On the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Tet Offensive, forty-year-old US Army veteran Carl ‘Rat’ Moreau left the federal prison gate with Salvation Army release-clothing and $100 in gate-money.
A guard stopped him as he started to board a shuttle bus going to nearby Leavenworth KS, saying, “Boss wants you to have this. Good luck out there Moreau.” A note and 100-dollar bill were attached to a bus ticket to Portland, Oregon. “Rat – I hope this helps. What you did for me and others in the tunnels of Nam needs some reward. – Carter”
By the time Moreau’s official birth records caught up, he’d served his draft requirement, been wounded twice, decorated for saving his squad and honorably discharged. Moreau thought he’d been born at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital of parents from Quebec, but he’d only received undefined emergency treatment there as a two-day-old.
A setup by his employers and discovery of false birth records gave prosecutors a slam-dunk in front of a federal judge. The court ordered Moreau to serve three years for felony real-estate fraud. He wasn’t charged for fraudulently receiving GI Bill benefits, but a garnishment of future income order went into his record. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service was notified so deportation to Canada upon his release could be effected. Warden Parker Carter purposely misfiled the order to contact INS.
Moreau had academic and pre-prison experience qualifications, but to be truthful on any job application, he had to declare his felony conviction and that he wasn’t a citizen of the country he’d served. He could work for cash, without a written application, in nearly any agribusiness along the I-5 corridor from Canada to Mexico.
On the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, seventy-year-old, undocumented Moreau was anticipating his tenth anniversary of being clean and sober. He’d worked those ten years cleaning toilets, showers, and the processing floor at a slaughterhouse in central Oregon for less than minimum wage in cash. He ate ‘clean-up’ from the plant cafeteria and slept under the modified canopy of his unregistered pickup parked on the back lot of the plant.
Rat was cleaning the packing company office restroom when he heard a man ask the manager, “Is Carl Moreau employed here?”
He looked around the door, saw two suited men in the office, and heard the manager ask, “Are you police or immigration?”
Before Moreau heard an answer, he went out a side door. By sunset, Rat was underground in California and would never know the answer given to the manager.
“Neither,” one man said. “We have very good news for him from the Innocence Project.
As my octogenarianism continues, my mind wanders as I wonder.
Or could it be that my mind wonders as I wander?