Debbie Baigrie was a stay-at-home mother of two. Ian Manuel was a lost 13-year-old boy raised in a dysfunctional environment, who had already been arrested 16 times.
Baigrie is white and Manuel is black. Today Bairgie and Manuel share an unlikely close relationship with each other.
July 27, 1990, Tampa, Florida, Baigrie left her house for a night-out with the girls for the first time since giving birth to her second child. Manuel was headed out from the projects where he lived with his single mother. For Manuel it was initiation night; he was joining a gang.
Manuel’s gang initiation included a .32-caliber gun one of his gang member friends gave him.
Baigrie encountered Manuel as she walked across a parking-lot. Manuel yelled “give it up!” as he shot the gun, aiming at Baigrie. Her screaming startled Manuel into crazy repeated gun fire, randomly hitting Baigrie in her jaw, ripping through her teeth and exiting through her cheek. Baigrie clumsily fled on high heels as blood flowed from her face, cascading down the front of her blouse.
At 13, the young black man had just sealed his future of spending the rest of his life behind bars. Fate and stereotyping would have Manuel locked behind bars with a 65-year sentence. Being black and already having an extensive criminal past at the brink of adolescence was not in Manuel’s favor.
Baigrie was a victim of a shooting and Manuel was a victim of a brewing cauldron of social injustices. Mass incarceration legislation had already sent six-times as many Americans to prison since 1970.
Even though Manuel had barely made it past his 13th birthday at the time of the shooting, he was charged harshly as an adult — life without the possibility of parole. Manuel’s current lawyer, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, confirms the 13-14 year-old population sentenced to a life without parole for a no homicide crime is preponderantly African-American.
Manuel was placed amidst seasoned criminals more than twice his size. He lived in a sea of violence and feared for his life.
Manuel’s unusual relationship with Baigrie, one that would last for decades, was initiated by Manuel just before his second Christmas behind bars when he placed a collect call to Baigrie.
Accepting the charges was an uneasy decision for Baigrie — especially since she was looking at ten years of agonizing reconstruction surgeries for her jaw. The bullet Manuel put through Baigrie’s jaw had ripped out five of her teeth along with most of her gum.
Baigrie accepted the charges out of curiosity and a persistent desire for an answer to the question, “Why did you shoot me?”
The sole purpose of Manuel’s call was to apologize and wish Baigrie a Merry Christmas.
Manuel’s humble answer to Baigrie’s question was, “I made a mistake.”
Manuel’s mistake has cost him a painful life of incarceration. Since age 15, Manuel has remained continually in solitary confinement for an array of misconduct charges. Manuel, now 33, did not fare well in prison, attempting and failing at committing suicide many times.
Eventually, Manuel returned to the prison’s general population, was given the opportunity to earn his GED and did very well. He has written an autobiographical essay and enjoys drafting poems.
Surprisingly, Baigrie posted Manuel’s memoir on her Facebook page. She is the only remaining person in Manuel’s life that resembles family. Manuel’s parents and brother have since passed away during his incarceration.
Despite Baigrie’s family’s allegations that she must have a mental disorder to correspond with Manuel, she is an advocate for Manuel’s early release.
This problematic waste of life — young black men disproportionately locked-up for long periods of time — has been happening for many years. Not only is Manuel being blocked from paying back society with his talents and intelligence, but society continues to pay for his juvenile mistake with a price tag of $47.50 per day.
If Debbie Baigrie and Ian Manuel can somehow reconcile a violent situation with humanitarian compassion difficult to understand, maybe there is a glimmer of possibility for the rest of the human race.Debbie Baigrie / Image courtesy nytimes.com