One night while I’m standing on the front stoop of my apartment building, smoking my last cigarette of the night, I see a young man approaching. This is generally a quiet block in the East Village. Tonight, there is hardly anyone on the street, even though it’s a balmy summer evening. Even the outdoor tables at the Italian restaurant next door are empty.
As the man gets closer, I can tell that he wants something.
“Hey man, you got an extra cigarette I could bum? I just got out of jail.”
What? You’re kidding.
He’s wearing a T-shirt and jeans; his head is shaved smooth. He pulls a folded wad of paper from his pocket and hands it to me — release papers. I didn’t ask for the proof, but there it is.
“Yeah man, I was in for six months. Stealing cars.” He grins. “But I don’t wanna do that no more. I just need some change for the subway.”
We talk for a few minutes more, until our cigarettes have burned to the filters. He asks for some change as he steps down from the stoop and turns to leave; I give him a few coins, and a cigarette for the road.
I don’t remember the man’s name, even though I saw it printed on that piece of official prison stationery. But I do remember that he doesn’t want to steal any more cars.