Prison Visit with Michael Alig
The trip up to the Mid-State Correctional Facility to visit the soon to be released Michael Alig is a trip back and forward in time. It is impossible for me to drive the five hours there and five hours back without hearing the echo of my own past and seeing the ghosts of clubs and people gone by. It is also a trip into the future as the future is what Michael and my passengers, professor Victor Corona and digital designer Amanda Noa, will discuss in the packed visiting room. Cows, crows, and small herds of deer frame the drive on Interstate 87. The grass does not seem greener as we travel north. The trees haven’t awoken yet and the fields lay bare. As we pass Albany, water bleeding out of shale freezes into ice and snow, and memory of our winter of discomfort plays with our spring optimism. Spring is all about new beginnings and as Michael is about to be sprung, those close to him are in a strange, cautious yet euphoric state.
The gas station malls are filled with ancient hairdos and don’ts as the fashion forward of my Williamsburg life gives way to fashion backward. My phone says it’s noon but my surroundings say 1981. I wonder out loud if they’re still watching season two of Game of Thrones. Ozzie and Harriet is suggested. As we travel north into this land that time seems to have forgotten, we understand that the inmate we visit has not been forgotten. The public rubbernecks to find out what’s next.
Michael is again at the center of great attention, a role he was born to play. Give him a crowd and he will surely do something amazing. Well he has his crowd… the media attention says it’s so. The offers by so many media outlets beg him to expose more, to be seen and heard. It’s a feeding frenzy of sharks who understand his creative impact and smell the blood in the water. Those close to him were unprepared for the onslaught caused by the release announcement. Carefully laid out plans that took 10 years, 17 years to define are being rethought.
Michael is an energizer bunny as we talk of his release. Who will be there at that moment and what happens as the moment turns into the next as the bright future overpowers the dark past is the topic of the day. That’s the plan I guess. To create, to live, to walk around… To meet the living while the death is relegated to a chapter in the life. It hangs over us always. It is always taken seriously. We all know that no amount of Hail Mary’s, apologies, baring of souls or good deeds will ever brush the brutal death of Angel Melendez away. Angel will sit on Michael’s shoulder till the end, defining his life, reminding him of the horror, the trial and errors, the imprisonment. and the shame.
Michael is aware, completely remorseful, and determined to do all and anything it takes to be seen in a light that defines him as more than the crazed club kid that took a life. It’s been 17 years, and as with all long term convicts he has dreamed of May 5, the day of his release. He will strive to make use of his time. He has a zillion plans, great creative jobs lined up, and a huge support network.
I was surprised at the feeding frenzy that followed my April 15 announcement of his release. My Facebook was deluged with well-wishers and haters. I talked to both. I asked the haters to accept his release and rehabilitation until he fucks up and to be “Christian” and forgive. I never ask anyone to forget.
In the visiting room I was surrounded by rapists and killers and other evil-doers. All were with family and friends. Toddlers played with toys. Girlfriends and wives stole touches and kisses. Most of these men are doing long, hard, time, and most will be freed at one point. Judges, parole boards and correctional system workers will determine the date of their return to society. We are a society that, in most cases, grants second chances.
As I sat with Michael and Victor and Amanda we spoke of what this club kid or club owner was doing now and of things that went bump in the night those eons ago. We laughed as we remembered the time this or that happened. He has no intention, by the way, of throwing an event on the Williamsburg Bridge or a club or warehouse. His path will take him elsewhere. There were inevitable pauses as someone said something like, “but Angel…” or “this one hates you still because of Angel.” Angel is always there and of course, he isn’t. Charities are talked about, apologies and remorse to always be stated and shown. He knows what he did and knows he can never hide from it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said “there are no second acts in American lives.” Michael will be an exception, I feel. Of course there he has a big advantage over Angel Melendez.
With a few others, I’ll meet Michael by the train station or prison gates as he rejoins the living. We will give him some new clothes and walk forward with him. How the stimuli of our world, his new world affect the former Party Monster is the big story.
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