Longform

Shot At Redemption

Page 4 of 9

"I've always had a hole in my soul about that big in the center of my soul," says Lederer, holding his hands apart as far as jailhouse cuffs will allow. "I was always searching for something -- adrenaline, anything -- to fill that hole. I tried to fill it with everything I could think of." A probation officer who evaluated Lederer in 1984 concluded he'd come from a "significantly dysfunctional" family, which had contributed to his problems with drugs and the law.

After Mance landed a clerical job with a Mormon-owned telephone company, she and Lederer joined the church together and were baptized. He says he was attracted by the emphasis on family stability, something he never had as a child. He and his wife went all in, according to his mother. "They had to recruit everybody -- they wanted everybody to be Mormon," Grass says. "Knowing my son, he's very addictive, and he's been addictive since he was a child. And he gets addicted to religion."

This particular addiction to religion lasted about a year. "She started to drink again, and I definitely didn't stop her," Lederer says. "We just kind of moved on."

During a separation from his wife in the early 1990s, Lederer landed in Missouri, where a drinking buddy who worked for George Cardin Circus International got him a job as an electrician. After a few weeks of working behind the scenes, a manager asked him if he wanted to be a performer. He jumped at the chance and says he ended up a human cannonball.

His wife eventually joined him on the circus trail, selling concessions. They traveled the United States and Canada before returning to Phoenix. "The next thing I knew, they were coming home because Mary had broken her ankle from hopping a fence or something," Grass says. "I don't know if they were running from something. You just never knew."

Although he was married, Lederer lived with his mother off and on throughout the 1990s. "Oh, some of the stuff was unbelievable," Grass recalls. "There were times he was on my roof hallucinating, and I had to call Mary to come and get him -- I'd say, 'Come get your husband off the roof.' He'd be up there and he'd be yelling at me that there were people in my bushes and they were naked and having intercourse."

By the mid-1990s, Lederer had had enough. The first inkling of sanity came, he says, when he woke up in an emergency room from a heroin overdose in 1995. He had OD'd before, he says, but this time was different. He heard a nurse speaking to him as he emerged from unconsciousness. "I don't remember seeing her," he says. "I remember hearing her voice: 'You're back here again. You're still alive. You ought to figure out why.'" It wasn't an overtly religious message, but it sunk in.

The first step was getting sober. He went through rehab once more, then started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. And with a vengeance.

He attended five meetings a week, says Rodney Ousley, who met Lederer through AA and became his roommate. Trained as a printer in prison, he found steady 9-to-5 work and visited county lockups to counsel inmates in his spare time. "He helped a lot of people not become what he was," says Ousley, who has a felony drug record himself. "When I was his roommate, he helped me from going out many times."

Lederer's mother was proud. Her son's transformation was obvious during an AA meeting he held at her house. "These guys were fresh out of prison -- they were a rough crowd, with tattoos all over their bodies," Grass recalls. "They were crying and so into doing their program. It was so great. Over the years, every three months, I could see this complete change in him. When he got into AA, he stopped changing. He got addicted to that, which is good, because he put himself into service work."

Lederer divorced in 1997 and made amends with his father, with whom he had long had a strained relationship. Two years later, he landed a job as a pressman at Biltmore Graphics at the intersection of Third Street and McDowell Road. It wasn't a typical job interview.

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Bruce Rushton