On Sunday at the afternoon church services, I spoke briefly about what had happened at Virginia Tech the past Monday. The men in the Receiving Units, just coming in from county or waiting to be transferred to another, major institution, do not have access to television. The radio stations that play in the units rarely have news. If they get to the gym and the front page of the newspaper is posted, they might get a little news.
Most hadn't heard about Virginia Tech.
But that mention launched us into Waco and Oklahoma City and Columbine and why things seem to happen this week in April.
And then I noticed the young man in the back of the small classroom. "I was there in Moses Lake," he said. Moses Lake is in Eastern Washington and nine years ago, a young teenager named Barry Loukaitis brought a gun to school and opened fire in his middle school classroom. Steve told us about seeing his classmates get shot and die, and the wife of the principal--a teacher.
I looked at his face. He still looks young, even though he's 24 now. I wondered if that day in Moses Lake was part of the reason he was here in prison. I don't know.
He told us about the boy with the gun. "He was a retard. Not all there. Kids picked on him all the time. Locked him in his locker. Strung him up on the flagpole."
And I'm thinking, "And we wonder why kids go off the deep end and do something like shoot up the classroom?"
A couple of years ago, a young man came to my office to talk. He was having a hard time with prison--he was young too. In the middle of his story-telling came a revelation: he'd lived on the Red Lake Indian reservation in Minnesota and lost several relatives in the school shooting there.
I'm speechless in the face of these stories. I can only listen, take in the words, be a companion who will bear the burden of the story.
I hate to think that the shortest distance between two stories may be a gunshot.