By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
"Prison made me mean," he says. "I'm not gonna lie about it -- it made me mean. Fighting was all the time, every day. Some of the fights were bad and some were not, but someone was always blooded. You lived on raw instinct -- "Do this to me and I'll do this to you' -- knowing you will die if you do the wrong thing. And knowing that everyone wants to make a woman out of you if you can't look out for yourself.
"When I came home, I couldn't play with nobody. I still wanted to play, weird as it sounds. I'd never gone skating, hadn't started drinking or smoking -- although by that time, I was ready to try anything. I'd been hearin' about all that stuff for years and acting like I'd done it, but I never had.
"You know I had never had sex? Here I was with this big body, people afraid of me, I'm supposed to be tough. It was like, "Man, what do I do now?' You don't want to have to ask that question. Finally my friend Robert's sister told me what a virgin was. She said, "Boy, you're pitiful -- you a grown-ass man and you don't know?'
"Before, all I wanted to do was run track," he explains. "That was my release." He draws a long breath. "That kid who hung out with his friends and ran everywhere he went -- he died in there. By the time I came out of prison, I could not like people; I could not trust people. I was like some kind of wild animal turned loose. Even my friends would tell me, "Man, there's something wrong with you.' I hated my father for putting me in there and my stepmother for helping. I went to live for a while with Sundae's mama, and then, instead of following my brothers into the Army, I went to the streets.
"For a long time I believed all whites were bad. I straight-out hated them, and no one could tell me I was wrong because of what was done to me. "You have made me how I am,' I thought, "so deal with it.'
"I tried," he says abruptly. "I fell in love, and she got pregnant, and I married her. I kept trying to get a job -- at the Chevrolet place, at a couple hamburger joints -- but I was just the wrong kind. When people would find out I had a record, I'd say, "Look, I just didn't want to go to school,' and they'd say, "People don't go to prison for playing hooky.' Eventually I stopped trying to explain; I just said, "I had a burglary case.' They accepted that better.
"I still couldn't find a job, though, and we had that baby coming," he finishes. "I had to do something. So I started hustling -- snatched a bank bag and got caught." He went back to the pen and then to Moberly, where he learned the fine points of forgery -- his next charge. Released in 1972, he worked for Kansas City parks and recreation, worked as a cook at the airport, did welding jobs offshore for Shell Oil. His job choices were limited, because, like Joseph, he'd never finished high school -- not even at MTS, which used to boast about their classrooms. "Once they showed us a movie," he recalls, "and I asked, "How come there were no black cowboys? Where'd we all go?' The guy said, "Don't worry about it.' And then he hit me, 'cuz I kept asking.
"I was no angel," he admits, well aware he'd been agitating. "I've never been arrested for anything violent, never wanted to hurt anybody, but I've had a propensity for violence all my life. There are things I will not let you say to me, things I will not let you do to me."
In 1986, Wainwright, recently divorced, went back to prison for forgery and burglary, a 10-year sentence. While he was inside, his son, Kirt Wainwright, was arrested for robbing two convenience stores and killing the clerks. Wainwright blamed himself. "I didn't know how to be a parent," he says simply. "Maybe if I ever got a chance to learn something beside all the prison shit, I would have known that being home was more important than giving him money. I should've been there myself, to tell him, "Man, this is what you don't do.'"
His son went on death row, and Wainwright was transferred up from Cameron to St. Joseph to fight the Great Flood of '93. There he met the second woman in his life, the staunchly upright Mildred Cooper. She drove a food-delivery truck; he was a cook at the state hospital. They fell in love, and he soon realized that Cooper -- sympathetic, loyal and bossy -- was the polar opposite of the woman he'd married at 19. She kept him honest, and so, to his surprise, did two of his fellow cooks, both white.
"Henrietta and Katie, they helped me here," he says, tapping his forehead.