Friday, July 30, 2010

WRESTLING WITH DESPAIR

ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT

Recently, a deputy I was riding with responded to a suicide in the community. I ended up manning the tape barrier, separating the warring sides of the family. For three and a half hours I listened to wild accusations from the front lawn and wails of anguish from inside. After the coroner sanitized the situation, I prayed over the deceased with the family.
This is what I call a “normal” night. I don’t mean to appear callous when I say I went home and right to sleep. It was sad and pointless, yes, but something I’ve had enough experience with to handle, as a Pastor and a Chaplain.
However, I did have another day that challenged my commitment as a Chaplain. One event shook me beyond expectation. It may seem much more trivial than suicide, but that’s my point. An event that challenges one might go unnoticed by another.
Deputy S. and I caught the tag for a robbery. A twelve year old girl had tried to rob a nine year old boy for shopping money. Watching the cuffs placed on that little girl and locking her in the back seat was hard for me. As Deputy S. administered the Gladys R. competency test, he asked, “Where did you learn to do this?”
“My brother,” she answered.
At the station, the Watch Commander ordered Deputy S. to keep her out of lock-up. “...and no way am I sending this kid to Juvie tonight. Call her parents to come get her.”
While the Deputy attempted to contact the parents, I spoke with the girl in the report room. She sat handcuffed, crying in this bad, scary place. Good, I thought, she needs to be scared. “Remember this, I said. “You never want to come here again.”
Meanwhile, Deputy S. got the father on the phone. But Daddy didn't want to come to the station because he had outstanding warrants. Deputy S. said, “Sir, I will write you new warrants, come get your little girl.”
He did come to the station; FOUR HOURS LATER. By this time, the girl seemed no-longer scared. She was bored; which was infinitely worse.
The hard thing, the thing that challenged my commitment, was despair. Twelve years old, I thought. She has a brother who’s taught her to steal and a father with warrants for God-knows-what. She has no chance to make it in society. Why am I spending my time for people like this? I should go back to my cozy, suburban congregation and stay there.
Later that night, in conversation with a new deputy, I heard, “We should just lock them all up. We’re getting nowhere.” He was dealing with the same flood of despair as the Chaplain. Hmm... I found this hard, the deputies struggled with it, and my wife, a teacher, expressed the same frustrations, when I told her about it.
So what are we supposed to do? How do we escape the torrent of desperation?
First, I think frustration is not a sign of weakness. The fact that these events bother one shows there's still hope. Second, I know of two people who by God's grace escaped similar situations. One grew up in South Central, in the exact same circumstances. She's now serving a church in the Valley. The other case is a seminary buddy who worked with inner city kids in San Francisco. One boy in particular caused my friend to despair. Years later, my friend returned to find this problem child leading the youth ministry.
At times, the battle may seem lost, but that's not completely true. There are way more decent people out there than otherwise. Even people who appear hopeless may find hope. If you deputies don't do this often thankless job, who will?

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. ” 2 Corinthians 4:9

3 comments:

Dan said...

Don, I apologize for not getting to a reply sooner. This was an outstanding post and one that I needed. In my current situation, I'm dealing with a lot of young sailors who have made mistakes that got them into trouble. I've been trying to mentor some, while unfortunately not getting through to others for the last several weeks. At times, I have flat out given up on a few of the hardest cases. I'm sad to admit it, but this has brought me hope to fight another day.

Eric said...

It's easy for me to get frustrated with my situation. Thanks for a great perspective.

Sheryl Crawford said...

INCREDIBLE post! If it isn't heart wrenching to readers--they're comatose. Thank you so much for showing us "real" life so we'll know how to pray and be proactive. Keep it up.
Sheryl P.S. I know you're praying for an officer very close to my heart (o;