It is Important to Listen and Care for Each Other

How listening to someone can make a difference and what happens when we look the other way. Everyone's story counts.

When I was 17 years old,  I got into some trouble and was sent to a boys school called Crossroads Wilderness Institute.  Crossroads, or CWI was located in the middle of nowhere in Punta Gorda Florida and was an experience that most likely saved my life.  I was at CWI for 6 months and it is where I ended up graduating high school and  also where I learned skills like how to be a leader and also the value of having mentors.

One of the most important lessons that I learned while I was at CWI, was not to feel sorry for myself, someone always has it worse.  I am writing this today, to encourage you to not feel sorry for yourself and also to to pay attention to others and share love with all people, regardless of how difficult they may be. It is important that we appreciate and care for all humanity.

In my first few days at Crossroads I was a bit nervous and scared, regardless of how bad that I had been, I was still a kid and I had never been in an environment like this.  The program was divided into 2 phases.  Phase 1 being a boot camp and phase 2 had more privileges and you were encouraged to be a leader.   It was my first day, in phase 1 that I encountered Michael.  Mike good not have been much more than 4’ 5”, he was about 11 years old and was covered in tattoos.  My first experience with  Mike was as I was taking my mat to the dorm where I would spend my first few months.  When I walked up to the door, it came flying open and this little freckled face kid with tattoos was cursing and spitting as he was being man handled by two very strong men.  The more they tossed him around, the angrier that he got, it was shocking how mad this kid was as he was quickly grabbed and taken away. Later that afternoon, I would see him dragging a big metal pickaxe into the woods.  That was the punishment for acting out, it was called “contract’ and consisted of swinging an axe in the woods all day and also complete isolation.

A few days would pass before I would see Mike again.  In the late evening, when we were all in our bunks, one of the guards (they called them advisors) brought him into the dorm, It was then that he came over to where I was sleeping and I realized that he bunked next to me.  Mike didn’t say anything that night, he just went to sleep and so did I.  It wasn’t long before Mike was in trouble again and then again.  I began to notice that he acted out for no reason at all, it was almost like this kid enjoyed getting kicked around and restrained.  Mike was micro sized and people were constantly punching him and he was always mouthing off, no one wanted to be around him.

In the afternoon, we would all play in the rec area, we would play volleyball, basketball horseshoes and also lift weights, I couldn’t help but notice that Mike never participated in those activities.  The rare times that he was not in trouble, he would sit on the sidelines and just watch everyone play.  One day I approached him and asked him if he wanted to go lift weights with me.  Mike gave me a dirty look and said no, so I walked off and began lifting weights, shortly thereafter, Mike showed up and began playing with the dumbbells.  I was shocked out how scrawny this kid was as he took off his shirt and began struggling with the small amount of weight.

Our daily activities still continued  with Mike, randomly and sporadically pushing someone’s buttons and getting put out into the woods to swing that heavy axe.  The kid had blisters all over his hands and his body bruised, it was almost like he enjoyed the whole thing.  Soon during our workouts, I was able to get Mike to open up.  We began having talks late into the night and I became his only friend, maybe his only friend in the world.  It was at this time that I would learn more about Mike.   He told me that he was in a gang and that he was in and out of foster homes, he was in the program for stealing cars.  Mike was from Miami and told me that he had spent a lot of time being homeless.  Who would ever think that someone this young could have been through so much?  And I thought my problems were bad.  As if that was not enough, there was more.  One Sunday, when my Mom came to pick me up to take me off to visitation, I came back and Mike wouldn’t talk to me, in fact he would not talk to anyone, he just kind of sat in the corner with a blank stare.  I noticed that he was crying.

I left Mike alone that afternoon and when it came time for dinner, we were all in the mess hall, when Mike began cursing at this kid for no reason.  “Here we go again!”  I thought and then instinctively, I just went over and sat next to him and told him to calm down.  The kid who no one listened to, I told to calm down and guess what, he did, he listened to me.

I was kind of shocked when I realized that I had just calmed down the kid who no one could get through to and after dinner when we were working out I decided to ask him what was bothering him.  Again, I was shocked when Mike looked at me and his usually empty stare released its glaze and he told me that he it bothered him when he saw us all go off with our families on visitation.  It was then that Mike told me that he had no family. He told me that his mother was a prostitute and that they were living out of a hotel, when  a man shot his mother in front of him and he was taken away.  He was 8 years old when this occurred.

The program progressed and eventually I would move on to the second phase and then to graduate, all the while, I was Mike's only friend and also the only person he listened to.  When it came time for me to move on, he gave me a hugged and he sobbed like the child that he was and I went on with my life.

A few years later I would go back to Crossroads. I was a success story and I was there to speak before the board of the program regarding the benefits of the program.  After the speech I asked the director what happened to Mike.  I would like to say that this story ended well for the young man, but I was told that he had committed a felony trying to escape and they had moved him on to Juvenile prison.  With the odds stacked up against him, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike was still in a facility to this day.

It saddens me to think that Mike had very little chance, starting from his birth.  I often wonder, what it would have been like if someone would have took the time to listen to him, to spend time with him, rather than just react to his negative behavior with force.  I realize  that I may have been the only true friend that he ever had, or at least the only positive friend, who took the time to listen to him.

Every day we give up on our kids, without ever taking into consideration what their story may be, rather than listen, society reacts to their behavior by hiding them away or locking them up and they never have a chance to change, often they are never taught how.  It is my opinion that all people can change, but I especially feel that way about our children.  I encourage you to have more  compassion, to listen to people's stories and be a friend, don’t just turn your head and look away, you never know how you might impact a life by showing someone a little bit of love.