At the beginning, in the “honeymoon” stage of getting to know E, I consciously tried to make my home his home. Within his first week of work, after he bragged about his great cooking skills, I called his bluff and told him to cook. He did and he cooked all the traditional soul food he had grown up liking. It was a good meal and he clearly knew his way around the kitchen. The only problem was it took him 5 hours to finish the meal so we didn’t eat until 9:30 P.M. that night. He didn’t eat until an hour after we had finished because his cornbread had failed. It was like a gooey, rubbery, ectoplasmic brick. He had apparently, left out the sugar? He refused to eat until he had cooked another batch of cornbread. Delays aside, a good time was had by all.
On another occasion my wife cooked us a great meal featuring steak from our ranch. As she cooked the boys started watching a movie and I served them popcorn. I told them to sit down and enjoy themselves and I would wait on them. They did and I became their waiter for a bit. I can remember E taking his meal to the theater room while he finished watching a movie by himself. I came in a couple of times and asked him if he needed anything. He, barely looking up, said he was fine. Enthralled in the movie and clearly enjoying his meal, I left him alone. This seemed to be a really special day for him. The cares of the world seemed to drain from his demeanor. I felt it, and was glad we could offer it to him.
But as they say, that wasn’t the end of the story. After a few months’ things started to change. First Joe quit. This really wasn’t a big deal. He found another job. The problem was that now either I or my other summer hand had to transport E to and from work. Since they were using my pickup, I started pressing E to get his drivers license returned. He had told me earlier that he was forced to give up his license due to unpaid tickets in Texas. My frustration was compounded because I had pledged to help him get a car if he got his license. I knew he had made more than enough money to pay off the tickets. But nothing ever happened.
Likewise, nothing ever happened with the work on the old house. He had told me he was going to start working on it while I was gone on vacation. It didn’t happen. He said he was also going to visit his mother out of state while I was gone and get the license issue resolved. It didn’t happen. When I returned, increasingly irritated with his failures to act on my offers of help, and some less than stellar work habits, I called him into my office on a Tuesday morning ready to fire him.
He took the berating like an employee who wanted to keep his job. He defended himself some but kept pretty quiet. Exasperated I said what is up with you? Then in the most demonstrative action I had ever seen him make, he got up, closed the door, and walked to the front of my desk. For a split second I wondered if he might pull out a gun. He had regaled our whole family with tales from the hood, with the violence so endemic to that way of life. But I only thought this for a fleeting moment. I knew this young man’s heart was good.
Standing in front of me, shaking and crying, he confessed that he hadn’t told me the full story. His problems consisted of more than a few tickets. A couple of months before his son had been born; he was homeless living on the streets. As I learned later, with a couple of accomplices he had taken a BB gun pistol and robbed a convenience store. He said he had stolen maybe a $100 or so. Shaking and crying he told me he would never have ever hurt anyone. He expressed that he wanted to change his life for his son’s sake. I told him I would think about it overnight and come up with a plan. I got a recommendation for a good criminal defense attorney that same afternoon.
Well the bubble had burst for my little experiment in helping a guy who was down on his luck. I wasn’t really angry or afraid. I had come to know this young man fairly well. I had seen him laugh while he cooked, play with his baby, joke around with my wife and children. He was still the same young man I had helped, worked, and yelled at for those many weeks. But now the circumstances where changed. What should I do? Turn him in immediately and watch him get hauled off to jail. I couldn’t do that. He trusted me and demonstrated that trust by returning on Wednesday. So that morning I set up a meeting for E for the following Monday with the attorney who had been recommended. I told him I would take him to the meeting.
Now my imagination kicked into high gear. I envisioned myself defending this poor, young, black man who had committed a stupid crime. I could see myself standing before the judge and the judge asking me what interest I had in this young man. Well your honor as the Lord said, “what you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Your honor, if the court would allow me, I can save this one. Let’s not throw another young man in prison. I will be his champion!