But my charitable imaginings, and merciful disposition changed, maybe for the good, maybe not. On Thursday, two days after his confession, I looked online for any news about his robbery. Directly in my face, big as Dallas, was the article and video from KFOR showing the robbery. “E” was allegedly the one in the hoody with the gun, although I couldn’t really tell if it were him.
More importantly to me, this didn’t look like an innocent kid. I couldn’t tell if what I was witnessing was desperation or calculation or just stupidity or all of the above. No doubt that clerk took it seriously. And what about that BB gun? How could I know if it were really a BB gun? Although the law considers that fact irrelevant, it mattered to me. But why did it matter? Maybe I was feeling some guilt at not being more vigilant for my family’s safety. Maybe I was worried what others would think if it appeared I was harboring a person wanted by the law.
The truth is that morning when I came out of the house and went into the barn, BEFORE I had seen the video, E was standing there messing with his iPod. With all that had transpired, he wasn’t making an effort to even look busy. Maybe I just caught him at the one moment when he wasn’t working, but it really didn’t matter. He had known long ago, what I had just realized, that he had given up on himself. He felt that nothing he did was really going to matter.
He knew the law would eventually catch him and he would pay the price of his actions. His time on the farm was just a holding action to enjoy a little freedom before the inevitable. What I learned was that throwing a lifeline to a person who feels there is no hope rarely works because they refuse to grab the lifeline. Likewise, I was unwilling to continue to throw that lifeline again and again. I just didn’t have the emotional energy to pursue what appeared to be an exercise in futility.
Consequently, that morning I gave him the directions to the attorney’s office and told him he needed to have his family drive him to the meeting. I told him I would pay for the initial costs to get his case assessed, but beyond that I made no commitment. I told him that he couldn’t come back to the ranch. I drove him home and wished him the best. He said nothing as he silently slipped out of the truck and closed the door. He had been abandoned all his life and he probably didn’t expect that to change. I felt sadness, relief, an overpowering sense of helplessness, and a little guilt.
The night before his Monday meeting, I texted Joe to see if E were going to show up for the meeting with the attorney. I told Joe that if E were planning on attending, that I would meet E at the attorney’s office. Not surprisingly, I was informed E had left and no one knew of his whereabouts. That was probably a lie, but a comforting lie no less. I could now wash my hands of the matter, I hoped, as repugnant as that allusion might be.
Surprisingly, E did show up at the attorney’s office that Monday and had a brief meeting. The attorney told him he needed to turn himself into the authorities. E said he needed to take care of a couple of items before he did so. E never returned and I have not heard from him since I last saw him. Later, I learned E had been charged with two armed robberies of the same store.
So what did I, an affluent middle-aged white guy, learn from my experience with a member of the hood. I learned E was just a kid, no different from my own. He was not mean spirited or violent. He would never have stolen anything from a friend. He had a code of honor that meant if you were in his group, you were safe. He wanted a future, but he didn’t have the family structure that made that likely. With E likely to join his father in prison, E’s son would likely be raised without a father. The cycle continues.
I simply don’t have the answers. Certainly, people can escape this cycle. Certainly, people have choices and will live with the consequences of those choices. Yet I feel no satisfaction in seeing a decent human being’s life overwhelmed. Until we have walked in the shoes of another, we must guard against harsh judgments and extend mercy and kindness as best we can.
We should all be thankful if our biggest choices in life are where to attend college, or the return on our 401k and not whether to rob a convenience store with a BB gun for a hundred bucks because you are homeless and hungry. E didn’t commit this crime because he was a bad man, or after a careful cost benefit analysis of the risks and rewards. He did it because he felt desperate and profoundly alone.
Post Script: In the fall of 2015, E was jailed and charged with Armed Robbery. Proceedings continued and ultimately it appears (if I am reading the report correctly), the charges were dismissed. So good luck E, life sometimes gives us a second chance, use it wisely! The storm passes, and the sun does shine!