For those of you old enough to do so, think back over the past 28 years. Remember all of the things that fill that space.
The people you’ve welcomed into your life and those you’ve said goodbye to. The love you shared and the tears you shed. The places you’ve been to and the people you met; the many milestones you marked along the way. All the events and experiences that shaped and changed you. So much happens during such a lengthy span that it’s hard to remember it all.
Think, too, of the many mornings you woke up with the blessed freedom to do anything you chose.
The next 28 years will pass for Kwame Kilpatrick with little of that everyday memory making. He will fill his time counting minutes, hours and days. He’ll miss graduations, weddings and funerals. His schedule will be penned by someone else. The food he eats will be selected by someone else. He’ll sleep where someone else tells him to sleep. He’ll hug his children and grandchildren when they come, only when someone else says it’s OK. He’ll be absent from three decades of family photographs.
That’s a lot of missed life. A lot of time. And it comes in exchange for a lot of damage.
Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds detailed the destruction in explaining the long sentence, noting the former Detroit mayor had filched at least $4.6 million from taxpayers and others, had put minority contractors out of business so he could enrich his pal Bobby Ferguson, and had exacerbated Detroit’s financial crisis.
Kilpatrick, in a self-serving courtroom speech intended to project an aura of contrition he doesn’t possess, added to the tally himself, noting he had killed the career of his mother, “beat down” the spirit of a city, and ruined his marriage and family.
That’s the obvious stuff. We’ll never know the full extent to which Kilpatrick’s preoccupation with his own enrichment contributed to the city’s ongoing disaster. Much of that harm is unquantifiable.
For instance, Kilpatrick came into office at age 32 and brought with him his peers, who were at the time some of the brightest young people in the city. Certainly they were elevated before they were ready, but they had a chance to mature into a generation of leaders that truly could have saved Detroit.
Instead, many of them ended up as convicts, like their boss. Some went to prison. Others are untouchable because of the Kilpatrick taint. Their potential was wasted by a man who wasted his own.
I used to fret about what Kilpatrick could have been, thinking of him as a brilliant talent who simply went astray. But now I think he’s fulfilled his destiny.
Kilpatrick told the court, “I’m ready to go to prison.” Turns out, he was born ready. His corruption trial left no question that every move Kilpatrick made throughout his career was calculated by how it would benefit him. He was never anything more than a crook.
If he ever walks out of prison, it’ll be as an old man with nothing more to show for three decades of life than counting time. He will re-emerge into an an unfamiliar world that will likely have forgotten him.
And hopefully he’ll have forgotten where he hid the money.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.