The other day, Jerry Joseph shocked the world outside of Odessa by stepping into district court and admitting he was in fact, Guerdwich Montimer, Permian impostor, basketball cheat, national fraud, sex offender.
While the rest of the country was surprised the 23-year-old, suddenly and with no backsliding allowed, admitted he’d spent the last two-plus years pretending to be a nice, hardworking, churchgoing Haitian orphan born in 1994, Odessa was not so shocked. At this point, who cared anymore?
He played basketball for God’s sake. We knew all this a year ago, and anyway, did you hear about Ajuua’s?
That’s what people elsewhere missed when they came to write about us and our jail with signs bewaring snakes. Yes, “Friday Night Lights,” but only on gridirons. Yes, win at any cost, but only football. One mask Guerdwich didn’t wear was a facemask, and he was never going to be a star on hardwood, not averaging 30 points a game, let alone 14.
But everyone else, oblivious to this and still capable of being struck by the resounding novelty of it all, cared a great deal and couldn’t believe such a thing could happen, not in the way it did and times like these.
On one level, it makes total sense. Go back with more experience and maturity, do it over, do it right. It’s very appropriate to sports: start fresh, relaunch. Not to pick on him, but Roy Williams probably wouldn’t mind a new identity when he goes to Chicago. Except he can’t, and he’d get locked away for trying.
It wasn’t always this way. Reinvention is solidly American, American West, specifically. You didn’t leave the Old Country or the East because things were good. You left because things were bad, or you’d messed up real bad, and you wanted to go some place new where people cared more about what you could do than what you’d done.
The world was larger and more subjective then. What you named yourself was your name. We live in a tiny world now, and you are known by a number, or several, given to you by someone else, and you objectively have to be the same everywhere you go.
Guerdwich pretended to be too young, maybe was his worst sin. I’d have thought the act of deception to receive cheap sympathy was the worst, but even now, people who knew him love Jerry, an example of what you want a young man to be. Except “Jerry,” golden boy that he was, was built on the clay feet of lies.
We in journalism care a lot about this and were quite disappointed by the lack of a trial because so many of the five Ws stay unanswered.
There’ll be a book eventually, or several, and we might find out then, or we might not. It doesn’t really matter. He wanted a new life, and he got one, the last one he’ll ever get. Bobby Bland was right. He’ll never be able to do this again.
Guerwich’s punishment has the sort of divine irony Dante Alighieri would smile and nod over—that Samson, shorn-haired, eyes plucked and impotent, would pity. His sentence is a life sentence. The sex offender registry is shackle and chain. The weight he has to drag behind him, every day and in front of everyone, is Jerry Joseph. For the rest of his life. Everyone gets to see the worst thing he ever did, so well and widely documented, and know exactly where he lives. Or he gets arrested again.
I guess the trouble with trying to be a character out of a Horatio Alger novel is that everything he wrote was fiction.