On Broken Systems

I stare at the screen. Waiting for my emotions to leave my fingertips and fill the blank page. But the cursor blinks and I sit in them. People come and go and the only one I’ve always been able to rely on is the practice of putting words into the world. Only I can’t find them. They’ve abandoned me at this moment. But I press on in hopes of their return.

Yesterday I found out one of my former students is wanted for murder and ten counts of robbery. I think most that know him would agree that he deserves whatever is coming. Only I knew this kid before he made these choices. I sat across a desk from him, at his level, and tried to understand why he was struggling in class. Why he bullied other kids, why he couldn’t do his work, why he chose to disrupt instead of adding to the conversation. He was so smart but was afraid if people knew how smart he really was that they’d find some other reason to bully him. He’d rather the world think him a thug than see how intelligent he was or the kindness he’d show when no one was watching.

It’s easy to say he was bullied and that’s why he bullies. While this is true, it’s so much deeper than that. The system failed him. I was told more than once, “that kid is lost, give it up.” His parents failed him, his older siblings, and his role models failed him. I failed him. It would be easy to brush it off and say, well we all make choices, only that wouldn’t be the whole truth. My heart is breaking for the choices he made, and what the rest of his life will look like.

I could have made the same sorts of choices he did. I also grew up poor, was abused, struggled to maintain friendships, and was bullied relentlessly. I could have let the darkness take hold. I wanted out of my life the same way he did and sometimes that felt like I’d do anything to break free of the chains I felt. I chose to attend school put myself into debt, and push myself to be better than the demons in my life. He wanted to be friends with his bullies. I understand the thought process. If you are on the same side as your bully, then you are no longer the target of their attention. Only what he didn’t realize was that he became a target in new ways.

I know we’re not the same. None of this is in an attempt to exonerate him. What he did is horrific on so many levels. And yet, I can’t shake any of it. Wondering if I could have done more, been a better teacher, listened more, fought more, yelled more. But now, three lives have been lost. Lost to the world beyond this one, lost to the system, just lost.

This all comes on the heels of familial heartbreak, of life stressors and I’m just feeling this incredible sense of loss right now. I can’t find the words to express what I’m feeling and if I could let my tears speak for me I would.

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