Hammer or club?

I was coming down the steps of the YWCA in Downtown Rochester, NY, carrying my guitar, coming from a group lesson. The YWCA offers many programs, including educational and rehabiliational for women re-entering society from prison or substance abuse. Midway down the steps I was surprised to encounter on of my girls from the detention center where I’d worked a year prior. She was a black teenager from the inner city who, like most of the kids – black or white – posed a behavior problem.

Oddly, she seemed delighted to see me and said, “Hi, Mr. Gardner!”

I said, “Hi, Sheila!”

Next to her stood a gaunt figure, head shaved, trench coat collar pulled up around the face, wearing work boots (it was a warm summer day). I recalled she had two notorious brothers, also institutionalized. One, who I knew, had attacked an old man with a golf club; the other, who I didn’t know, made the newspapers for crushing a man’s skull with a hammer while robbing him.

I knew this character standing next to her, head bowed, unresponsive as if under the influence of drugs, wasn’t the gold club wielder. Assuming it might be the hammer-attacking brother I said, “Is this your brother, Wade?”

Sheila looked at me puzzled and said, “This is my mother.”

I nodded “Hi” to mom and continued on down the steps, at first embarrassed by my social blunder, then painfully reminded of how home life (or lack thereof) plays a critical role in shaping the lives of children. This realization was why I quit that institution after two years; out of frustration.

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One Comment on “Hammer or club?”

  1. Frank Paolo Says:

    No good can ever come from any conversation which begins, “Is this your brother?” followed by “This is my mother.”


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