Saturday, 28 October 2017

My Neighbour Ken

When I was about 14 years old my family moved house and we ended up next to a man named Ken James. 

He was old already when I met him so I suspect he's not with us any more, but I hope he is. He moved away to a tiny Victorian town and we visited him a couple of times, but as always happens, time did its thing and eventually we lost contact and Ken went from being a neighbour, to a friend, to a memory. 

The house we moved into was a rental. Run down, old and not very welcoming. It was a rental and we had permission from the landlord to paint and re-carpet if we wanted. So we did and although it was never great, it was better. As an aside, after we moved out, it was torn down, and has happens in much of Melbourne's suburbs now days, a bunch of units was put up in its place. 

On our first or second night, there was a knock at the door. Mum answered. I couldn't see who it was but I could hear what was being said. A man was telling mum that it was bin night. He knew we'd just moved in and wanted to make sure we knew. Kind of him to let us know. 

After a while in the house I was having breakfast with my mum and sister. And either my sister or I mentioned that we heard someone walking up and down the hallway. We each thought it was the other. Mum hadn't heard. 

It happened more than once. None of us knew which of us it was who was walking up and down the hallway. When we had friends stay over they could hear it too. Not mum or dad though. 

We decided it must be a ghost, of course. 

Mum and Ken become friends, chatting over the fence, popping over for cups of tea and the like. One day mum said to Ken 'the kids think there's a ghost in the house'. 

His reply... 'She walks up and down the hallway at night, doesn't she'? 

Mum was, of course, surprised that he knew this detail. He explained that a previous neighbour had suffered from cancer and walking up and down the hallway offered some relief from the pain. Also she'd been a nurse and had worked specifically with children and teenagers. Which was, apparently, why all us teenagers could hear her but the adults couldn't. Her name was June.

I remember hearing the walking one night....thud thud thud thud...right to left. thud thud thud thud back the other way. 

I put my hand on my bedroom door handle to once of for all look out and see what the hell was going on. But I lost my nerve and wasn't able to go through with it. I guess I decided I didn't really want to see a ghost. 

Ken gave mum a photo of June's late husband. He was a kind of creepy looking guy. Mum put the photo on the mantle piece, it was just a little 6x4. Every time she came back into the living room the photo was face down. She'd stand it up again. 

At the same time my sister agreed with me that he was a creepy looking guy. But whereas I didn't do anything about it, she did. She put the photo face down. But every time she came back into the living room it would be standing up again. 

Mum thought June didn't like the photo and wanted it down. My sister thought June did like the photo and wanted it up. It was a couple of weeks before we all spoke about it and realised what was happening! How about that, a natural, non-ghost involved, explanation. 

I never found out what was causing the walking sound in the hallway though. But never finding out doesn't mean it was a ghost, despite Ken knowing what the 'ghost' we heard did. 

Over our time as next-door-neighbours to Ken we'd see a lot of police cars and various teenagers/young men coming and going. 

Ken's house was a 'halfway' house. A place where trouble youth would come to stay when they were going awry. They were often kids who didn't have a safe home to be in. Sometimes police would pick up someone for some kind of violation and rather than putting them into the prison system, and giving them a criminal record, they'd bring them to Ken and he'd help sort them out. 

And Ken knew what he was talking about because he'd done time in prison. A lot. 

Ken was arrested for armed robbery. I'm not sure what he robbed, but I know it was with a shotgun. He was sent to prison and once he came out he decided to focus his life on making sure other young men didn't have to go through what he went through. 

In prison for armed robbery Ken was raped. Several times. And he became a murderer. 

You see, in prison, amongst the armed robbers, rapists, and murderers there are the people *they* consider the bad guys - child abusers. The prison population couldn't abide by them. 

There was a known child abuser in Ken's section of the prison. A group of men drew straws. Shortest had to kill the child abuser. The twist being, if you drew the short straw and didn't do what was required, you'd be killed yourself. 

As you've worked out, Ken drew the short straw, and did what he had to do. 

I don't know the circumstances. I don't know the method. I don't want to. 

So here I was, living next door to an armed robbing murderer and he was one of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met. Giving back to the community for years and years by helping young men sort their lives out and avoid a life of crime and prison. 

I think sometimes we're too quick to judge each other on one act or one interaction or limited information. We see a snapshot of a person and think we now them intimately. Especially on the internet. I know I've done it, and despite this admission, I'm sure I'll do it again. 

If I told you Ken was an armed robbing murderer and nothing else about him, you'd probably fear him, and certainly not want to be his neighbour. But knowing him as I did, knowing the big picture of him and his life, I had no problem being his neighbour and some 30 years later, I still haven't forgotten him. 

There's a lot of hate in the world. A lot of it happening in the atheist community. It's not healthy and not helpful. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condemn. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to hate.