Had the most interesting conversation of my life yesterday with a man who is the boyfriend of a woman who owns a massage boutique in town where I've been working out of. The shop is running a massage special and I went in just in case anyone wanted to get a massage. The man I talked to came to assist in making the place seem open to any passersby.
Pete, his name, told me how he'd worked as a social worker back when the Pruitt-Igoe projects were still around here in St. Louis, a location a few minutes from our house. Check out this trailer of a great documentary Matt and I watched on the rise and fall of the Pruitt-Igoe housing developments:
Pete's background is in breaking horses, which was helpful in the work he did as a social worker with some of the inner city kids of St. Louis. These kids were the government throwaways. The ones that kept breaking out of institutions. The ones destined for juvenile then adult prison.
The half-way house Pete worked at in his 20's was founded by a Jewish Christian woman from Germany who survived the Holocaust as a child. She studied psychology under Sigmund Freud. When she came to the United States she visited some of the state institutions where delinquents were kept. She later told Pete, "I saw the same look in their eyes that I saw in the camps: hopelessness." After this experience she knew exactly what she would do. Her home for troubled kids was unique. There were no locks on the doors or windows and each child was pursued and nurtured. Relationships were built and the children were taught Christian truths.
The home had a school where the kids were actually encouraged to carry knives to protect themselves. These were not the little Swiss Army pocket-types. Think Crocodile Dundee. Life for these kids in the big city was no joke. Violence and fighting to stay alive was an everyday reality.
"Jerome" came to live at the house with Pete. Jerome was a 300-pound kid who could have eaten a dozen eggs for breakfast if you let him. He had a volatile temper and he often flew into a rage when he didn't get his way. When he got tired of the rules he'd leave the home and wander back to the broken-down and law-forsaken projects at Pruitt-Igoe, only to be back again, days or weeks later after he'd tired of scrounging for food. Jerome's past was tough to hear about. Before the age of 8 he'd killed two people, though out of self-defense. He was fierce and his time on the street made him a force to be reckoned with. Jerome returned home, hot and sweaty, and took a shower. He became very angry after he learned that his clothes had been taken (Jerome was terrified to show his body in front of others) from him (a trick by Pete and his co-workers to teach him a lesson and keep him at the house). He threw a tantrum, and Pete jumped on his back, as he was used to doing with so many of the kids (he says that every day he wrestled a broken bottle or knife out of someone's hand) and helped to control Jerome's flailing. A very large does of thorazine was given which calmed the big guy down. Three hundred books were installed in Jerome's room along with the direction to read every one of them. After sulking for a couple of weeks Jerome made it through every last book. Today Jerome is a preacher in Chicago, working with inner city kids.
Pete faults the government corruption and mismangement of funds for the breakdown of care for kids out on the streets. My question is, how will we as the church get involved? This is a serious thing to consider, and my constant prayer is, "Lord, show us the place we have in bringing social justice to the city." Kids are being thrown away, left and right and not many care. The work is hard. Mental illness is a real concern that not many of us know how to deal with. Politicians get money for every kid they institutionalize, and they want to shut down honest and meaningful efforts to affect change in these kids' lives. Human trafficking is a big business too. Matt and I are attending a church seminar on it next month. We cannot shut our eyes. What will I do? What will you do?