Five years ago was the first culminating presentation of relationships 101 at camp Gonzales a boy’s juvenile detention facility.
Yes , I actually started in the boys camps before I moved to the girl’s camps.
A lot of important people came to that show ,because of this a county photographer was sent to take photos. The boys were ecstatic. Of course the boy’s faces couldn’t be photographed, as is against the law. So what resulted, is a series of photos of me, government officials, and the boys' backs.
When I showed the boys the photos, they were disappointed and pissed.
I remember that night, when I got home I was sitting in my living room looking at my walls filled with drawings and photos of my smiling children, and suddenly I got it .
No one ever took photos of them.
You know , like school pictures .
The ones who grow up in the streets do not have their pictures hanging on walls.
They didn't have the experience of knowing that they brought pride to their parents.
The next meeting was our last meeting ,it was the week before Christmas. I told the boys how sorry I was about the photos BUT I am sure their parents would be proud of them if they knew what a great performance they did.
One young man, who happens to be African American, over six feet tall. Came up to me.
I usually don’t know, I don’t want to know , these kids crimes .
But alas this one did so good in the performance someone said to me:
“Can you believe that he is here for possession of a deadly weapon?”
I smiled and said: “Yes I can believe anything, and I believe everyone can be changed by theatre” . He looked at me like I fell from the sky.
Anyway , this boy came up to me at the end of the class he said : “Dam it Ms., I really wanted to send a picture to my Mom. I have been here for six months, have six to go .
I haven’t seen her, because she doesn’t have a car and it’s too far for her to visit”
Mind you, these facilities are impossible to get to with public transportation .It is heartbreaking the detachment that happens to these kids from their families when they are incarcerated.
I looked at him, he smiled shyly and added “I really wanted to send her something for Christmas” I stood there, so white, so Jewish so different than him. BUT alas I am a Mom of three girls, I also was a daughter.
“You know what” I said to him ,how about I write a letter to your Mom ,how about I write a letter and tell her about the show ,and how well you did in my class .How about I write her and tell her that you are an extraordinary person” I was getting very excited with myself.
He was overwhelmed. He looked at me, suddenly he looked like he was three years old .
He laughed out loud and said: "Oh my fucking God! She’ll shit in her pants and die; no one ever said anything good about me ever!”
And then he added:“Would you do that ma'am?”
“Absolutely.” I said
“Thanks ma'am, thank you.” He then added :
“You just might want to write that I am great, 'cause extraordinary is a really big word for my Mama.”
For the first time in my life I wend and purchased a Christmas card (AND LOVED IT!!) .
I wrote a letter to the mom, gave it to the probation officer to send to her.
I heard that she cried when she received it. When I saw him a few weeks later he thanked me profusely again and said:
"When my mom got the card ma'am, my sister read the big words to her and for a moment she actually thought how you did say...that I am extraordinary.”
I responded, "You ARE extraordinary, not just for a moment...but all the time.
It’s just that there are moments that you forget.”
The card cost me $2,it took me ten minutes to write the letter.
You know, sometimes it is enough to glance at someone, give them a smile, or just send a card . That is enough to make them feel worthy and give them a sense of dignity.
I hope that this holiday season you take the time for little things, for the people that don’t expect it , maybe even for a stranger.
It isn’t about the big things, or expensive gifts .
It can simply be about telling a mom that her kid is extraordinary – even if that’s a big word!!