For opportunity to knock on his prison cell door was indeed extraordinary. A second-generation heroin addict, Rhozier T. (Roach) Brown was a high school dropout turned convicted murderer. His young life, it seemed, was over.
But by the grace of God, some would say, or the luck of the draw, Brown soared. Not only from the prison where he was to serve a 20-year to life sentence, but from the labyrinth of a soul that had been gripped by insanity. Opportunity knocked and did more. It took him by the hand and said, "Let's go. I know the way."
While an inmate at Lorton Reformatory, Brown wrote poetry. He formed a dramatic troupe of inmates, the Inner Voices, which performed behind bars and on the outside. He became a television news producer. He was given special leaves from prison. His good deeds did not go unnoticed, even in the highest of quarters. A president intervened and commuted his sentence. A documentary was made about his life. He was a model of what could be, an advocate for the men with broken spirits, men like the man he used to be.
Years -- and hundreds of cocaine lines later, Brown says -- he is a broken man once again. He is on his way back to prison, for selling cocaine and for embezzling money from a children's charity. Last week, a federal judge sentenced him to two consecutive five-year terms.
In an interview at the D.C. Jail, during which his attorney, Jeffrey Jacobovitz, was present, Brown, 43, said he wanted people -- his friends, his supporters, those who once believed in him -- to know what happened. It was an apology, of sorts, from a man who has little else to offer.
"I really got lost. I got caught up. I'm still lost. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know where I'm going to end up."
His is a story, he says, of a man who lived in two worlds, but who could be part of neither. He was a convict who hobnobbed with movers and shakers, a media figure, but still a convict. Brown says he lost touch with himself. Cocaine was his escape.
Asked what happened, Brown tells the story of Icarus, who in Greek mythology escaped from imprisonment on Crete with wings fastened by wax. But he flew so high that the sun melted the wax, and he plunged to his death in the sea.
"I guess I was flying a little too high, meaning that so many things were going right. And it got to the point where I lost touch with Inner Voices, guys from the prison. I moved to another segment of society I didn't fit."
Some say that Brown's cunning caused his downfall. He is an engaging talker, charming and quick-witted. His speech comes rapid-fire, a foot always tapping, his eyes wide. A salesman pushing a product, some say. A federal prosecutor at Brown's sentencing hearing last week called him a fast-talking, get-over artist.
"That hurt," Brown said.
"Are you a con man?" he was asked.
"No. I'm glad you said that." His answer rambled on. "I looked the word 'con' up the other day. Con means to convince. In a relationship between a man and a woman, when you first meet each other you've got to jockey for position and he's got to convince you that he's the guy for you. The government's got to convince the jury to believe its side of the story. Everything you say, people can say you're a con man. I've been given that label."
"Why should anybody believe you?"
"I believe me and that's more important."
Both in court and during the interview, Brown defended his criminal acts, saying that his record is clean but for the times he was hooked on drugs. He was a herion addict, he says, when he participated in the 1964 ambush murder of Lonnie (Shag) Page. He was a cocaine addict when he sold about a half-pound of cocaine to an undercover narcotics agent in April for $10,000.
Brown claims that he is not a bona fide drug dealer. If he were, he says, he wouldn't have spent three weeks negotiating the April deal. He was stalling for time to try to get the agent to lend him some money. Besides, he says, if he really were a drug dealer he would go for a bigger score.
"If I was going to deal drugs, you can bet your boots it would have been a lot worse than that. If I decided that's what I was going to do, it would have been more than a half a pound."
And it was cocaine, he said, that led him to pose as the director of the Hillcrest Children's Center, open a bank account and siphon $45,000 from the charity's investment fund. He needed the money to support his habit, which cost him $50 to $300 a day, he said.
His habit hurled him onward, he says, further away from the raw self-examination he underwent two decades ago while serving time at Lorton. It was there that Brown founded Inner Voices in 1969.
The group was born from Brown's search to find his own inner voice, a journey through insanity and treatment at St. Elizabeths Hospital and through eight months of solitary confinement at Lorton that followed a severe beating by prison guards. Locked away with himself, he learned he could write.
He wrote poetry and plays and promoted the drama group, which performed at schools, embassies, theaters and for television. The group won national and international film festival awards. In 1972, while working out of a halfway house on a release program, he joined the news staff of WTTG (Channel 5) as a producer.
Saying Brown had made "extraordinary contributions" to the Washington community, President Ford commuted Brown's murder sentence on Christmas Day 1975, with a condition that he be placed under supervised parole for 19 years. The next year, "Roach," a documentary on Brown's life, aired on Channel 5.
In retrospect, Brown says he was moving much too fast. Living the life of a role model, but losing touch.
"I'm weak like everybody else. I've got my frailties. I'm not as strong, I'm not as bad as I thought I was. I'm not as great. I'm a little old small guy from the street who happened to have a few breaks and I couldn't handle what was happening. I went too far too fast."
Slowly, things began to go downhill. In 1976, he was fired from Channel 5 in a dispute over his work methods. He also began drifting away from Inner Voices.
"I was being a fake. I didn't admit to myself that I really wanted to disband the group. I felt that I wasn't able to deal with the group effectively and the professional TV, film and that kind of stuff. I was fighting two worlds. I didn't face myself honestly and really say, 'Hey, this is what I really want to do.' And the guys knew it. They were accusing me and I was saying no, I wasn't leaving you and I was leaving. I wasn't man enough to say I am. I was trying to pretend."
Inner Voices, which performed on the outside, was succeeded by Lorton Voices behind bars and Brown was not part of it. In 1978, Brown founded the Inner Voices community services program, a counseling and job training group that received federal money.
Beginning in 1980, cocaine became a major force in Brown's life. Everybody was using it, he says. It was easily available.
"I was hooked and didn't know it. I grew up in another school where, when I had a heroin habit, the fallacy was then that cocaine wasn't addictive."
As his tolerance for the drug grew, his desire for more kept pace. He snorted through his savings account during what he describes as one long cocaine binge, a time that stretched for nearly seven years until his arrest.
"I was gone, I mean I would drop out of sight for three, four months at a time. I'd be getting cocaine. I would stop going to cocktail receptions; I would withdraw from the whole professional arena."
Had he not been arrested, Brown says, he would have ended up killing himself. He is relieved that it's all over, but ashamed of the way he appears to his two sons, his grandson and his fiance. "I am glad it's over. I am glad. I felt dirty. I don't like hiding."
Ashamed, too, he says, that other convicts may be harmed because of his failures. They may not be given the same chances he was. When he runs into inmates who know his story, he can't face them, he says.
"That's conscience. Con artists don't care what people think. I care what people think about me. And I'll be back some way, some kind of day."