Those are the faces of a middle school child. A kid who had friends and played basketball and watched cartoons. A kid who maybe thought he'd grow up to be something - an athlete, an astronaut, a teacher. Anything but a murderer. Or maybe, judging from what his former classmates recall, he never thought that much of himself. But I'm sure that age the age of 13, he never imagined he would become a heroin addict, a thief, a killer.
note: Sitting here thinking about this, I realize I wrote something on this very subject a couple of years ago, so I'm editing pieces of that within this.
I sit at my desk each work day and watch the parade of prisoners that are brought past my office. Some are in orange jump suits, feet shackled. There are men and women both, some well-dressed in business suits and dresses, some unkempt and reeking of alcohol. They all have their arms behind them, their wrists bound together in cuffs.
They were children once. They were babies who smiled and toddlers who giggled. What does a parent think as they appear in court to bail out that child? What does a parent think when they turn on the news and see their son or daughter's face in mug shot form with the words "wanted" underneath it?
I look at the tv and try to imagine killers and terrorists as babies. I see the drug addicts and petty thieves march into the courtroom every day and I try to imagine them learning how to ride a bike, their fathers holding tight to their arms so they don't fall.
No, not everyone has that. Maybe this guy in Newsday today didn't have a father, didn't have a mother who doted on him. But she sent him to school, she fed him, clothed him, did she do everything but love him? I wonder how someone can look into the eyes of child - their own child - and not care enough about what happens next, what happens to him down the road when that lack of love or safety or stability comes back to haunt him.
I think of mothers in other countries, mothers who praise their god when their son dies in a suicide bombing because he was able to kill many "enemies." I think of fathers who train their children in the use of explosives, parents who dress their children in weaponry and ammunition, parents right here in my own town that teach their children to hate others that don't look like them or talk like them or worship the same way, fathers that school their sons in how to make a fist and use that fist for power, mothers that don't bother to look at a kid's report card or show up for his baseball game or make it seem like she cares even the slightest bit.
I don't know what it's like to have a policeman knock on your door in the middle of the night to say your son has been arrested for manslaughter. I don't know what it's like to have your daughter call you from a payphone in the city, asking you for help in getting away from her pimp. I don't want to know.
All the things that happen between infancy and young adulthood, all the things that create your path and direction and lead to your future, they are not at all controllable. We can only do our part to give my children the values and morals they need to become decent adults. But we have no control over the outside world. We have no control over the influences of people they meet outside our homes, the affect the events of the chaotic world around them have on their psyche.
I just know I feel for every mother or father who has had to watch their child become something less than human. I feel for the parents who did all they could but lost their children to evil in the end. And I feel anger towards parents contributed to the downward spiral of their child's life, so when their baby picture ends up on page two of the newspaper, no one is really surprised because they remember the kind of house that kid grew up in.
In the end, the ultimate responsibility for a person's behavior lies with themselves. But you can bet that the parent of nearly every serial killer, every mass murderer, every shoplifter or hooker or societal drop-out has said to themselves at one point Where did I go wrong? How did my child go from that laughing infant to the man I see on tv in handcuffs?
That is, every parent save for the ones who bring their children up to hate and fight and kill. Or the ones how bring their children up without ever showing them how to love and respect and care.
Look at those photos. Look at that kid's face. He was a 12 year old once, like my son. Maybe like yours. It's frightening to think that maybe there's a boy or girl in your child's class who is a future murderer. Maybe there's a kid who is just one year away from a nasty drug habit or two years away from a life of prostitution.
I try to do everything I can to make sure my children grow up to be good people. That's all I want. I don't care if they become president of the United States or the person in charge of bringing the carts in from the supermarket parking lot. I just want them to be good, honest, caring people. Maybe this kid's mother didn't do enough for her son, but there are plenty of mothers and fathers who show up in court every day to bail out their grown children and wonder where the hell they went wrong, because they gave their children love and guidance. It's a crap shoot, sometimes. The older they get, the less control you have over who they say, where they go, what they do in their spare time. You can lay the groundwork, but all it takes is one time of veering off that path for it all to go haywire. It's up to us as parents to make sure that the groundwork we did lay down is enough so that our kids recognize when the path is wrong and they make an immediate U-turn. Not just because they are our children and we want what's best for them, but also because that is our debt to society, to make sure our kids are viable members of it.
It saddens me when I think that every child starts out with the chance to be good and sometimes that goodness is taken away by the very people who are supposed to nurture it. And it's just as sad to think of all the parents who did nurture that goodness, but somehow it just didn't matter. No one wants to see their child's middle school picture plastered across the front page of the paper with the word "killer" underneath it. Hell, you don't want to see that happen to anyone, because it's just a reminder of how easily it could all go wrong.
Teach your children well.