Some Things Aren't Easy to Understand!

I'm troubled! Some things aren't easy to understand....

This is a little rant, because I just ...
... don't get it! 

Working with the homeless, it is inevitable that I'll see many highs and lows. In the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed plenty of both: The positives being all the wonderful movement that's been happening recently (Exodus) and one extremely negative incident was the tragic murder of one of our homeless men recently.

What is troubling me today is what happened to Devonte*. As I have written many times before, homeless men are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime, than the offender. A couple night's ago, Devonte became another victim!

Devonte sleeps outside where a fairly large number of homeless men and women lay their weary bones. This is a place where they all know each other. It's a place where they hope and pray they won't become a victim to some random cowardly thugs who want to bully some homeless dudes. It's a place where a little homeless community exists at night, and they watch "each others back".

These men and women were settling down in their own little squashed areas, surrounded by all their worldly belongings tucked into secure spots. A youngish skinny Asian man (Phuong*) has resided there for a couple years. Various people have come and gone, but Phuong has been a solid fixture at this location. He was there in July's extreme heat and January's record breaking blizzard. Phuong is quiet, peaceful and keeps to himself. 

This particular night, Phuong was already sleeping when this bigger guy (Henry*) comes along and wakes him up because he wants to use his lighter. He doesn't know where it is and tells him he can't be bothered looking, so he shuts his eyes and falls back to sleep. Henry is infuriated at this seemingly harmless action, so he throws a cup of water on the sleeping Phuong and tries to instigate a fight, getting more and more intense. The surrounding group start getting worried, because they know Phuong doesn't have the strength to defend himself against Henry the "fighter", who is a lot bigger and stronger. 

In the tension and craziness of this moment, that shouldn't have escalated this far, Henry reveals a "box-cutter" he has in his pocket.

That's when Devonte steps up to protect his buddy, and pushes Henry away. Within a few short minutes, that box-cutter had done some serious damage. One slice to his forearm, another into his chest, two facial lacerations which went around his cheeks down to his upper lip and a four inch slash across his throat. The police and ambulance come and take away the offender and the victim to their new destinations. This group of homeless men and women are surrounded by smatterings of blood. Once again, they try to fall asleep in the unrest of all this drama.

This is what is difficult to understand; Henry got out of jail before Devonte was released from the ICU. Henry was charged with a simple battery and given an I-bond. For some reason, he was free to go, he was free to roam wherever he wanted. Devonte called me on Monday from the hospital, and it becomes obvious that I need to get him into Cornerstone; a location that is both safe and hygienic, so his wounds can heal. When I see him, I can't believe how stitched up and scarred this poor man is!

Sadly, the drama doesn't end there; last night (Tuesday), around 3am, Henry returns to their sleeping location yielding a baseball bat. It was reported that earlier in the day, Henry was chilling around Wrigley Field and told another homeless man that he was going to go back and "bust some heads". This guy did his best to "promote the peace", but Henry was determined to continue his reign of violent anger. Thankfully, no one was hurt last night and the police took a cuffed Henry away in their squad car
..... again. 

This is my dilemma, or more importantly, the dilemma of the sleeping homeless community who witnessed and heard about this violent act of brutality. The questions are racking up! Why was this man only charged with just a "simple battery", and not "aggravated battery" or "attempted murder"? Simple battery is a charge that occurs if someone pushes, punches or slaps another person, not slices up another man's face! One is a misdemeanor and the other two are felonies. Even though there were a bunch of witnesses, why were none of them questioned? Believe me; they wanted to be. Are homeless people not seen as reliable witnesses? Is a cut up homeless man not worthy enough to justify a thorough investigation? Why was he released, still full of violent rage, given the opportunity to return to finish what he had started? What did they charge him when they arrested him this second time?

These questions lead to a host of other questions; homeless people rotate in and out of jails and prisons at a rapid pace, but it is rarely for an act of violence. It is usually for non-violent misdemeanors like "drinking alcohol on a public way", "public urination" and "selling cigarettes", or felonies like "possession of a controlled substance", "theft" and a variety of other non-violent offenses. Getting caught doing these things can result in spending a few hours in jail or multiple years incarcerated in a prison. Let's be real: their rap sheets end up looking atrocious, because some of the homeless are doing these illegal things publicly on the street, yet people with homes continually do the same offenses inside; outta sight and outta mind!

In trying to sum up the confusion that sits in my mind, I know I have no power to change the law; I am but a simple fool, trying to make sense out of all this nonsense. It is extremely hard to comprehend why one man, with murderous intentions, is allowed to freely hit the streets after spending a night in jail, while other men I know are spending months, and sometimes years, incarcerated for simply possessing an illegal mind-altering substance. Devonte, himself, recently spent about a month in jail because he had marijuana in his pocket. Domestic violence, child abuse and aggravated battery; I've seen it all. I've been horrified by it. The offender is normally released within 21 days and maybe given probation, while a non-violent drug offender often gets sent downstate to the penitentiary and then has to spend at least a year on parole; now does that make sense at all? It doesn't to me.

It drives me crazy, knowing I can't change the system. It drives me crazy, when other westernized countries hold the US prison system in high esteem, because they're "tough on crime". It drives me crazy, because I see the people I know and love rotating in and out of cages. It drives me crazy, because the system works against the poor and minorities. It just drives me crazy and that is why I'm writing this rant!

I admit, I don't have the answers. We're working against and living in a system that is too big, too powerful and too money orientated to truly care about justice, the poor and the homeless. Yet, I believe in a God who is bigger, more powerful and richer than the US prison industry. He is God, the One who deeply cares about justice, the poor and the homeless. I believe in Jesus, who freely sacrificed all his power and became weak, will eventually put all wrongs to right and proclaimed that his kingdom is for the poor and those who mourn (Matthew 5). I believe, despite all the powers working against the Kingdom of God, we need to love, have mercy and forgive the way Jesus demonstrated. 

When I see Phuong; I need to love him by still trying to help him get housed. When I see Devonte; I need to love him by giving him a safe place to recover. When or If I see Henry; I need to love him also, by forgiving him and trying to help him live a peaceful life. I need to love them all by trying to make sure that violence does not beget violence, and letting forgiveness, love and mercy reign. That is the power of the Cross and something I've witnessed and learned frequently from homeless folk; that despite all the horrible atrocities they've received, there is remarkable power in love, mercy and forgiveness.

* not their real names
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