Posted Date: July 1, 2013

Even convicted murderers can work on the side

I arrived in downtown Atlanta on the MARTA train in the early evening. The streets of the business district were emptying out. Taxis were scarce; well-dressed businessmen and women talked loudly in front of the tourist restaurants, which would soon fill with diners as nightfall met the city.
My goal was to find the car rental office. The downtown streets were disorienting. There are hills up and down, and not every street is marked, incredibly. I headed blindly in one direction, glancing between my phone and the skyscraper next to me, hoping to summon a walking path to Courtland Street. A wiry man with scraggles of white hair across a dark, wrinkled face walked alongside and starting talking.
“I’m an ambassador! Of this city! Take you anywhere you want! Where you headed?”
He was off, somehow. Probably drunk, I thought, or maybe he needed a drink badly. His clothes were clean, although the design on his shirt had faded. He was too skinny. But his eyes were gentle and his voice held purpose, even pride.
“Do you know where Courtland Street is? The streets on this map don’t line up.”
He didn’t even wait. “Sure, Courtland Street! You going to the Sheraton? I’ll take you there, two blocks away.”
The Hertz office was supposed to be near a Sheraton. I judged that he would get me there faster than Google Maps, so I followed. As we walked down a nearby hill, he told me his story:
His name was Ulysses. He was convicted of murder 10 years ago. The lawyers told him it would be a first-degree murder charge, since the act was premeditated. He waited for the victim to come to his house, then shot him six times with a handgun. He could have served 25 to life but the judge gave him 15, due to the circumstances behind the murder: the man Ulysses killed had raped his 19-year-old daughter.
“I didn’t have any of that, uhhh, they call it … reservations,” he told me. “Had to do it and I would do it anytime. You have kids? Girls? You know you wouldn’t let that happen.”
He ended up serving only five years, he told me, and was released on good behavior. He worked full-time for a while, and then two years ago, he lost his job. A few months later, he was living on the street. He makes money on the side now, mostly from tips the tourists give him.
“There’s no jobs for us in the downtown,” he told me. “All the jobs you have to take a bus to. But you can’t be living out there.”
We got to the hotel across the street from the Hertz, where I thanked him and wished him luck. I stared in my wallet. It had been days since I’d visited the ATM; all I saw was a $20 bill.
“This is your lucky day, my friend,” I said, and handed him all the money I had.
“God bless you,” he said. “Anytime you need, I’m around to help! You just find me!”
His fees were a little high, but the chance to invest in someone growing a side business was well worth the expense.
Speaking on the Side, The Definitive Guide to Earning Money & Happiness Without Quitting Your Day Job, is coming in early 2013.
Click here to reserve your copy today.

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