Collateral Damage – Disposable People


In early December, the jury reached a verdict of guilty in a case I’d been following closely. In January, the defendant will stand before the Court and is facing between 8 years and life in prison. I’ve been working with this guy on probation for the past 2 years on a different offense, and the charge he was just found guilty of took place possibly 6-7 years ago.

Our jobs allows us access into the lives of people we would not normally meet right? We find ourselves becoming friends…or at least acquaintances with people we would otherwise never meet.

This guy I speak of above is a prime example. I can’t say I would do backflips when I saw him on my schedule for our regular appointment, but that was due to some very specific characteristics in his personality…or mine…or both. Still, he was nice and respectful, and occasionally I could get him to move past his prior role in a field similar to my own, and just be a real person, sharing real stuff going on in his life. It was in those moments that I found common space to share with him…just doing life.

Since the verdict earlier this month, I’ve found myself traveling on a road multiple times a week that borders the neighborhood where he lived…where his wife still lives…where his 7 or 8 month old son still lives…and my heart becomes heavy.

Tragedy is easily identified when natural disasters take place or when terrorist acts occur. But there are tragedies taking place in our neighborhoods and in our communities today…last weekend, in the next week…and they go largely unnoticed by us. The news media aren’t showing up, web pages aren’t giving us links to the stories, and there aren’t any photos or videos we can watch…but incredible tragedies with far-reaching consequences are taking place.

I can’t remember when this occurred exactly, but years ago, in the middle of a walk around my neighborhood, I got this image so strongly in my mind of bombs metaphorically going off all around me. Roofs were being blown off houses causing massive destruction. The bombs represented any number of tragedies or crises actually taking place within specific families.  Remember…this is all taking place in my head okay….and that can be a weird ride if someone were actually in there with me…

The detonated bombs represented love grown cold in a marriage with divorce as the next step…a job cut in someone’s employment leading to a financial crisis…an addiction conceived which would lead to the unraveling in relationships…a doctor’s appointment earlier in the day which led to hearing the “C-word”, or any other devastating report. Even now, as I sit here after my Friday morning coffee with a friend, I look around the coffee shop at the crowd, and I wonder if there are unseen bombs going off in the lives of the people so peacefully enjoying their coffee…

What’s the point of all this? Perhaps it’s just me processing the emotions that keep surfacing as I drive past that neighborhood mentioned above, but relationship is messy; relationship is complicated; relationship can be outright dangerous! If we stay detached, we can read of the above conviction and feel satisfied that justice is served…the world is in order…and then we go on with our day thinking very little about it.

But for me, I had to get to know this guy…I was paid by my employer and expected to meet with him on a regular basis. In the course of meeting with him, I caught glimpses of a man who probably never had childhood dreams of harming people and being where he is…spending Christmas and New Years behind bars awaiting a very long prison sentence… I met a hurt man who, in the course of his life, has hurt people around him, and who possibly feels an unbearable hopelessness in these moments as he awaits his fate in January.

I picture the devastated wife, who was never in the picture when the offense took place 6-7 years ago. She is left to pick up the pieces in her life and move forward as a single mother…having to figure out what she will tell her son when he has questions in the future about his dad. I picture the little boy who will forever have in the back of his mind, thoughts that his dad is in prison…will he share this with friends as he grows up, or will it remain his secret?

The victim in the crime committed by this man will have to proceed forward in life with no power to erase the experiences from memory. They will forever be impacted for so many reasons which I won’t go into here. Healing and health are out there on the horizon if they want it, but that is their choice to make.

The wife of the man, his baby boy…all collateral damage… But for every man or woman who has failed to live up to the potential they held, we all suffer as part of the collateral damage. The young person who gave their allegiance to the gang, the person who traveled a path that led to involvement with drugs and crime…the kid who dropped out of school and will spend so many years just trying to survive the consequences of that choice…..we are all so terribly impacted in ways we are completely unaware of in this moment by the rich contributions they never made to the community around us. Songs never written; books never published; businesses never started; friendships never made…

It’s so much easier to label people and marginalize them. You’re a liberal democrat; you’re a right-wing conservative; you’re a convicted sex-offender; you’re a drunk homeless dude who just needs to get a job; you’re a…….Duke fan!

I’ve got a lot of demons in my past…and some that I’ve kind of made friends with over the years…and it’s led me to the conclusion that me and the guy across the desk from me on probation share a lot more in common than we don’t. There’s always so much more to a story than we are willing to make time for, but the story is there nonetheless. I would encourage anyone who has made it to the end of this story to take the time to learn what we share in common instead of dwelling on what we don’t.

I believe this is where I play the song “We Are the World”, light a candle, put my arms around the person on my left and on my right, and begin swaying back and forth as I sing.

Thanks for taking the time to consider my thoughts today.

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