America prides itself on being a melting pot. The amalgamation of diverse ingredients stirred in to the pot makes a better stew. Unfortunately, most of the spoons stirring this swirling stew of ours are predominantly ethnic, or cultural. There is an entire population of people out there who never dip their spoons into the pot. As a matter of fact we’ve takes their spoons and hidden
them under the welcome mat on the front porch.
These are the people who just don’t seem to fit in because of mental, physical, or financial challenges. Oh sure, we may pray for the disadvantaged. We might toss a quarter into the bucket of a homeless person, but do we ever talk to them. Ever had a conversation with a homeless person or some one who is not quite right in the head. No – we generally expect social workers and government people to do that. We want them off the street so they don’t block the entrance to the local Starbucks where we intend to plop down five bucks for the low end of the speed spectrum buzz we need to start the day.
I met one of these left behind or left out souls standing in front of my office a few weeks ago. When he approached me my first instinct was to dismiss his words as dementia. Many people assume that homeless people, and people with mental challenges have nothing of importance to say or the intelligence to articulate it.
We’re wrong. His name is Dale. He sits on the smokers bench near the front doors of the used to be a mall but is now a corporate center waiting for public transport to whisk him to where ever he’s going. The smokers all stand by the opposite wall, while exercise enthusiasts beat their feet around the 1/4 mile structure, and employees all wait in line at the deli for their morning coffee. Dale is treated like the greeter at Wal-Mart. He says hello to everyone. Some nod in his direction, but most people don’t even notice him.
One day I paced outside inhaling nicotine into my lungs as I’m apt to do when I noticed a tiff between Dale and his social worker. Dales’ social worker frustrated him. He wanted his medication delivered the next day but she insisted he wait until they meet the following week. She left in a huff, and he stood there bewildered.
Then he approached me. I admit my initial reaction was to turn the direction of my pacing away from him, but I wasn’t fast enough.
“Did you see that? I could be dying and she won’t bring me my medication.” Then I asked him why.
A mosquito bit Dale. He’s read all the news about the virus spread by the blood sucking vermin and was convinced he’d contracted the lethal poison confusing the Nile virus with Ebola. The offending involuntary blood withdrawal occurred over a week before. I felt comfortable explaining that the untreated virus kills in only a few days, so if the bite occurred a week ago then he was safe. The gratification in his voice and demeanor was palpable as if I’d just saved his life.
A week later Dale entered my office. He asked the receptionist to find me. She did. I did not feel comfortable with him crossing this line, but he was obviously upset about something.
Dale had a court date to answer a charge of terroristic threatening. Unfortunately, he is guilty of the charge. Threatening to break someone’s knees and slit their throat is pretty serious. However, I have to think his diminished capacities will help him. Don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. Society may find yet another reason to medicate or confine him further.
Dale doesn’t understand the judicial system. When he appeared before the court to plead not guilty he thought that was the end of the matter. The court would take him at his word. Of course, it doesn’t work like that does it. He was held over for trial. “But I told the Judge I was innocent. Why do I have to go back?”
I explained to him that our judicial system was adversarial in nature. It simply isn’t good enough to say your innocent. You must also prove it. I also advised him to find a public defender. “I can’t afford a lawyer.” He didn’t know about the “if you can’t afford an attorney one will be provided for you” line in Miranda. “Why do I need one?” he asked. I explained that the other guy will have one and he needed someone on his side who will protect and defend home. The prosecutor will do everything in their power to convict you” I told him. “But I didn’t do anything I only said it” he said. “That’s why you need someone on your side.”
“But I didn’t do anything. I only said it.” He still can’t understand the fuss. I told him a joke. He laughed and appreciated the moment of escape. I explained that words are tools. They have power to inform, humor, deceive, or frighten. They provoke a reaction. The joke I told consisted of words, but they made him laugh. They provoked a reaction. I explained when you tell someone your going to break their legs and slit their throat they are only words, but they provoke a reaction – fear. “Your words made that person fearful for their life. It doesn’t matter that you never intended to follow those words with an action. That person did not know this. That person still feared you.”
I saw the light in his eyes brighten as if he finally understood.
So he’s set to go to court. He did find himself a public defender which I take as a personal victory. If he gets jail time he intends to kill himself. I’ve no idea if he’ll receive jail time, but it is possible I suppose. I told him that there were alternatives to jail: probation, fine, not guilty, guilty with extenuating circumstances, and mediation would mitigate any chance of jail time.
He felt reassured to the point I don’t think he’ll do anything before the court date.
I really feel sad for him. I’d like to believe that people have the ability to enjoy or at the least appreciate life no matter what their lot. But Dale seems like the left behind or left out segment of society whose lonely life leads them to reach out but find only trouble. No, he’s not left behind. He’s been cast aside. He’s been rejected; thrown out of this club we call society as so many others have.That’s even sadder because there’s really nowhere for him to go. At least if he was left behind he’d have a place to go; something to strive for, a reason to remind people that he’s a person too. He doesn’t.
This is why he’s so terrified of appearing before the court. There’s no faith in his fellow human beings. He ‘knows’ if he appears before a jury of his peers or a judge that they’ll reject him, and confine him to a cell. Can we really blame him? And let us not forget that the left behind and left out will sometimes not be ignored leading to tragic circumstances.
Dale and I speak frequently. I have no illusions about changing his life, but maybe I can change a moment of two. Dale is crazy, maybe. He’s misunderstood, certainly. Still, I’d like to believe that under the medication, under the dementia, and under the confusion there’s something of value there to be shared and appreciated. He feels without hope, but I don’t think he’s
Maybe I’m just an idealist. I believe everyone deserves a spoon in the pot.