Saturday, March 7, 2009

Choices and Consequences

The first thing I think when I see him is that he's so short. He looks like a sixth or seventh grader, not a kid who's been in high school for two years: little bald head, wearing the "uniform" favored by the local neighborhood male bonding associations, as I call them, but with a smile that could light up any grandmother's heart.

Then I see the hands. Damn. Here he is, still in school, still holding out hope for himself and his future, but with his past etched in huge old English letters on the back of each hand. They're like billboards advertising bad choices. Not surprisingly, the kid has skills, writing a decent essay in response to a practice prompt.

I say not surprisingly because I've seen dozens of kids like him over the years, and I've been part of concerted efforts to pull some of them away from their dangerous extracurricular activities. Yet I know that on any given day, I might get a call or arrive at school to find out that this young man has been relieved of his existence because the past he could not quite leave behind has not quite unexpectedly caught up with him.

Epilogue: A few days after I wrote this, I noticed a police car parked outside our postage stamp campus. About 15 minutes later, the young man walked into my room, one of his tattooed hands wrapped in a bloody bandage. He'd been spotted by unfriendlies on his way to catch a bus to school, and had had to run for his life, hopping fences, slicing up his hand in the process. Somehow the police had gotten hold of him and taken him to the big school next door, where the nurse had cleaned and bandaged his hand. Then they delivered him to us.

Towards the end of class, I sat down with him, "I wrote about you on my blog."

He was stunned, but curious. "Do you want to read it?" He did, so I pulled it up.

"Do you want a copy?" I printed it out for him.

"Did you understand what I was trying to say in the last sentence?" He read it again and nodded gravely.

"Thank you," he said. That was the last time I saw him.

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