It was my second year at my school in Roxbury--the not so nice area of Boston. I could tell it was a not so nice area before I knew anything about Boston because of the looks I got when I told people where I would be teaching. After a long school day (just kidding, my contract ended at 1:45!!!) I opened my desk drawer to grab my purse and go home. Funny. My purse normally weighs more than--DANG IT! Where is my phone and wallet?
Frustrated and embarrassed, I made my way down two flights of stairs to the office. Why didn't I lock my purse up? I don't know, because it's too much work to take the padlock off the closet every time I need something? The secretary urged me to get on my carrier's website to see if the culprit had made any calls. Sure enough, they had.
And sadly, I knew exactly who took my phone the minute I looked at the screen. Eight calls had been made to Taunton and one of my favorite, sweetest boys' mother lived in Taunton. We called the number to make sure it was his mom--initially she confirmed it, then denied it when asked if her son had called her. Joel (or Joely as I liked to call him) was still in the building at the after school program, so we hunted him down.
We chatted/interrogated Joel for well over an hour. The sad thing about eighth graders is that they really think that they might be able to get away with it. Joel never confessed. He eventually told us the wallet was in the boy's bathroom trash (where 3 fires had been set this year) and that maybe one of his friends used the phone to call his mom? Why would one of YOUR friends call YOUR mom, Joel? I don't know. It was sad. I was heartbroken for him--heartbroken at his hope that maybe he could still get away with it. A few dollars were missing from my wallet, presumably so he could take the bus to go see his mom. Even with the mountain of evidence against him, he wouldn't fess up to his mistake.
Eventually Joel's dad showed up. And this is where my heart REALLY broke.
Joel refused to leave with his father--he told us that his father beat him. He was planning to run away to his mom--who wasn't allowed to see him because of drug problems. Out of the eight calls sweet Joel made, his mother only answered the first time. She wouldn't take his call the next seven times. I wanted to take him home with me. I thought about what it would be like for him to sleep on my couch--could I trust the kid who went through my desk for bus money? What would it be like to drive him to school with me every morning and home every night?
Eventually child protective services came and took him. He wouldn't--and we couldn't--send him home with his father. Joel was in foster care for awhile after that. And really, he was never the same.
The way little Joely will always be in my mind is the sweet, grinning kid in the baby blue polo shirt. We had a uniform policy--white or navy polos--that very few kids followed because very few teachers enforced it. Joel showed up every day in the same baby blue polo shirt, following the policy as closely as he could. After he was in foster care for awhile, he didn't wear the polo anymore. He wasn't the sweet boy I knew--he started wearing t-shirts 4 sizes too big with pictures of rolls of cash, guns or Tupac on them. He always carried around his baseball hat with the big flat rim. He grew about a foot (likely not due to foster care) and started walking with his own special swagger. He hung out with the wrong kids and misbehaved in class. He was one of the VERY few kids we held back that year (although MANY kids deserved it.)
I saw Joel several times a week after he was held back, and my heart broke a little more every time. Sometimes he would still say, "Hi Mrs. Scott!" with his shy smile when I saw him in the hallway. And sometimes if I was feeling mischievous, I would say, "Hey Joel, remember when you took my phone?" And he would say, "Mrs. Scott!" and we would laugh.
That's not my favorite memory from my time in Boston, but it's an important one. It reminds me of the important work I did there, and how much important work there is to do still. There are just a lot of kids to love.