson’s first steps as a free man after ten years in prison had him almost staggering to his knees. In ten long years, his son had become a man, his daughter a shy, lovely girl, his wife a careworn middle-aged woman.
Wilson took a deep breath of fresh air that didn’t smell of anger, dirty socks and the rancid sweat of two thousand men. He was free, and everyone of those ten years he’d lived obsessed with one thought: to find the man who’d sent him to prison knowing he was innocent.
Once, Wilson had led what had seemed to many to be a charmed life. He’d been young, handsome, and gifted, and when he’d come up with a revolutionary idea for a patented alloy in college, he quickly became rich.
His college roommate, Charles Danzing, a happy-go-lucky trust fund baby, had invested his dwindling inheritance in Wilson’s idea, and it had paid off. The two friends formed a company that raked in incredible dividends on Wilson’s idea.
Wilson had married Helen, his high school sweetheart, and Danzing had been his best man. While Wilson had continued coming up with the innovative products, Danzing had been the frontman, the fundraiser.
Danzing had the high-finance contacts, and before long, their little company was trading on the stock exchange. Then came an offer from a multinational, an offer Wilson had turned down.
Wilson didn’t want to lose control of the company, of how his designs would be used, but Danzing kept pressuring him to accept the staggering offer. They would be rich beyond their wildest dreams…
After a long discussion, Wilson had warned his partner that he’d rather shut down than sell out, and Danzing had finally accepted his decision — or at least he seemed to.
When everything we have is taken away, we learn to value what really matters.
Three months later, as Wilson stepped out of his house, he was accosted by two policemen who arrested him for fraud. What should have been a relaxed lakeside day with his family became a nightmare of police interviews.
According to the police, Wilson had negotiated a $300 million deal with the multinational company, which after paying for the company, discovered it was worthless.
The police had documents that showed Wilson’s signature ceding his patents to a Japanese conglomerate for $200 million, as well as on the sale of his company for the multinational for another $300 million.
The money was gone, and the company was worthless without the patents. Charles Danzing was gone too, and Wilson quickly realized that he’d absconded with the money and left him as his patsy.
Wilson kept protesting his innocence, but even his very expensive lawyer wore a faint disbelieving smile. Everything pointed to his guilt, and as the trial began, he saw his hopes of proving his innocence evaporate.
Time after time, the judge, Frederick Mason, would rule against him. Wilson’s brilliant lawyer battled to have exculpatory evidence included that would have pointed a finger at Charles Danzing but was overruled by the judge.
Then one day, staring up at the thin, aristocratic face of the judge, Wilson had a feeling of deja vu. “I know him,” he whispered to his lawyer. “That judge — he’s one of Charlie’s childhood buddies!
Wilson’s lawyer frowned. “That’s impossible!” he whispered back. “He’d have recused himself if he knew Danzing!”
But Wilson couldn’t shake the certainty that the judge was determined to bury him, to see him condemned, and all mention of Danzing’s possible involvement was ruthlessly expunged from the trial.
The outcome was predictable: Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in a state penitentiary, and everything he owned was liquidated to help defray the cost of his expensive defense, and as partial payment to the multinational.
Wilson sat in his cold, empty cell and realized his family would be on their own, struggling to survive while he was in prison. Helen would be raising their son, Dylan, and their daughter Janice alone — and penniless.
The many friends who’d surrounded their golden, lucky family vanished. No one wanted to associate with a felon and his family, and Wilson made a bitter vow: when he left prison he’d be paying Judge Frederick Mason a visit.
Sundays Helen and the children would visit, and the dark cloud that surrounded Mason would lift. Helen had found herself a job and a tiny apartment, and as the years went by, the children grew, and Wilson grew older and angrier.
Danzing was never heard of again, and the huge fortune he’d stolen had vanished into a bank in a tropical island famous as a tax shelter. Wilson’s only consolation was his family’s belief in his innocence.
On the day he was released, he walked out with a small scrap of paper in his pocket with the judge’s home address. He boarded a bus that would take him into the city and the judge’s neighborhood.
He was wearing the elegant three-piece suit he’d worn into court to hear his final sentencing — his last link to his previous life — and he looked every inch the prosperous businessman.
He rang the judge’s doorbell and a sweet-faced woman answered. “Yes?” she asked. “How may I help you?”
Wilson held out a large manila envelope. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, ma’am,” he said. “But I have some urgent briefs for Judge Mason.” Frowning, the woman let him in and left to call the judge
Minutes later, the judge walked in and stopped dead at the sight of Wilson. “YOU!” Mason gasped, turning pasty white. “Get out!”
“Your honor,” said Wilson, “you and I need to have a talk.”
“I’ll call the police,” gasped Mason. “You’ll be back in prison by nightfall!”
“Listen, Mason,” Wilson said. “No need to panic. I’m not here to harm you. I’m here to thank you.
The judge stared at Wilson. “To thank me?” he asked.
“Ten years ago,” Mason said, “I thought I was the happiest man in the world. I had everything and I appreciated nothing. When you took it all from me, I thought I’d die. I had no money, no power, no prestige.
“My so-called friends vanished, and all I had left was my wife and children, and the talent God gave me. Instead of sophisticated people with more money than sense, I was surrounded by men who’d lost as much as I had.
“I started to see not what I’d lost, but how much I had. I had the love and loyalty of a wonderful woman, two amazing children, and soon I made friends with men, ordinary men, some who had made terrible mistakes, and some who were as innocent as I was.
“I wanted to tell you that today I’m a happier and a better man than I was ten years ago. I wanted to thank you for teaching me the true value of what I once had, and what I am.”
Before the judge’s disbelieving eyes, Wilson turned his back on him and walked out of the door. He who had once owned a fleet of sportscars caught the next bus home to his family with a light and hopeful heart.
With his wife’s help and support, Wilson set himself up with a small garage fixing up cars and working on some of the ideas he’d had while he was in prison. His life is now happier than he ever imagined possible.
What can we learn from this story?
- When everything we have is taken away, we learn to value what really matters. Wilson lost all his money and his freedom, and he learned to cherish his family.
- Be careful who you trust — even the best of friends can betray us. Wilson discovered that his best friend had set him up to go to prison for fraud.