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Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's all he knows

   I met a young man named Willie today. At least I thought he was young, I can't tell anymore, they seem to be younger and younger these days.
  He was pushing a broom around, dusting the floor. He was going back and forth. He had a raspy voice that was hard to understand. The stripes on his pants were the same mint green color that is on my bedroom walls.
  I've never met anyone like him before. I am naive. And seemingly, uneducated, at least for the day anyway. He comes from a world I have never known.
  He was about 6 feet tall. He was a trustee - "doing his time."  Willie also delivers packages between the government buildings downtown. All I could think of was a big manilla interdepartmental envelope.
   He was bussed in this morning from a minimum security facility. He has 2 months left, well, as soon as the county jail reports the time he served detained there. Otherwise, Willie would be there until February.
   Naturally, I asked him what he did to get arrested. Proudly, he said he made checks. You make checks, say what? "Not like regular checks, business ones, like from Geico."
  Country girl here might have been around the world a few times, but it had been a long, long stressful day. Part of me wanted to laugh at the absurdity of his joy in breaking the law and the other half was praying, Oh Lord, you want me to say, what? The boy needed to hear the Truth! Total Moses moment. I wanted to make like Jonah and head to Tarshish.
  So, Willie, have you learned your lesson? Will you ever do it again. Through a grin, he assured me, if he had to, he would. Sad.
  Well, what are you going to do when you get out of here? Get a job that actually gives you a check and you don't have to make them yourself anymore? Of course not! It sounds so judgmental for me to say that, but I don't lie, he told me this himself. I did think it odd that he and the bail bondsman sitting next to me were on a first name basis, even knew that Willie was from Philadelphia and his mama goes by Miss Maddie.
  He was relaying a message to the bondsman to give to Miss Maddie. He's going on house arrest soon and needs her to send money.
   When he stepped out of earshot, I shook my head, asking, he's seems so proud to be a criminal, to break the law.
   In a sigh, the bondsman told me, "that's all he knows."
   The tones of the thoughts going crazy in my head changed.
   As Willie made his way back in our direction, the floor perfectly shining by now, he propped his broom against the snack machine and told me he had been doing it since he was 15 years old. I thought, cleaning government buildings? I think he understood my puzzled look. I was numb. My brain couldn't wrap itself around such things.
   "Naw, I went to college to learn about computers. Then, a guy there taught me how to use computers!" He said nodding and grinning with a smirk on his face. I couldn't help but giggle. It was 2 in the afternoon and I was having this conversation with only a banana in my stomach since 5:30 a.m.
   He was good at it too. He only got caught this time because he had a young, inexperienced guy working for him and he went to the wrong teller at the bank. He had a girl at the counter that would usually cash the checks for him. GASP!
   I asked him what he thought God thought about this. Was he not concerned about how this would look when he stands before the Lord one day?  He assured me he was forgiven and He won't hold it against him. Even sadder. That's the Truth, but not the whole Truth.
   The subject was changed quickly to all the material possessions he had gained by ripping off banks and businesses. Cars, shoes, jackets, stereos, the list went on.  He got to keep all of it, even after he was incarcerated. It's there at Miss Maddie's waiting on him. The authorities couldn't touch it. He had put it in his mama's name.
   I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, this is wrong!!! You should be shameful, embarrassed, somewhat remorseful, at least. But he was happy, almost gleeful. He was really good at making it look as if he was making the best of his bad situation.
   At least I knew now. Me and my big mouth. My nosey self. I just had to ask.
   I never expected his openness or willingness to share his story with me.
   I had seen Willie several times throughout the morning as I had traversed back and forth the government square. People walk by him all day, nodding to say hello, as we do here in the South. I wondered if they think the same things I think in those moments...wonder what he's in for? Oooh, did he kill somebody? Of course not, they wouldn't be a trustee if they killed somebody, would they?
   It doesn't really matter what I think, or his mama thinks, it matters what God thinks. God cares. He cares what Willie is going to do when his time is served. He knows Willie will most likely go back to the very same environment from which he came. He'll be faced with the same decisions again and again and again. But He loves him just as much as He loves my innocent toddlers. He cares about his soul.
   How can I show him grace and love if I don't open my mouth? People won't know I'm a daughter of the King if I just smile politely, open the door for them and try not to stare.
   Our conversation ended very soon thereafter when my business was complete.
   As I walked out of the building, Willie held the door, still clutching his broom.  I thanked him and pointed my finger at him and told him to stay out of trouble. Just like a mama.
   I thought about Willie on the long drive home. I prayed for my friends who are a part of the jail ministry here in Tupelo and north Mississippi.
   It was a lemon of a day, but for this moment, it wasn't as bitter. I'll be back in that same place next week. Maybe Willie and I will meet again. I wasn't finished with our talk.