Banks was charged with "failing to provide for a functionally impaired person," a fourth-degree felony to which he pleaded guilty on Dec. 8, 1998, in an agreement according to which charges against Josette were dropped. Cuyahoga County chief trial counsel Steve Dever called for the maximum penalty of 18 months in jail. "You wouldn't treat a dog in the way that Mr. Bivins was treated," Dever said at the Feb. 12 sentencing hearing.
"I tried my best, but I had other family members I also had to attend to," Banks told the court, "so the only thing I can say...is I'm sorry about it." Judge J.A. Villanueva gave Banks eight months in jail.
Bivins remembers little about his months of isolation and loneliness. "Why didn't you contact us?" asks his sister Maria, with whom he now lives in Shaker Heights, one afternoon before dinner. Bivins grimaces.
"They wouldn't let me go to the phone," he says. Did he feel like a prisoner? "I couldn't do nothin.' " Memories of the experience come and go, flitting ghosts of the past. "Sometimes I get flashes, and I see myself lyin' up there," he says. "Sometimes I dream about it, too."
Bivins's world today bears no resemblance to what it was just 18 months ago. Last time he checked, in early July, he weighed over 200 pounds, prompting friends to tease him that he had finally become a true heavyweight. Horvath, now his legal guardian, chauffeurs him on errands around town, takes him to physical therapy and regularly escorts him to Cleveland's old Papke Gym, now called the Jimmy Bivins Hall of Fame Boxing Club. There the elderly gent offers counsel to aspiring sweet scientists. One evening in June he watched a young ruffian who was learning how to jab. "You're pushin' it out," explained the man once known as Jabbin' Jimmy. "Put your weight in front.... Do it slow. You're doin' it too fast."
Wherever he goes, Bivins draws a crowd when he flashes his new gold-and-diamond ring, which commemorates his inclusion in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, N.Y. At the induction ceremony on June 13, the crowd of 5,000 gave Bivins a minutelong standing O. "Thank you for cheering like that for me," Bivins said. "I never figured I would get a chance to be in front of so many people who liked me." He tried to relate his favorite Joe Louis story, the one about Joe calling that knockout in four, but his voice broke, and Horvath stepped forward to thank the crowd again. The whole place purred through another long, embracing ovation. For all that Bivins had been through, over the months and years of surviving, you just knew what he was thinking.
I'm still here, Big Red.