September 30, 2021
A desperate woman comes into a police station with her 15-year-old son and says she wants to hand him in. The officers did not know what to do because they had never been in such a weird situation.
The police officers on duty that night at a Newark police station were stunned when a harried-looking woman in her late thirties walked in, literally dragging a scruffy teen by the arm.
"Let go..." the kid who looked about 14 whined, tugging at the woman's arm, but she dragged him right up to the sergeant's desk.
"Officer," she said in a trembling voice. "You have to help me. I can't keep him anymore, please, you have to take him."
The sergeant's mouth hung open. After twenty years on the force, he believed he'd heard everything, but this was a first. "Ma'am," he said, "I don't understand."
"My son," the woman said with tears in her eyes, "I can't have in my house anymore. Please, you have to take him."
"Ma'am," the sergeant protested, "we can only 'take' people who've committed crimes."
"He's going to," the woman cried desperately. "Can't you see that?" The boy who'd been listening to his mother with a sneer on his face laughed.
"You're such a loser," he said. "They can't do ANYTHING to me! I'm a minor."
"He's been stealing," said the mother. "I know that, and this afternoon... He pulled out a knife!"
"A knife?" asked the sergeant. "What kind of a knife?"
"A big knife, my husband's K-Bar," the mother explained. "I told him to clean his room, and he took out the knife."
"I didn't do nothing!" the kid sneered. "I didn't threaten her, I just showed her what I had in my jacket pocket!"
The sergeant nodded. "That's different, Ma'am," he said crisply. "That's carrying a concealed weapon, and THAT'S a crime." Before long, the desperate mother, Mary Trenton, was sitting with a police officer, telling her story.
Sometimes grief and anger can make us act out and hurt those around us.
"My husband passed away a year ago. He was a Marine," she explained. "And that's when Donny started acting up. He started staying out late, hanging out with some older boys.
"Then he started skipping school. I found some expensive things in his room, things we could never afford and he said a friend gave it to him." Mary was crying. "I didn't know what to do!"
"I tried a curfew, but he just ignored it. This morning he pulled out that knife. My daughter Rita is just eight and she was frightened." Mary cried, "He was such a sweet boy, but now I don't know what to do! I have to work two jobs now, and I know he probably needs me there more, I know he's in pain, but I can't handle it!"
The police officer listened to what Mary had to say. "I have an idea," he said. Then he got up and made a phone call. Two hours later, a belligerent-looking Donny was sitting opposite the officer and a man who identified himself as a social worker.
"Now Donny," said the officer calmly. "We've been talking to your mother, and we have a proposition for you."
"Oh yeah?" asked Donny, leaning back and crossing his arms. "And what's that?"
"Well, Donny," said the officer smoothly. "We can charge you with carrying a concealed weapon and you go to juvie, or you do six months community service."
"What?" gasped Donny. "You're nuts!"
"What I was thinking," interrupted the social worker, "is that you'd work at a children's group shelter every day after school, help the smaller kids with homework, with their chores, whatever they need."
"No way!" cried Donny. "That's when I hang out with my friends!"
"Not anymore," said the police officer. "Now you hang out with the kiddies, and then you go home to your mother and sister and you treat them right."
"You can't MAKE me!" cried Donny, and he didn't sound so mean and streetwise anymore. "You couldn't do that if my dad was alive!"
"I know you're hurting, Donny," said the social worker gently. "But maybe helping others will help you too."
The next day, Donny was at the shelter. The kids were so small! Most of them were eight or nine, and the smallest was just six. The littlest kid, Ben, didn't talk. He mostly sat in corners and watched everyone around him with frightened eyes.
"What's wrong with him?" Donny asked one of the women who worked at the shelter.
The woman shook her head sadly. "Ben's father died and he has learned that the world is cruel. He's afraid of everything. We've tried, but we can't get through to him. Not yet."
Donny started watching Ben, and one afternoon he brought him a little fire engine. "Hey," he said casually, "I thought you might like this." Ben took the fire engine and looked up at Donny suspiciously.
"It's OK," Donny said. "You can have it. My dad gave it to me. Did I tell you I used to be really scared of the dark? My dad said that the truck was magic and I guess it was, 'cause I'm not scared anymore."
Ben turned the bright little fire truck over in his tiny fingers, then he looked up at Donny again, but he didn't say a word. Every afternoon Donny would talk to Ben, telling him stories about his childhood, about fishing with his dad, all the things they did together.
Ben never said anything but he listened. One day he spoke. "Where's your daddy?" he asked Donny in a soft voice.
Donny swallowed a lump in his throat. "My daddy was a soldier, a Marine. He's gone to heaven."
"My daddy too," Ben said. "He didn't want me. Didn't your daddy want you either?"
Donny put his arms around Ben and hugged him. "Yes he did, Ben, he wanted me and my mom and my sister and he loved us. But sometimes a daddy has to go even though they don't want to and we need them."
"He's never coming back," Ben whispered. "I heard them say. Never ever."
"Ben," Donny choked, "our daddies can't come back, but they can see us, you know."
"They can?" asked Ben. "Really?"
"Yes, really," Donny said firmly. "Even if we can't see them, they watch out for us. My mom told me."
"You're lucky," Ben said. "You still have a mommy..."
That night Donny went home and hugged his mother. He couldn't believe how badly he'd been behaving. Little Ben's plight had made him realize how lucky he was. He spoke to the manager of the shelter, then to his mom, and he took Ben home for Sunday lunch.
Once his 'community service' stint at the shelter was through, Donny found himself an afternoon job at a local store so he could help his mother, and every other day he visited Ben.
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