I told John about the Journey and without asking, he sat next to me saying: "You'll probably want to tell my story." It wasn't a question. Then, I noticed the scar running down the right side of his face and neck and, without hesitation, said: "You'd probably be right."
From 1990 to 2010, John was incarcerated in several of the nation's most notorious Federal prisons. He was convicted on 11 counts of armed robbery. I asked what I realized to be a pretty naive question: "What started you down that path?"
"I didn't have any skills and couldn't find good paying work," he said. "I realized I had nothing to lose and for a long time, it worked. Then I got stupid."
Then I pushed my luck, saying: "Lot's of people can't find good paying work. They don't all commit armed robbery." A shrug, resignation. Nothing else.
I asked what it was like, how he survived those 20 years. "You learn how to align yourself with the right people," he said. Then, he went through a litany of famous felons who he befriended over the years, including famed Mafia figurehead, John Gotti. Of course, I have no way of corroborating John's story, but the scar on the right side of his face reminded me that it probably wasn't my place to question him.
So, I asked why he was on the bus. "I'm living in Seattle now, working construction for $11 an hour." He was en route from Cleveland, his hometown, where he visited his ailing mother.
I asked why he didn't just stay in Cleveland and find a similar job.
"I can only make $8.10 an hour in Cleveland," he said. "I can't live on that. I can make that extra three dollars go a long way.
The irony of John's situation was not lost on me. He spent 20 years in prison for armed robbery because he couldn't find good paying work. But now, he's back working a low paying job and, most likely, just getting by. I mentioned this to him, asked if he had any regrets about what he had done.
John looked out the window for the longest time, pondering the question.
"I made a lot of mistakes and paid a pretty big price for making those mistakes," he said. But regrets can kill you. Twenty years behind bars makes you appreciate what you have, what's important. It gives you some wisdom."
He smiled for the first time in our conversation and said: "I don't complain about shit anymore. Life is simple and I'm happy."