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Posts Tagged ‘crime’

David Flanagan

Herald op/ed page several years ago

Not long ago I read a newspaper account about several of my boyhood friends from Charlestown who were sentenced to life in prison on charges that include murder and armed robbery. Anyone else reading the story might have thought about it a bit then perhaps moved on to the sports pages. But I put the paper down, closed my eyes and drifted back to a simpler time many years ago, when all that my friends and I could think about was how to best spend a lazy summer day.

Looking back, I see a group of teenagers playing cards on the cold, dirty, concrete steps at 17 Carney Court, one of dozens of red brick buildings in the 1,000 unit Bunker Hill housing projects. In the background, that quintessential 60’s song “Light My Fire” blasts from a transistor radio.

As our interest in the card game wanes, our thoughts turn toward whether to play a game of pickup baseball, ride our bikes or head to the nearby Mystic River for a swim. In many ways we were no different from kids beyond the project walls, yet at the same time we were worlds apart.

I see a group of kids dependent upon welfare: living in homes without role models: with visible and not-so-obvious alcohol or drug abuse. Some of these children went to bed each night never knowing what they would wake up to the next morning and praying that the next day would be better than the last.

I wonder about my old friends, about what they have been up to for the past 35 years and whether they are truly guilty of the crimes. I’m flooded with emotions about our childhood, growing up in the projects and the tragedy of living day to day in an environment that offered little hope of fulfilling dreams and goals.

Project kids often do not have access to employment and educational opportunities, family vacations or a night out at a first class restaurant. Nor do they have perfectly manicured lawns, little white picket fences, fine clothes, privacy or even a cellar for saving cherished memorabilia. The often forgotten and maligned project kids sometimes have to step over drunks and drug addicts and wade through human and animal waste to get into their apartments.

These kids must learn how to endure the sneers and taunts of those living outside the projects, and how to smile cheerfully while silently seething when someone calls them a “project rat” and tells their children to stay away from “them”. Kids from the projects must learn to distinguish the echo made when a 38 caliber is fired from the sound of fireworks and to look the other way when they see something they shouldn’t have seen. Above all project kids must strive to never, ever lower their eyes and stare at the ground in shame when asked where they live.

I can’t help but wonder about what effect the unique, personal challenges each of my friends faced as kids may have had on their ability to “make it” and prosper within society. Each of us knew what the others were going through we just chose to remain silent about it, hoping that by maintaining our “Code of Silence” things would get better but they never did. Regrettably, many of these kids did indeed live “lives of quiet desperation”.

Then it seemed as though hardly a month passed by without hearing about the death of one of our friends succumbing to the thrust of a knife, a flash from a gun or the ravages of drugs. The helpless and often terrifying feeling of never knowing who might be next or whether the madness would ever end. Wakes and funerals packed with grieving friends and heartbroken family members numbed by the senseless passing of children far before their time.

Normally, I am cynical toward those who seek to blame an individual’s antisocial behavior on his socioeconomic background, parents, or self-esteem. However, deep within me I know that a number of my friends would not have been murdered or incarcerated, and wouldn’t have committed crimes or abused drugs if they had been exposed to a bit more compassion, hope or opportunity as youngsters.

A lack of opportunity or hope is by no means an excuse to commit a crime or to hurt another, but I suppose it is possible that those without either may fall victim to external influences and temptations at a greater rate. Returning to the present, opening my eyes, I thought, “There but for the grace of God, go I” before I turned my attention to the sports pages.

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