Friday, January 23, 2015

Listen to the Sound

Robert was up and out of the house by 5:30 this morning.
He got a J.O.B.

(The quiet is delicious.)

Days after he reached the highest level at the work release center (almost impossible to do,) just one day prior to moving back home, he was laid off from his factory job. He had shown up every day, on time, for nine months. The dude is a hard worker, and in his words, "My supervisor hates me...because it's impossible to hate me!" (I will vouch for this truth.)

Still, as many of you know, stuff happens.

The department of corrections is obviously known for its zany humor, but perhaps the "funniest" part of all is that Work Release, the place they send you when THEY EXPECT YOU TO BE EMPLOYED, made it next to impossible for him to find a new job.

For two weeks, he was ready. But for two weeks, they weren't. He heard every excuse and stupid reason, and sometimes, all he got was the ever-popular, "Because I said so."

On Monday he was finally allowed to leave the house and fill out applications. By Tuesday morning he had an interview with a successful company. And fifteen minutes after arriving for his interview (twenty minutes early - a reminder that we do not share DNA,) he was employed.

Will you ever get tired of me saying how proud I am of him?

We've been talking in the midnight hours about race and racism and whether or not reaching a place of understanding will ever be possible. Robert's take is fascinating. He maintains he's never been mistreated because he's black, and though this attitude might serve him well, I know it isn't true. In the very next breath, he tells me stories that prove the opposite.

Robert is a convicted felon. He grew up in a shattered family mired in urban, American poverty and all of its associated ills. In and out of foster care, suspended and expelled, becoming the "mistake" everyone said he was, he quit school as soon as he was able. Thrown into the juvenile justice system for offenses that would garner other boys a firm talking-to, he was corralled into a system that would eventually funnel him into a state prison. At the age of barely-nineteen.

"African American youth are 4.5 times more likely (and Latino younth 2.3 times more likely) than white youth to be detained for identical offenses." - Burning Down the House 

He got his GED in prison, mostly because his parents forced him. It was the first time I ever got super bossy with him, telling him over the phone something to the effect of, "I'm your mom now, and I don't care if you don't want to or you're nervous. YOU ARE TAKING THAT TEST."

A few months later, we forced him to get his driver's license.

We've seen first-hand the way a sure-of-himself, sometimes-cocky Big Kid can shy away from important things because he's been told, for as long as he can remember, that he shouldn't even bother. Or he's not worth it. Or he wasn't built to succeed.

Both successes have been instrumental in his "moving on" momentum.

We forced the issue, but he did all the work.
He did it, proving his intelligence and courage to himself along the way.
And though he's always been a boot-straps kind of guy, he's more willing to take positive chances now.

The person who hired him just two days ago tacked these words to the offer, "You're so much more soft-spoken and respectful than I thought you'd be when I first saw you."

He told me this with his chest puffed out a bit, as proud of himself as he deserved to be.
But I heard what wasn't said, and honestly, so did he.

"When charges are filed, white teenagers are more likely to be placed on probation, while black youth are more likely to be placed behind bars.

The differential treatment young people of color face from an early age contributes to a particularly insidious cycle. The general public sees only the statistics and the faces on the evening news. The differential treatment that drives the statistics, however, is rarely reported. Without this context, the racism that leads black youth to be so grossly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system serves to fuel the racism they face on the street - the assumption that all of them have their eye on the white lady's purse."Burning Down the House

If I fault his employer, I indict myself. Maybe I haven't voiced the same words, but I have felt their echo in the quiet of my heart, back when race was just another conversational landmine and everything I "knew" had been learned from my TV.

It's not okay. It's not enough. We're all out of excuses, now.

The next time I'm tempted to think I know things about people, I'll assume there's a good chance I'm wrong. I'll take the time to shake that hand before I piece together an entire back-story or stitch up a future I can't possibly see.

The next time I find myself judging the poor or underemployed, the person with no wheels, the high school drop-out, the inmate, the welfare mom, I'll consider the ways my life never came close to mirroring theirs.

My house is quiet but my heart is loud.
It's celebratory.
It's heartsick and mad.

We've got work to do, guys. Our teachers are everywhere, and I happen to have the chattiest, most loveable one living in my basement.

I'm just going to keep passing my lessons along, praying we all have the guts to use them.

*Amazon affiliate links used  
** Photo credit - Cory


  1. Such sweet and powerful words this morning. Thanking God for the lessons you are teaching us your readers as you love, guide and mother dear Robert. Cheering for him...wanting to hang a huge banner across your driveway that welcomes his successes and gives him the pats on the back that he needs to go that extra mile. Can you let him know that many prayers have been said for him and will continue to be said for him because HE.IS. WORTH. IT!!! Praying a hedge of protection about him as he is out in the world and looking forward to his testimony one day of God's amazing grace in his life. You are loved dear Robert because Jesus first loved us! May we daily, fight for all the Roberts in this world..indeed.we do have work to do! Let us not tarry another moment.

  2. I'm mulling this one over a few times.

    "You're so much more soft spoken and respectful when I thought you would be when I first saw you." Law. This just wrecked me. I have a boy in my heart this would apply to a thousand times over.

    Keep writing, Shan.


  3. Wow. This is something we all need to hear and you've written it beautifully. Yours is a beautiful soul, Miss Shannan. For what it is worth, I am proud of Robert too. What an amazing your man. Please share this with him. He is inspirational and a beautiful soul as well.

    'It's not okay. It's not enough. We're all out of excuses, now." -- truer words have not been written.

  4. Nope, won't ever get tired of you sharing your pride!!! I am in awe of just how much real Love can do for a person! Go Robert Go!!!! & kudos to you and Cory as well, for taking those brave steps, for shedding light on the dark places and for giving us the courage to do the same!!

  5. You are truly making a difference sharing your story, your reality, with us. My heart is challenged often by your words. Assuming is a dangerous game isn't it?

  6. Amen to all of the above- never tire of hearing about how Robert is growing into the amazing man he will be- and your gentle and not so gentle reminders of what a mess we make when we assume the back story!!

  7. Way to go, Robert! I'm rooting for you! And, Amen to everything you said Shannon. Keep preaching, sister!

  8. Good, good stuff! All over!

  9. You amaze more each time your words reach out and shake my world. Your boots are well worn from walkng the walk

  10. This is my first visit to your blog. I tend to visit d├ęcor blogs and then discover what their favorite blogs are, click into them, and then find out what their favorite blogs are and visit those. I am now 10 blogs deep into my little adventure. So glad I found yours. You are so well written, so full of wisdom. I wish I was your best friend and could meet you for coffee, hoping some of you rubbed off, just a little, onto me. :-0) I will visiting again soon.

  11. PLEASE keep sharing. :) You speak my language. Keep being bold with your pure love.

  12. As a girl raised in the DEEP south, I know just what you're talking about. I never got it. Never understood why there was a difference because of skin color. I was raised in a family where black was a color of 'the help'. God had different plans for me I guess and I was given different 'eyes'. I grew up to discover my soulmate was, get this, a latino. Whoa right? God gave us four of the most awesome mixed race littles ever! I have always made sure that they know exactly who they are and that some folks may see them differently because of their heritage. It's ridiculous being a white mom and having to explain that ridiculousness to a child, but they need to know it. God's light is brighter than man's foolishness, and because of people like you, that light will continue to grow and spread! Thanks Shanan.

  13. These words caused big salty tears to stream down my face, Shannan. Praising God for the many different forms of love you & Cory show Robert. So glad his life now has a fan club. Don't we all need one?!

    1. Girl, YES. We all need one!
      It makes all the difference.

  14. I am so thankful that you share these stories with us. Through my work in residential treatment/education, I have been honored to know many teens and young adults whose stories are similar to Robert's - amazing kids who have been worn down to the point of needing to focus on survival by any means - and hope for each of them that they find love, guidance and support like you provide for him. They are marginalized in so many ways in the communities that belong to all of us. Thank you for shining a light with your perspective.

  15. Such good news for Robert! Way to stay on course! And your statistics are damning. I lisrened to a This American Life podcast (Is This Working?) with the same message anout differential treatment based on color. Kids of color were MUCH more likely to be suspended from school - for an offense that would not have sent an anglo student home. Not cool!

    1. The truth is so heartbreaking. I think that's why we're so quick to plug our ears, you know? Because once we really hear it, we're obligated to become part of the solution. I'll have to listen to that podcast. Sounds right up my alley!

  16. Congrats to Robert on the job!!

    You speak to something I've been thinking much about over the last few weeks. The following quote spoke to me and mirrors your words perfectly.

    "To let go of judgment...means that you recognize their behavior as a form of conditioning, and you see it and accept it as that. You don't construct an identity out of it for that person." Eckhart Tolle

  17. I love this post and find myself wishing I could meet Robert, he sounds like such a wonderful person. Thanks for diving into these issues, I'm so challenged to think through this stuff. I hate how we're told one thing all over the media when the reality is so much different. I've seen God working in my heart in recent years as he brings me friends who I had seriously checked off my list of "people I could never be friends with." It's like He's laughing in my face when I make judgements, and then before I know it they are my dearest friends. Judgment is such a sneaky little beast that sometimes creeps up without ever being invited and then you don't even realize it at first. So I'm thankful the Lord is showing me my heart when I judge and assume things without ever even having a conversation with someone. It's so humbling! Thanks so much for sharing.

  18. I am saying this from a place of deep respect and God's love: I admire you. I admire your son even more. Blessings to you both.

  19. I'm about ready to make "Robert PROUD" tshirts over here.

    1. I read this to Robert last night!
      He's so wigged out by me and my lady friends. ;)

  20. man.
    sat here for a second trying to compose my thoughts & then i saw kimberlee's post ahead of mine & i laughed outlaid. robert proud. i want one. no for real.

  21. I vote for Robert!! I want to be on his side. He is a good kid and I hope happiness knocks on his door and he can find his way out of "life of hard knocks". I hope he remembers and comes back to help overs!!

  22. Hi Shannon, I am not sure how I stumbled onto your blog, it's really not the type that I seek out. But truth be told I have you now in my favourites. I look forward to each and every thing you write. Your insight, love of family and Jesus inspires me. I read and sometimes reread so I make sure I get the full meaning about your given topic. Sometimes it's easy for me sometimes you force me to think a bit harder. And for that I am thankful.

  23. I read this post the same day I watched the documentary G-Dog (from Tattoos on the Heart) and this quote stuck out to me. I scribbled it down and then googled it for the right wording- “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

    Celebratory & heartsick. Learning lots from my own teacher over here who is ever so gracious to me as my eyes are being opened and I'm seeing more than just my world.

  24. Thank you for using your gift of writing to teach others of God's love. I enjoy reading your stories and the way you show compassion for your son. I am reminded of the Ghandi quote- Be the change you want to see in the world. May you keep inspiring us all to change our thinking and may your stories be an example of steps we can take to make the world better.