Expectation: Things are going to get worse

I had a good heart to heart with one of my neighbors yesterday. We were discussing some recent events on our street that are causes for concern. They involve some new tenants in one of the apartment buildings, and the return of two young men from jail after time served for their most recent run of criminal activity. My neighbor does a good job of policing the corner, and she does not hesitate to get in some of these guys faces and tell them to stop certain things they are doing or she will call the police. She has kids, and she obviously has a very personal interest in what goes on outside their door.

As we talked, she said to me: “It’s going to get worse around here…quickly.” She is only all too aware of the kinds of things the two young men who are back home are prone to do. “I am going to start looking for a new place,” she said, shaking her head. I told her how sad I would be if they moved away. Her kids are some of my kids’ dearest playmates (in spite of a large age difference), and her youngest daughter has begun attending our church faithfully this past year. This woman is the person I most enjoy seeing and talking to in my everyday life here.

The past few weeks, those of us from our church who live on Kenwood have decided to gather weekly to pray for our street. We have planned to begin meeting next Tuesday, and to invite anyone else from our street that might like to participate. It is our hope and belief that God will hear our cries as he has promised in the scriptures to do. We want to pray for people like my friend and her kids; for the boys who are fresh out of incarceration; for the drug trade and the violence that it breeds. I am glad for this decision. I think I struggled a bit with a sense of imbalance earlier when we all participated corporately in our block club that sought to handle safety issues through legal and civic means, but were not spending time together to pray for the very people and situations we were battling.

I don’t know if my friend next door would ever join us, but I will invite her.

7 thoughts on “Expectation: Things are going to get worse”

  1. I will pray, too. A thought just occurred to me–and I know this is simplistic–someone else probably knows the answer to this: Does it make any sense to incarcerate people for crimes they committed partly due to the fact they lacked jobs and education and then release them back into the same situation?

  2. It is a horrible cycle. Fellow blogger Arloa Sutter just posted on the continued racial inequities in terms of education, employment/wages, and the prison population.

    And in my experience, incarceration most often leads to or deepens gang affiliations (out of a need for survival inside). This relationship then returns with the individual, and in my experience that only heightens the liklihood of continued criminal behavior.

    But here’s the catch: my street has been safe and quiet with these boys gone. I am glad for that. When I saw them back, my heart sunk, as I knew what it would mean for us. I have seen these boys grow up here; their lives are filled with reasons for what they are choosing to do. And we have tried to come at the issues they bring from the side of school truancy officials, for example, instead of just police intervention. But the resources and solutions seem so few and far between, and at some point when an entire neighborhood is suffering and people’s lives are at risk, I want them taken away.

    I mean, what I really want is for them to find help and restoration and education and mentoring, and all the things I hope for for all the young people I know here. And we do our piece in trying to accomplish that (youth group, personal relationships, etc.) But there comes a point where I just want them gone because someone (including them) is going to get killed! And prison is the thing, the ONLY thing, that is funded, consistent, available.

    I ran a youth center and outreach program in Chicago for precisely the cycle you are describing: and we saw it broken, so I do believe in a God who can reach out and restore and redeem and heal. But we also lost kids too. And I still mourn for them.

  3. Erika, this is such a beautifully balanced answer … Thank you for being a good steward of the experience you bought with pain. We love you for it.

  4. Erika, I will pray about this, as well. It is too bad that our priorities as a nation are so badly skewed in a number of ways. This is reflected, of course, in our national budget.

    Blessings.

  5. Thanks, Ted. It really is such a blessing to receive prayers and encouragement from friends here. Thank you.

    Your comment about the budget stirs a fire in my soul–for two years, I ran a drop-in center and mentoring program for urban youth in Chicago with maybe a $500 annual budget. After those first two years, the program became more established, and we had an operating budget of maybe $50K (serving over 200 youth in our immediate community through a four day-a-week drop-in center, and twelve different after-school programs ranging from art to basketball to poetry to science club). Just the drop-in center alone gave kids who would otherwise have been stuck in unsafe homes on unsafe streets that were ruled by gangs a safe and healthy place to be, and many of those guys ended up shooting pool every afternoon with us instead of selling drugs on the corner a block away.

    All that to say, whatever percentage 50K is of the cost of keeping a kid in prison for a year or so, it seems like a pretty smart investment and a no-brainer strategy. Yet every grass-roots ministry I know that does this kind of work struggles and struggle for funds, and many close their doors. Meanwhile our legislators debate the “gang problem” and throw money at things that in my estimation have had little effect.

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