Voice of the Nations – One of Shiloh’s Gang — Chris

by Karyn Alexander
May 2010

One of Shiloh’s Gang — Chris

Can his strike-out life find the bridge to a comeback?

An interview with a bridge guy:

Chris was raised in the Cincinnati area where he attended and graduated from Northwest High School. He was an average student who excelled as a pitcher on the baseball team. Chris’ future was bright, as he planned for college and a possible baseball career.

Chris is built like an athlete, stocky and strong. A good-looking man, Chris is articulate and energetic. He was raised in a Christian home, where God and morals were taught. It appeared that nothing could fail for this young man. Far from his mind was the life he had not planned for, a life where striking out is real, and running the bases of the legal system did not give you points, but took away years of your life.

Even with all his potential, nothing could keep Chris from what lay ahead. The future road he would walk seemed predestined and out of his control. The talent he was born with could not contend with the hidden generational family patterns that now directed his path. The conflict and pain won over his dreams and desires.

Now an ex-con, Chris’ life is one of chaos and regret.

His life began in a normal way, or so he thought. His parents did not live together, so as a young child he knew only a mother in the home.

Eventually, his mother married, bringing a stepfather and turmoil to his life. The remarriage was the catalyst for Chris’ strike-out. Living with daily abuse from his new father, Chris’ hopes and dreams were dashed with constant negative reinforcement and the devastating physical blows. The beatings took Chris to a place of anger and resentment.

As I sat and talked with him, he seemed like any other guy, bright and cheery. Just below the surface, though, lay deep pain and hurt. He was open with me, desiring to tell his story, hoping to keep someone else from this fate.

I asked Chris if he had sought help from God during that painful time in his life. Having been a believer, it would seem natural to ask. His answer was sad as he explained, “I gave up on it.” I asked what he meant. He said that time and time again he would ask God, “Can you help me out?” Again, I asked why he gave up on it (God), and he said, “I got no help.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, because we all know there is so much child abuse in our world today and there is no logical answer for God not stopping it. I could not make an excuse for God not showing up, so I said nothing. We know free will plays into all situations, but comprehending child abuse as a victim of free will is hard to stomach. It would seem more humane if children were given a free pass from this natural and theological law. I am not God, so cannot make the rules.

During the painful teen years of beatings, Chris began making friends with kids who were not on the baseball team. In the end, they were not really friends at all, just acquaintances who were moving toward a dead end. It was one marked night in Chris’ mind that made the difference between success and failure in his life. The boys were joy-riding and somehow wound up in a place they shouldn’t have been.

Arrested, he along with others wound up in the DYS (youth detention center), in Columbus, Ohio. This stunt took away all potential for a college education and baseball career. Having no confidence or hope, Chris’ life began to spiral from one destructive thing to another.

During his early twenties, Chris became the father of three little girls and a son. Chris also spent time as a house painter as he tried to recoup on the loss of his dreams. He continued to live with his mother on and off, as she was single again and needed help. Chris became an antagonist to women, giving as much grief as he got, and described himself as cocky. As much as he tried to normalize his life, it gradually spun more and more out of control. Chris’ anger seemed to be the driver in the game of life.

I asked Chris what crime eventually landed him in jail as an adult. His answer was, “Fourteen different charges ranging from fighting, issues with women, marijuana, street tickets, and disorderly conduct; nothing horrible, just a lot of things that led up to one large case.”

What advice might he have for kids today? “Stay out of jail. Find positive people to be around. Carry on as a productive person, and move your feet.”

I asked, “What was the CDC (Cincinnati Detention Center) like?”

“Hell.”

“Why do you say that?”

“There were 40 men to a pod, nothing but a flat mat and a sheet to sleep with, and no work.”

“So you were bored?”

“Yes, I took classes but didn’t need them. I didn’t want to break down anyone else’s confidence so I tried hard to do what was expected.”

“What kind of classes did you attend?”

“Alcohol and drug rehab. There were lots of drugs in the CDC.”

“Not to seem naïve, but that doesn’t make sense. Tell me what you mean.”

“It’s not a clean place.”

“Do you mean dirty, like dirt, or crime riddled?”

“Both. It is filthy dirty, not humane.”

Chris smiled widely to show me his two front teeth missing. I asked what happened. He said, “It happened in the holding tank. The guards are all crooked.”

I asked how that could be. His response was, “If you are cocky, they are too. We deal with their shit. When they are having a bad day, they make ours hell. What they don’t realize is we are already in hell.”

I felt defensive for Chris, but also know a corrections officer who can tell the other side of the story. Smashing someone’s teeth out seemed pretty harsh, and seemed to be a continuation of the abuse he suffered not long ago as a boy. It made me want to help Chris. It made my heart break for so many kids who are now adults and lead lives that turned out so poorly because of bad decisions based on abuse. It was upsetting to see first hand, Chris and others who had suffered and come to this end.

Sitting in the restaurant now, I was curious how Chris originally met Dave, (also known as Shiloh). Dave was responsible for bringing Chris to the restaurant that day. He brought Chris to the interview along with the other members of the bridge gang (something I call the homeless men who live under the Cincinnati bridge who follow Dave).

It was a nice sunny Saturday, and just another day for the couples and families eating in the chili parlor near us. For the men in Dave’s group, it was a special time to be taken out to eat; something very different from their meager meals under the bridge. Chris ate heartily and even apologized for his lack of manners. He said, “We don’t get a meal like this too often.”

Dave is a man who takes his Saturdays to find and help those living under the bridges in Cincinnati. He brings the good news of Christ to the men with a free meal and a friendly card game. Chris was one of those men under the bridge that day and had just been released from his jail sentence. Thankfully, he had come to know Dave, a good man who was trustworthy.

I wondered what Chris’s impression of Dave was, so I asked. Chris answered, “Dave is a good man. He has good vibes, a positive attitude. I like to get insight from somebody.”

Being a spiritual man, Dave imparts the plan of God to the men under the bridge. I asked Chris if anything Dave said has helped in anyway. His response was interesting. He said, “I am thinking about taking the ride again [with God].”

That made me smile.

I asked if he was mad at God. He said he was, but he rolled his head back and forth with a mixed up, questioning head nod.  “I don’t blame him for nothing. I don’t down Him, but why would He let me fail?”

I could not answer.

As we sat and continued our talk, I took a box of chocolates out of my purse. It was near Valentine’s Day when we met, so I brought Chris a gift. He sat up in shock, smiled and threw his head back in pleasure. I think it had been a long time since Chris had been given a gift. I told him they were good chocolates, so I hoped he would enjoy them.

Chris’ eyes lit up as he reached across the table. He took my hand very gently and raised it to his lips. He kissed the back of my hand as if to say, you respected me, and I respect you too. He was a true gentleman, a man with much love in his heart.

I wondered what had happened to his children.

Chris said he sees his girls occasionally and feels he has a reasonable relationship with them. He explained the heartbreak that came with his son, though. Chris moved to an intentional position in the booth and made a large gesture for me to see. He held his arms in a cradled position as he recounted the untimely and early death of his son. He simply said, “He died in my arms.”

I know you want me to end this story well, but it hasn’t ended and is not really going well.

Chris is back on the street again and does not have a clue about how to restart the game of life. In fact, he was shocked when I asked what his future held. He could not answer and then said, “I just live. I don’t try to start nothing, but I won’t back down either.” It seemed like a reasonable plan, but I was looking for a deeper more meaningful set of life goals.

I drew a three-tiered chart for Chris. I asked if he could make a plan. He looked dumbfounded. No one had ever asked before.

I drew the number 1 in the first tier and asked what he would like to happen in the next year. He said he would like to seek help to feel better. He wanted a job, a home and some new teeth. He asked if it was possible to find inner peace.

I drew the number 5 in the next tier, representing a five year goal. He said he would like to “feel” again. He would like to see his kids, have a good woman and have the things he needed.

I drew a 10 in the next tier. He looked at me blankly and said nothing. I asked if he could think of anything for a ten year plan. He said, “I will be dead.”

I asked why. He said, “I am tired. This life has taken it out of me.” Chris is 37-years old.

How can this happen? What is the moral of this story?

A young man, who started so well in America, comes to a point where life has beaten him so badly that he cannot see a future beyond five years. Can we say, life is hard and then you die? Don’t beat your kids! There is no cosmic justice? You make your bed, and then you lie in it?

What?

I think the ending is yet to come. I really believe Chris’s prayer is now being answered, though. He prayed to God, “Can you help me out?”  There is a song written by Dolly Parton that comes to mind when I think of Chris’s prayer. Here are some of the lyrics:

“I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows
And I believe that somewhere in the darkest night a candle glows
I believe for everyone who goes astray
Someone will come to show the way
Yes I believe, oh I believe.”

I, too, believe these things. I don’t want to pretend I know the “Why’s” of Chris’ life and its troubles, but I do know that God sent Shiloh, Shiloh sent me, and I believe He sends you, too.

Together, we can help Chris and others like him to get back into a productive life. I asked Chris again about the third tier in my goal chart for him. I suggested that the 10-year plan be a time where he gives back to someone like himself. He smile and nodded. “Yes, that would be great.”

As we left the chili parlor, Chris hugged me with a giant bear hug. He kissed my forehead in a sweet way and said he felt encouraged. I felt loved and encouraged too. I felt part of a cycle of God’s hand to restore and bring hope, one to another. After all that had happened to Chris, his heart was so willing to give and love. He was reaching out to me.

Like Chris, we should all be thinking about “taking the ride again” (with God). We need to consider getting back on the playing field of life even if we have failed. Maybe we are not the pitcher this time, but outfielder or even the catcher…of those who fall.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

 

Be blessed.
Be a blessing,
Karyn Alexander
Executive Director, Winfield House

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way bringing love and hope to God’s people.

Voice of the Nations: Rev. 5.9 “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe, people, language and nation.”

To help, write: KarynBAlexander@aol.com
Winfieldhouse.org

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