Within minutes of first meeting him, he told me that he was going to come to my house in the middle of night and kill my entire family in front of me. I told him that to do so he would first have to kill me, and that I was protected by the LORD Almighty.
He flinched at this and said he did not believe in GOD.
“It does not matter,” I responded without hesitation: “He believes in you.”
I will call this student “Tyrone” but his name is not important, and his age means less – what is important is that, when we first met, he both feared and reviled me.
However, I showed neither hatred nor timidity towards him. I would stand before him with my shoulders squared, but also with my hands out – resolved within my conscience to battle this youth as I battle all whom the LORD brings across my path, parrying the enmity of the Law with the love of Christ.
Most of my students have some form of emotional disturbance, in this school the “Columbine kids” share a cafeteria with the Eastside Crips – but I think I have established a strong rapport with the largesse of the student body. Be they Jocks, Gang-bangers, Motorheads, Geeks, Sluts, Waistoids, Dweebies, or what-have-you, they all seem to have a certain fondness for me… if nothing else they at least think I am a righteous dude.
This young man was something else altogether. A child of the streets and this nation`s broken juvenile delinquence system, Tyrone was ready to hate without a moment`s hesitation… and a longhaired 6`2″ Bible-thumpin` pacifist seemed to be too much for him to abide. It was warfare from the beginning.
I wish I could say that I was able to establish some parameters and limitations without lifting a finger, but this young man was a creature of our present dark age. Violence came as easy for him as the steady stream of profanity that rolled off his tongue. First directed towards other students, soon turning towards his primary antagonist: me.
Assigned to him as a “Student Advocate: Level I” it was my job to escort him from class-to-class (protecting him from other students and vice/versa) while directing his in-class behavior towards constructive protocols. Basically, I was to guide his conduct and oversee his academic progress.
If he resented my ubiquitous presence, he despised my obdurate unwillingness to let him self-destruct. I reasoned with him when he tried to wallow in despairing fury, suffocating his nihilism with arguments extolling virtue and purpose in one`s existence.
Often he would try to resort to violence in an effort to throw me off-balance and wrest authority out from under my heavy thumb. He was tall and angular, with a hard and rangy build that came from working out with weights during his many varied incarcerations.
He was proud of the muscles of his body, but he knew so little of the strength bound within my frame… of the penitential fires of violence by which the LORD led me to the path I now trod.
Every time it was unprovoked, and every time it was subdued. I was a rock he crashed himself against. His face would be twisted in rage as mine remained lineless in calm resolution, my eyes kind in compassion.
GOD guided by hands as I effortlessly deflected his blows and turned them in on himself, protecting myself and others from his madness. I hoped to show him the futility of his anger.
The breaking point (for him) came one morning when he tried to stab me with a sharpened pencil as I walked around a blind corner. I caught his wrist in my hand before the pencil reached its intended target in the side of my throat and bent his arm around the small of his back – deflecting another blow with my other hand, I easily wrestled him into a tight basket hold. His wrist was broken in the process.
With each day that passed, I embraced Tyrone tighter and tighter… until he could no longer breathe. Either he would abandon his hatred or I would suffocate him.
Eventually, he was subdued into the reigns of my control. At one point, I no longer had to sit with him in class… soon I only monitored him from a vantage point down the hall.
I was reassigned and only saw him from time-to-time. We would talk and he would ask me questions… my opinions on everything from the Ravens/Redskins debate to the problem of Evil, to say nothing of how we would get into it over the legitimacy of “Gangsta Rap” music as a form of Art.
Today, he came to me with a twinkle in his eye. “Mr. P, I got saved last night; the chaplain prayed with me and he said I`m washed of all my sins!”
I consider myself a bit reticent in matters of public displays of emotion, especially as someone in my profession. Teaching requires a certain discipline of one`s senses and sensibilities… but now I simply could not hold back. I embraced him in my arms to hide the tendrils of tears that streamed down my cheeks.
From the outset of our relationship, I had been in conversation with the chaplain at the Juvenile facility where Tyrone lives.
We had been each pursuing a strategy, in concert with each other, to help Tyrone see the consequences of his words and deeds – in the hopes that we could, at least, turn Tyrone into a reasonably “moral” person and break the cycle of delinquency and violence that had plagued most of his young life.
As I had gained Tyrone`s emotional trust, I had pried further into the pain that consumed his very being and offered hope everywhere I found despair.
I trusted the LORD, but I have to admit, I never saw the conviction that would lead to Tyrone`s dramatic conversion. He later explained to me, in retrospect, how difficult it was for him to talk to me of religious matters, as he would soon feel “claustrophobic” and anxious. “Like bugs was crawlin` under my skin,” he said.
Tyrone also sought my counsel in reference to a church and I referred him to Capitol Hill Baptist Church, deep in the heart of greater DC and close to where Tyrone lives.
I contacted the ministry staff there and explained a little bit of Tyrone`s history to the Pastor. They are eager to have him attend and look forward to ministering to his needs.
There is precious little time left for this young man. I will have him for a couple more months, before he graduates in May, but soon the system will wash their hands of him and he will return to the darkness that nurtured him in the world`s poisons.
May GOD go with him, may Christ bless him and keep his paths straight.