Inmate's troubles began when his Mom was murdered

Posted Friday, Feb. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In some ways, the 28-year-old prisoner I saw Thursday morning at the Tarrant County Corrections Center looks a lot like the 13-year-old boy I met 15 years ago.

As a child whose mother was murdered when he was in the fifth grade, Reynaldo Garcia III appeared to be coping better than expected back in 1997. His mom, Donna, had been killed in February 1995 when a man shot her as she spoke on an outdoor pay phone to her husband, Reynaldo Garcia Jr.

Rey (as his dad calls him), his three younger sisters and their father were participating in a program at The Warm Place, a support center for grieving children and their families.

I did a series of columns about how this family was managing, and I wrote about the two men accused of the murder, one who admitted shooting Donna Garcia to get gas money.

When we first talked, Rey was in middle school, playing football, talking of one day counseling other hurting kids and dreaming of becoming a lawyer to help change the system.

In an interview last week at the county jail, he told me his favorite room at The Warm Place had been the "Motion Commotion" room where kids were allowed to take out their anger by hitting things. Later in life, he could have used a room like that -- along with a lot more professional help -- and maybe he would not be facing prison time today.

Through high school, where he was a pole vaulter, Rey stayed focused and appeared to be on a path to success. He applied for the U.S. Naval Academy and remembers when he got a rejection letter.

"I ripped up the letter," then decided to join the Marine Corps, he said. Because he was 17, his father had to sign for him, a decision the dad somewhat regrets today.

Tuesday morning, outside a Tarrant County courtroom where Rey was prepared to plead guilty to aggravated assult charges in exchange for a three-year sentence, the elder Garcia held a stack of his son's Marine certificates and citations, including one for a "Good Conduct Medal."

He also had Rey's "administrative separation" papers, which noted his discharge "under other than honorable conditions." Rey had been getting drunk and fighting and was kicked out of the Marines two months before completing his second enlisted term.

Rey served two tours in Iraq and had some "tough experiences" that he says will remain "between me, my dad and God." He did tell me that carrying out part of his duties meant he "toe-tagged and body-bagged" many of his fellow Marines.

He had nightmares, contemplated suicide, lashed out at people, started drinking more heavily and doing drugs. Once, he called the MHMR hotline asking for someone to meet him at his mother's grave: "I wanted to talk to her. I wanted her to hold me."

"I was begging and dying on the inside for somebody to help me," Rey said.

After a marriage failed, he got into trouble with the law in 2010. After a fight with a girlfriend, he was convicted of aggravated assault and given deferred adjudication. Rey violated probation by not reporting regularly, and he drew three other assault charges: for hurting his current girlfriend, threatening people he said had planned to attack him and a misdemeanor count for jumping on his father. That father still visits him every day in jail.

Rey's case will likely be set again the week of Feb. 19, when he may plead guilty to a single charge and go to prison.

But this man is still hurting and crying out for help -- something I'm not sure he'll get in the penitentiary.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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