Does the world ever cause you to shake your head in dismay? It does me. There are times it seems we fail to remember our humanity in favor, some lower form, some mockery of all forms we have aspired to through the ages of our span here as humans. We are granted only a short time on earth, in the grand scheme of things just a few short decades to make our mark. Yet for so many of us it seems, our time is spent kicking those who most need a hand up or kicking sand over the footprints that might lead to the path out of the darkness rather than reaching out with a light to show the way.
Despite my recent rant, I have been paying attention to something other than my own desires. I have also been thinking about my recent visits to prisons and juvenile centers. For some reason these have been particularly difficult for me this season, especially the juvenile center and the young men I met there. I have been doing the Victim Impact groups for years now, nine to be exact. Some years are harder than others; I change year to year. My emotional response to what happened to me changes and thus the story changes. The facts don’t change, just how I feel about it. This year of course the real change was all my offenders have been released after twenty years, telling this part of the story was new for me.
Three of the groups were new for me also. Smaller groups, more personal somehow more in my face and perhaps me more in theirs. I don’t think I realized the small ball of anger I had in my heart at the release of my offenders. That anger was why I didn’t want to speak this season, I didn’t want to take my anger into that audience, that anger defeated my reason for speaking and defeated me.
There is always one, in every group there is always one and the first group of this season was no different. One who thinks I should be sorry for demanding they remain in prison despite their age. One who thinks I somehow ‘victimized’ my offenders despite their offenses against me and their lack of remorse. One who thinks I am somehow the one who should be sorry. Yes, there is always one. This time though I wasn’t my usual pragmatic and willing to discuss his point of view self. No, this time I pulled up a chair and faced him down, I explained what they did was unforgiveable and my loss was unrecoverable. I explained his use of the race card didn’t carry weight since their reason was racial hatred, they didn’t get a pass for historical offenses to which I had no part of. I explained their youth didn’t get them a pass since at their age I was an emancipated adult earning my own way, living on the streets and finding a way to survive.
No, they didn’t get a pass. No matter my instinct as a mother, I wept for them and for their lost youth. No matter my instinct as a human being, I wept for their lost opportunity. No, they didn’t get a pass because they felt no remorse for their terrible acts.
Interestingly, his fellows shut him down. Nearly shouted him down after I was done, I have to wonder if their discussions continued after I left.
The juvenile group was different though. I still ache for these young men. I look in their faces and know they are not lost yet, know at least some of them can be saved. Some of them are so young, no older than twelve or thirteen. So eager to talk once they realize I am not going to lecture them but instead going to engage them in discussion and open forum. That I will allow for questions and will answer them as honestly as possible. They think I am funny, they realize I don’t hate them and am not scared of them despite what has happened to me. I tell them, I was once just like them a juvenile delinquent someone the courts held no hope for. When I tell them this, at first they don’t believe me then a light shines in their eyes and they begin to open up.
There was one this time, at first he made clear he didn’t want to be there. He sat with arms crossed in front of him and glared. He was a leader, it was clear. He thought he was all that and so did all the young men around him. If these young men were going to learn anything he was going to have to be won over, he was my target. He was so smart, so full of life and so lost. I won him within ten minutes just by talking to him.
I made him laugh. He asked me if I was afraid of him, if I was afraid of black men, or young black men. I asked him why I would be. He explained to me, because young black men had shot me. Well of course, that makes sense I said. I asked him should I be afraid of all teenagers. He asked why I would be afraid of all teenagers. I explained teenagers shot me, that made as much sense. He stared at me for a few seconds and started laughing, told me that was stupid and I said so was his premise. He asked what a premise was, I explained it to him. From then on the entire group talked, asked questions.
His friend made me want to cry. When we talked about how to change directions, who they had to apologize to and how to start on a new path one of the key components to success was family. Support structures, their need to be strong support for their younger siblings and begin to show their families positive changes to build trust. His friend quietly asked, “What if you don’t have a family?”
Some of these young men don’t have families to return to. It is why they are there, in ‘jail’. They have nowhere to go, no place to call home. This is it. Home is a place with bars on the windows, shackles on their ankles and a future that is bleak, at best.
I left that day feeling glad I hadn’t begged off despite not wanting to be there. I was reminded why I do Victim Impact, touching one life it is worth it. It has taken me a few weeks to write about this season, it was a hard one. I can’t say I don’t know why, I do. Each season is different, this one was hard but taught me lessons I needed to learn. Lessons about anger and letting go, lessons about humility.
Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained you shall live. Marcus Aurelius