Archive for June, 2015

02
Jun
15

Responsibility and Charity

wirekidsI just watched the fourth season of The Wire again. If you haven’t watched the series, I cannot recommend it enough as it is a fantastic depiction of inner city life and struggles in Baltimore.

A running current throughout the fourth season is the struggle of schools in a large city, especially schools in more impoverished areas. As we follow many of the same characters we had been watching the previous season, we are also introduced to new ones, including four boys who are attending middle school.

All four students suffer from less-than-stellar home lives. For three of them, their situation ends up worse. The fourth gets taken in by one of the adult characters and the hope is his life will have a chance to be better.

The other three though, they get left behind. The system fails them, even when members of the system try to help them. Sometimes those helpful people learn how little control they really have in the lives of the children they interact with—others find their efforts make things much worse.

This was all on my minds last weekend when my older son’s friend came over out of the blue. We don’t see this young man all that often, but had run into him at a sports orientation for the high school (oh Lord, I’m about to have a high-schooler) and I told him to drop by any time.

So he did the very next day.

I don’t know this young man very well. He’s a very good kid from what I’ve seen and from what we understand, has a tough life.

His mom has moved in and out of town several times, moving this boy and his step-brother into different schools and school districts. One such landing spot saw this young man in a poor school with a lot of fights and what sounded like a bad situation. Looking to get him back in a better school district (and away from trouble), his mother moved him into an apartment back in our town with some relatives. It wasn’t ideal of course, since the family had a two-bedroom apartment, multiple kids of their own and my son’s friend slept on the couch.

Then the school district realized he wasn’t living with him mom, who was no longer in the confines of the town, and kicked him out of school. If your guardian doesn’t live in the district, you don’t belong in the district.

So back to his mother he went, back to the school with the fights and bullying. He told his mother he refused to go back, that he would get himself suspended if she made him and lo and behold, that happened.

His mother recently moved back to town and after several months of not being in school at all, my son’s friend is back at school.

We’ve become one of the places he shows up at when he is trying not to be home. He doesn’t talk about home life much but those of us who have reached out to him have pieced together what seems like something close to the truth.

His mom and he don’t get along. I have heard a step-father mentioned (most alarmingly once when he smashed the young man’s X-Box in a rage) but it doesn’t sound like he lives with them. His dad is an ex-convict who is in town but can only afford a studio apartment. I don’t know a ton about his interactions with his son.

Nobody seems to care that he disappears for a day or two at a time, floating from couch to couch. When he was over last weekend, we invited him to sleep over and asked if he needed to call home. He looked like us like we were crazy. Why would they care seemed to be his attitude.

Of course, all most of what we ‘know’ comes from the boy. Another parent has spoken with his mother a few times, and it seems as if a lot of our assumptions are right, but really we don’t know all of what is going on.

It seems very much as if this is a boy in danger of being left behind by the system and the people who should be supporting him.

And I’m very aware that there are elements of his life I cannot understand. I’m white, I grew up in an affluent suburb and really didn’t want for much. He’s African-American and having to struggle to make ends meet.

I’m very conscious of my privilege in this situation, very conscious of not ‘white knighting’ (in a very literal sense) and coming to the aid of someone I cannot understand. The assumptions we have about his home life concern me because they are very much assumptions. I’m not saying he’s a liar, but he is still a kid and kids stretch the truth.

It’s one of many reasons nobody has involved Child Protective Services—that and knowing that it could make things a whole lot worse in many ways.

But as he floats from house to house and various people feed him, make sure he’s showered and eaten and going to school, it’s clear to me that somewhere, somehow the ball has been dropped.

If we had an extra room, I’m pretty sure my wife and I would let him crash there all the time so he knew he always had a safe place. We don’t though, so we do what we can and hope it’s enough.

And so I think about that season of The Wire and hope he’s the one boy for whom things managed to get better and not one of the kids who drop through the cracks.

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What I’m Into:

Reading: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher Listening to: The Heist, Macklemore Watching: Damages