Jul 22, 2012
I heard another story about that kid last week. All school year he's been nothing but trouble. He was caught red-handed in the pantry, breaking into cabinets filled with supplies for the after school program. Soon after, he was caught with fifty dollars that he'd stolen from a teacher's desk.
Last winter I watched him play basketball, calling the boys on the opponent's team, "bitch" (and that is the least foul of his words.) I've seen him get angry and throw things: his desk, a chair, wild punches, tantrums. He is nothing but trouble. The families in our neighborhood have tried to welcome him into our homes to help him, but we've all been burned too many times. He's stolen multiple video games and gaming systems from us, been rude, eaten our food, never given thanks. He curses and cusses in front of the really little kids. He is just bad news.
Kids like him are in our neighborhoods and classrooms across the country. They sit with our kids and expose them to all kinds of filth and foulness. They should just get kicked out of school. Suspended. Expelled. They need to be kept away from our kids. Our kids need to be protected. They don't need to be exposed to such anger and violence. Those kids are headed straight for prison, anyway. There's nothing we can do. They're just bad kids.
When you see him, you can just tell. He's angry. He doesn't have a future because he can't control that anger. He doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. In a lot of ways, that kid is scary. Such anger is hard to control. A loose cannon. You never know what he's going to do and that unpredictability is frightening. He could be a psycho gang-banging drug-dealing killer some day. What a bad kid.
Except...all of that is what we see on the outside. All of that is the external circumstantial evidence. What's going on in there? Really? Who is that kid?
When you talk to him, if you are patient, and you try to crack through the hard shell to get to the soft innards, then you find out that he is hungry. Dad left. Mom doesn't have a job. He's hungry. His only meal is the free lunch offered at school every day and since he is a growing boy of 11 years, it is just not enough. The pantry he got caught breaking into is filled to the brim with food for breakfast and snack at the after school program. He just wants to eat.
The $50 he took from the teacher's desk? He was caught with it at the grocery store, trying to buy food for his little sister. She is home all day without food, too young to go to school and get the free lunch.
The video games and gaming systems he took--he's not playing with them. His one-bedroom apartment doesn't even have a TV. He's been taking them to the gaming store in the strip mall by the grocery store. He sells them there and takes the cash next door to buy food.
He is 11 years old and he is too young to get a job, but he is the sole provider of sustenance for his family. He walks around the neighborhood and sees his classmates riding their bikes, playing in their yards, hanging out and playing football. They don't have to worry about eating. They don't have a daddy who left them. They don't have a mom who is so depressed about losing her job and her husband that she can't get up off the floor of their apartment. They don't have to worry about the eviction notice that just got stuck to their front door. They don't have to worry... and it makes him angry. He is so angry he can feel the rage just rising up from his toes...to his fists...to his head. Just one person says something wrong and he will show them how it feels to hurt like he hurts. Just one thing. Go ahead, say it you mofo. Say it.
Sometimes they say it at school. Sometimes in the middle of a football game on the corner. Sometimes they don't even say anything anyone could really consider an insult, when it comes right down to it. They just say something that reminds him about what they have that he does not. They remind him that he has to find something, some way to feed his little sister again tomorrow. They remind him that he likes his teacher and he wishes he could learn, but eating is more important right now. They remind him that if he steals at school again he might get sent away to some place for bad kids where you get to spend the night. In a way, it might be okay--probably more food than at home, and no eviction notice on the door. But who will feed his sister then?
Angry. So angry. No eleven year old should have to live like that. I'd be angry too.
There really is a kid like that in my neighborhood. Kids just like him really have been in my classroom. Parents of other kids really have said, "he needs to be kicked out," sent away, banished--to protect our kids. Somehow, though, I wish they could see the big picture, the whole picture...who that kid is both inside and out. Because when you really know him, it's hard to believe that anyone can say he's a bad kid. He's in a bad situation and making some bad choices...but he is not a bad kid. He's doing what he can to survive.
And if he's not bad, then you have to wonder about every single human being who does something bad. Are they really a bad person? or are they in bad situations making bad choices, stemming from a life filled with pain and hurt and anger? Are there any bad kids, really?
In the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shootings...this is something I have really been thinking about a lot lately.
Is anyone really, truly bad?