Jason Toombs, 36, poses for a portrait at the West End Overlook. He has spent a third of his life behind bars. Now, he is focused on writing in between two dishwashing jobs. (Photo by Maranie Rae Staab/PublicSource)

‘Play the whole tape through’

The money earned selling drugs can’t compete with that earned as a dishwasher, but freedom can.

Jason Toombs was shot in the stomach when he was 16. He describes the bullet inside his body. He remembers it protruding out of his back. He couldn’t lean back because of it.

We were just kids.

Jason, now 36, describes hanging out with friends, getting bored and then amped up by the idea of using a gun to rob someone. He leaves his friend’s house with the gun and finds his target. Next thing he knows, he’s holding a man at gunpoint and forcing him into the trunk of a car, acting out armed robberies he had seen on TV perhaps. It was all a haze then, and his memory of the incident is even spottier 20 years later.

Once the man is in the trunk, Jason doesn’t know what to do. He can’t start the car. He thinks there must be an engine kill switch. He does not know where it is. He figures he can force the driver to flip the switch and start the car. He opens the trunk.

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Voices Unlocked is a project telling the stories of Pittsburgh-area residents whose life experiences have been shaped by the penal system.

Explore another voice in this series:

Sarah Womack: A song within a storm

Yeshua David’s adaptation

Jason Sauer: Trying as best he can

Luna: Seeking compassion for those cast aside

Cedric Rudolph: One of the Mirrors

Emily and Liza Geissinger: Sisters through addiction, jail time and new endeavors

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