It’s no secret that many children of incarcerated parents are practically pre-destined to follow those same paths to a life of crime, followed by time spent in prisons and jails.

If memory serves, these kids are five or six times more likely to commit crimes than other kids their own age.

What’s it like to live as a member of one of those families? Well, let’s take a peek into the life of the Atwood family—Vernon and Vernon, Jr. Carly Atwater, Vernon’s wife and mother of Vernon, Jr., left many years ago. Couldn’t take the drinking and abuse.

So …

It had been nearly three years since Vernon Atwater had last seen his oldest son, Vernon, Jr.

December 14th, a day he would never forget, started when the judge, the Honorable James T. Williams, found Junior guilty of murder and sentenced him to twenty-five years in the penitentiary. Sheriffs’ deputies immediately handcuffed the newly convicted man and led him from the courtroom through a set of heavy wooden doors at the rear of the room.

Two hours later, Vernon stood outside on the sidewalk, pulling a few drags on a Lucky Strike, watching as two burly deputies helped his boy into an unmarked car to take him to the state prison in Rocky Creek.

Vernon spent the rest of the day in his grassless backyard, sitting in an old rickety kitchen chair drinking cheap beer and wondering what he’d done that caused Junior to do the things he did.

Vernon felt guilty for not driving to “The Creek” to see Junior, but something had always come up—overtime at the mill, the truck needed new brakes, the roof needed replacing. Those things took time and before he knew it weeks had turned into months and months into years.

Needless to say, Vernon was more than a little nervous about seeing Junior. Three years was a long time. His heart pounded and thumped against the inside of his chest as the car turned from the main highway onto the narrow blacktop leading to the penitentiary.

The sight of the gleaming razor wire atop the double fences caused his throat to tighten. He hoped his boy was all right. He’d heard every horrible prison story there was to tell. But Junior was tough. He’d never allow anyone to do him harm. Of that he was firmly convinced. Still …

Hundreds of men behind the fences were engaged in all sorts of activities. They paused from their weight-lifting, jogging, handball, bocce ball, and basketball, trying to get a glimpse inside the passing vehicle.

He wondered how his son was going to react to seeing him today. He wondered if anyone had even told him he was coming.

At least this visit would be a long one.

Two six packs of beer. An argument over a stupid football game. One thing led to another and out came the hunting knife. A few months later Vernon found himself standing in the same upstairs courtroom, in the very spot where Vernon, Jr. once stood, facing Judge James. T. Williams.

Judge Williams, by the way, remembered Vernon, Jr’s case and made a point to mention it during the tongue-lashing he delivered to the elder Vernon during a lengthly and fiery pre-sentencing statement.

Vernon tried to be strong but his knees nearly buckled when he heard the judge hand down his sentence—twenty-five years to life.

It’s really true, Vernon thought as the unmarked sheriff’s car pulled into the prison sally port, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The apple doesn’t fall far