(Name and some details have been changed.)
I got to know Thomas when I was working as a “Probation Counselor” for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. He was 15. He had grown up in inner-city Baltimore with his mother. Thomas’ father had recently moved with him to the suburban/rural county in which I worked to get him away from the drugs and violence that surrounded him, and in which he was becoming involved.
Like most attempts at “geographical cures,” the move was less than successful. Although our county’s population was far less than Baltimore City, all the same problems were there, just on a smaller scale. Surveys showed, in fact, that the per-capita use of crack cocaine at the time in the county was actually higher than the rate in Baltimore City.
Shortly after the move, Thomas got sucked into the county’s drug culture. It wasn’t long before he was swept up into the juvenile justice system. Within a year he had been placed in a residential facility. That is where I got to know Thomas, visiting him every couple of weeks to monitor his progress in the program and to prepare for his return home.
But Thomas did not consider living with his father “home.” Home was the city and its streets. That is where he longed to return. That is where he felt at home. During one of my visits, he asked, as he always did, about going to live with his mother when he got out rather than his father’s. I pointed out that he could better prepare for his future with his father.
I might as well have been talking about preparing for a trip to Mars. “I”ll be dead before I’m 21, anyway,” he predicted. “Either that or in jail. And I’d rather be dead than in jail.”
Thomas was on my probation caseload for the next couple of years. He did eventually leave the program and live at his father’s house for a time, but for many reasons that didn’t work out. Eventually he returned to the city to live with his mother.
One day, Thomas’ father showed up unexpectedly at my office. “They found him in a ditch,” he said.
Thomas had beaten his prediction by 3 years.
Like too many children growing up in our communities, Thomas had no HOPE. He did not see a future for himself, so he lived day to-day with no real thought of what tomorrow would bring. Today was as bleak and painful as yesterday. There was no sign tomorrow would be any different, so why worry about it?
Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
How can individuals, churches, and other organizations “overflow with hope” so that it showers young people like Thomas who grow up without it? I invite you to think and pray about that.
The answers are certainly not only spiritual. We cannot neglect the most basic needs. Physical poverty is certainly a catalyst for hopelessness. Food insecurity, homelessness, and lack of access to medical care are not hope-inspiring conditions.
And the fruits of hopelessness include not just juvenile delinquency but also substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.
Our children – especially those children we don’t typically think of as “ours,” – need to share in our abundance of hope.