Mark, a white man, was born in 1946 to a lower-middle class family in San Francisco. His father was a line worker in a large manufacturing firm. He supported his wife, Mark, and Mark’s younger brother, on an income that they squeaked by on, with enough left over to allow them a two-week vacation every summer (usually to a cabin they rented at Lake Tahoe).
Mark, blessed with a 123 I.Q. and encouraged by his parents to value his education, was an above average student. He graduated from high school in 1964 and enrolled at a local junior college. Whether because he was insufficiently challenged or because he could not keep up with his studies while working part-time, Mark dropped out of school after one and a half semesters. Then, in 1966, he was drafted into the Army.
Lemarr, a black man, was also born in 1946 in San Francisco. His father worked odd jobs when he wasn’t in jail, which was about half of the time when Lemarr was young. His mother worked as a cleaning lady for wealthy families in the city. Her meager income and the occasional income his father supplied kept Lemarr and his two brothers and sister from going hungry every night.
Lemarr, despite having an I.Q. of 119, was a mediocre student in school. In that regard, he received no motivation from his parents. But he stayed out of trouble, largely due to the influence of his maternal grandmother, who taught him to be respectful of the rules of society and to ignore racial injustice whenever he experienced it. Lemarr never considered college as an option. Instead, after graduating from high school, he got a job at the same manufacturing plant where Mark’s father worked. After only one year, however, at the age of 19, he, too, was drafted into the Army.
Mark did well in boot camp and was assigned as an administrative clerk when he completed his basic training. He spent his first year of service at a stateside post and then was sent to a base in Germany. By then, he had already been promoted to Buck Sergeant. Military life appeared to be agreeing with him.
Lemarr also did well in boot camp, but he was assigned to the infantry when he completed his basic training. After completing a one-year tour at a stateside base, he received orders for Viet Nam.
After completing his initial two-year commitment, Mark decided to continue his army duty and re-upped for a full four-year hitch. He was allowed to remain in the position he had in Germany and continued to be promoted, achieving the rank of Tech Sergeant by the end of his first six years of duty. By then, he had served two tours in Viet Nam, both in non-combat assignments.
Lemarr saw lots of combat in his first Viet Nam tour. He killed enemy forces and saw his colleagues killed by enemy forces. By surviving and showing the grit necessary for battle, he was promoted to Corporal and then, on a second tour in the war, to Sergeant. By the time he had finished his first six years, Lemarr was a first sergeant, in charge of a platoon of men.
During his third enlistment, Mark was assigned to the judge advocate’s office on a stateside base. There, he gained an appreciation for the military justice system and made friends with two of the young officers who were attorneys in the office. Through these friends, he developed a desire to be an attorney himself. At the end of his third enlistment, Mark separated from the Army with an honorable discharge. He enrolled in college, got his degree, and entered law school in 1978.
When the Viet Nam War ended, Lemarr was already a Master Sergeant. He felt the Army had been a good life for him to that point, so he decided to stay in for the full twenty years that would qualify him for retirement benefits. But once he was assigned to non-combat duty, Lemarr grew bored and frustrated. Office work didn’t appeal to him. In time, he began to have trouble with his assignments, and occasional disciplinary actions (none particularly serious) were noted in his personnel file.
Mark graduated from law school with honors and was immediately hired by a large law firm, where he quickly excelled at litigation. He was only 35.
When military cutbacks were ordered (to reduce government spending) during the period of peace that followed the Viet Nam War, a sizeable number of senior non-commissioned officers without spotless records were released from active service. Lemarr was told he was one of the NCOs who would be released. At the time, he had sixteen years of service, not enough to qualify for his military pension. He was 35 years old.
As the years passed, Mark became a major figure in his firm. He made full partner shortly after he turned 40 and went on to become one of the most respected attorneys in his community.
As the years passed, Lemarr found life more and more difficult. At first he had thought to apply for a police officer position, but he was unable to land a job and ultimately ended up working menial labor for contractors in his town, when work was available. He was arrested for petty theft in 1986, shortly after he had turned 40. While in jail, he met hardened criminals with whom he then associated when he got out.
Mark, now 64, recently gave a commencement speech at his law school. In his speech, he spoke of how, in America, anything is possible if you put your mind to it. He described his own life as one that had featured a hard childhood. He told of how he had been a college dropout who was drafted without any apparent purpose in life. But, he said, he always knew that his life could be better, and that thought led him to get out of the Army, complete college, and apply to law school.
Lemarr’s life essentially went downhill after his first incarceration for the petty theft charge. He recently completed a ten-year prison sentence for armed robbery and is back “on the streets.” He isn’t sure what he will do with his life now. He is 64 years old.