They call him “Big Teddy Bear”

Every Saturday I help run a book club on our level 2 Yard, known as Echo Yard (E Yard). Right now we are reading a book called “All the Light You Cannot See.” So far it’s been a good book for discussion and a good catalyst for a deeper look into the lives of some of the inmates.

Last Saturday one of the guys, let’s call him Will, opened up about his past. I first met Will a year ago on another yard and the first conversation we ever had was about how he had survived 7 bullet wombs. I think the conversation started because I asked him if he was staying warm through this cold weather. The conversation led to him telling about how his joints hurt because of the cold and how since some of the bullets are inside him and made of metal, those also get cold, and he can feel it. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

After that conversation I knew he was someone who had been through a lot, and I got more of a glimpse the other day as he shared a story about his mother…

It was a Friday morning and also the day he would be turning 7. He got ready for school, but as he was running out the door his Mother stops him.

“Nope you’re not going to school today, you’re spendin your birthday with me” He got excited and said “Okay!”

They got in the car and drove to his Grandmother’s house. Now his Grandmother did not have a lot of money and set aside money every week for groceries. When they got there the house had no food, and Will’s Mom told him and his Grandmother that she’s taking her grocery money, and going to go buy some cake and ice cream for his birthday. She tells Will and his grandmother she’ll go pick it up and then bring it back.

Hours go by and Will and his Grandmother sit in the house starving… waiting. Finally it gets to be late at night, Will is hungry and knows his Mom probably didn’t actually go get cake and ice cream. I’m guessing his Grandma was a frail old poor lady with no car to drive, because Will didn’t know what to do and felt he was left with only one option… to walk home.

Can you imagine a small seven year old African American boy, walking 30 blocks starving and ALONE, through south central LA (an area heavy in gang activity), on his 7th BIRTHDAY, all because his Mother didn’t show up with the cake and ice cream like she said she would.

He made it home okay, thank God. As he walked in there were people around his house hanging out with his mom, all drunk and high… I guess by “Cake and Ice Cream” she meant “alcohol and weed…”

He went up to his mom, and as a naive innocent little child would, he asked “Mom, I thought we were going to spend the day together, I thought we were going to eat cake and ice cream? Why did you leave Grandma and I alone starving?”

She turns to him and just says “Son if I can do something like this to you, imagine what other people out there would be able to do.”

I don’t know what lesson she was trying to teach him, or if this was as bad as his mother got, but he wrapped up the story there with stating that instances like that turned him into a very violent and angry person. Didn’t have any empathy for anybody.

But coming to prison forced him into self growth and self realization, which lit a fire under the block of ice his heart was frozen in. A block of ice that people like his Mother helped create. It seems though, that it has been melted for awhile. So much so that his warm essence would have no one EVER guessing that he was once an angry violent man. So much so, that they sometimes refer to him as “The Big Teddy Bear.”

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