ONE NIGHT EVERY MONTH, Bob Volpe accepts from his wife, Grace, a good-bye kiss along with a sack lunch of turkey sandwiches and homemade apple pie, climbs into his black Jeep Cherokee, and begins a 1,200-mile drive from Staten Island to Rochester, Minnesota, where their son Justin sleeps in a prison cell.

The way he does it—no stopping except to gas up and take a leak—it's seventeen hours in all. Even when someone's along for the ride, he'll do all the driving himself, since he can't sleep in cars and since, when it gets right down to it, this is his mission and no one else's. The well-intentioned, they'll say: Bob, is it really such a good idea, driving all night at your age… But one of Bob Volpe's great pleasures in life is confounding the world's measure of him. So Justin's 1,200 miles away? Put him in California. Or in Bolivia. Put him on Mars. Bob Volpe is going to see his son.

Behind the wheel, he feels strong and purposeful. He's dressed in black, hair to his shoulders, mustache waxed and twisted like a Civil War general's, undaunted by his own mortal limits…though sure, he's 62, and yeah, a nap today would've been nice. But what a day it has been. So many people checking in on him and Grace, keeping their spirits up, or in turn needing a boost themselves, just everyone hanging together, the way it's been ever since Justin went away. First, Justin's oldest brother, Rob, came by with his wife. Then a recently retired fireman. Then a Vietnam veteran. Then an old running buddy of Justin's. And then two women who lost their spouses in the World Trade Center; Bob couldn't hold back the tears as he hugged the two widows, which was lovely—a beeyoodeeful thing, as he says in his Brooklynese—especially when compared to the barrenness of the Volpes' world following the incident of August 9, 1997, when the death threats poured in and Bob blotted out the window light with black garbage bags because strangers on the lawn were watching, and quit using the home phone because people were listening. Since they took his youngest son, every day has been sad and beeyoodeeful beyond measure. The Volpe household swells with emotion. It's an ark of the bereaved. As Bob says, "Only those with pain come on board."

Ah, but wouldn't you know it—they've closed the entrance to the Jersey Turnpike. His smile hardens; this will cost him another thirty minutes. Hey, pile it on, why don'tcha! He'll still reach Rochester by Wednesday nightfall; he'll still be first in line at the visitation room on Thursday morning. But that hand always seems to reach in, doesn't it, throwing down another mile before weary feet.

At this moment, Bob Volpe considers that it's the fourth of May, exactly five years since Justin went on trial for committing one of the most barbarous abuses of authority in the history of modern American law enforcement. He could say a lot on this subject. A lot. For starters, he's not denying that Justin "lost it," "did a terrible thing," "suffered a moment of madness," or however else a loving father chooses to depict his son having rammed a broomstick up the rectum of a handcuffed Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima in the bathroom of a Brooklyn police station. No sane person, including any of the Volpes, would deny that his son deserved to go to prison.

But c'mon. Thirty years? Without parole? When killers and rapists and pedophiles get half that amount? When mobsters and drug lords walk in exchange for ratting out their friends? When the four cops who fired forty-one bullets at the unarmed Amadou Diallo don't even lose their jobs? When Lemrick Nelson, who fatally stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum for the crime of being Jewish, doesn't even serve a full ten years? When a cop who worked with Justin at the 70th Precinct, Emil Slavik, sexually abuses two women at gunpoint and gets four to eight years? When, on the very same day that Justin's sentence came down, 17-year-old Shatiek Johnson, who had previously beaten a homeless man to death, murders a second man—a police officer attempting to serve Johnson with a warrant for yet another murder—and gets five years less than Justin? While Justin, a basically stable and morally upright young man before he joined the New York Police Department, gets thirty years without parole? Oh, he could say a lot about what began five years ago today in that Brooklyn federal courthouse and what's been going on in courthouses around America ever since. Fair and equal justice under the law? He could spend the entire seventeen-hour drive on that one. Fair and equal? He could laugh until he chokes.

Instead, Bob Volpe smiles. Finds peace in the darkness. Recalls: "Justin once said in a letter to me, 'I'm sorry for stealing your life from you.' And I said, 'Justin. What would I be doing if I didn't have this to do? Right now, most guys my age are trying to play a couple of holes of golf. Taking Viagra. So thank you. Thank you for saving me against old age. I haven't got the fucking time to grow old. I look at this…as a gift."