It is with heavy heart that I learned this week that one of my students from Helen S. Faison in Pittsburgh, PA, has been arrested for the murder of one of my other students. Two young lives lost. Two young men failed by our lack of village, the criminalized drug structure which fuels the underground market economy and doesn’t address addiction, the prison system without rehabilitation, the easy access to and glamorization of guns.
I wrote Deandre a letter:
I’ve sent you a book written by a friend of mine who lost his 20 year-old son to a 14 year-old’s gun. The book is called From Murder to Forgiveness by Azim Khamisa.
I am thinking of you in this difficult time. I imagine you are in a state of post-traumatic stress disorder: from the loss of your friend at your own hand, from the loss of your freedom. I can’t imagine what you are going through. No matter what our legal system says, you are not a criminal. You are someone in a spiritual crisis.
I’m enclosing a copy of the painting I made of you 9 years ago with your words written below. You wrote “Being an angel is God calling me.” The streets shouted at you: This is the only way! The thug life style is strengthened in the hostile environment of prisoners and guards. The challenge to hear God’s call will be very hard.
From art class when you were in 5th grade, I remember your intelligence, your artistic talent, how easily your feelings were hurt, your love of sports and daring. This insanely traumatic moment in your life can open a window to taking a different path for your soul.
The 14 year-old who killed Azim’s son was tried as an adult. With spiritual work every day for 5 years, Azim forgave the young man. The young man has forgiven himself and will work with my friend when he gets out of prison with the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. The two will train young people in making non-violent choices. It’s hard. Most people think it’s impossible. Everyday, Azim does a good deed in his son’s name. He was not a great father, not very present in his son’s life. Now, he does what he can to stop young people from hurting each other.
My heart breaks for Garrick, for you and for all who love you both, which includes me.
The card I am sending you was made by a student in California who was incarcerated. She let God’s call flow out of her onto the paper. I pray you have moments of safety to listen to that call within you.
I pray you have moments of safety to listen to that call within you. I hold you in God’s Light, Deandre. Love, Ms. Laurie
This is very hard. How do these odds get beaten?