Value I Did Not Expect

Craig Elbe
3 min readDec 28, 2020

The salon I chose for my most recent haircut came from a grocery store receipt’s coupon. Not one to turn down a good deal within my budget, I made an appointment.

Since he’d never cut my hair, I told the barber what I wanted. The non-heroic cape followed, then the spray and comb and scissors. Later, the clippers.

Small talk commenced. I asked about his youth. He grew up in southern United States, in a town “you’d miss if you got off the highway and went to pick up something you dropped by your feet. “

His upbringing was a relic, part of how life “still ought to be: the entire village raised the kids.” The first parent who saw a kid misbehave was the first hand of discipline, then later the child’s parents once they got home — who, of course, knew about their child’s misdeed before the kid “was seen from the kitchen window, sulking to the door.”

I told him the winding story of my working life that became my writing life, and how I, for now, combine the two. I mentioned writing for PW Torch, my website, and my various other projects and writing goals.

Only then did he feel comfortable enough to tell me about the book he is writing. Well, not the book per se, but the story. The story he lived.

While living in an eastern state many years ago, he was incarcerated for over twenty four months. The catch — he wasn’t guilty of the crime, “even with clear as day evidence I didn’t do it, even before I gave my plea.” Without hesitation, he contested the charges and eventually won, all while having his rights to a speedy trial not met.

After his victory, he was made aware of being the first black man to win such a (pre-DNA) case in that historically racist state, presided over by a judge who was as racist as they come. The jury? Eleven white women and one Hispanic woman, and four white woman alternates.

This story he’s told many times was delivered with quiet, yet strong conviction. It’s still fresh for him, but he’d let the anger go. He didn’t offer any foul language or negativity, besides the distressing facts of his situation. Simply put: “I knew I wasn’t going to lose. I didn’t do it. Even with the deck stacked against me, I had the truth and God on my side.”

While telling me his story, his attention was less on my hair and more on his memories. At the outset, I said wanted much shorter hair. I ended up settling for non-crooked, barely shorter hair. And I…