Locked in Solidarity: Mercy and Justice
It was a normal day. I was picking up one of my teens early from school. I signed him out, we got in the car, put our seat belts on and I took a deep breath. I could tell he was nervous, but he had a tough face on. As we drove he asked me a couple of questions that I did not have the answers to. I knew he was doing the right thing, but I had no idea how it was going to turn out.
We pulled into a parking spot at the Pennsylvania State Troopers Station and I asked him if he was ready. “Yeah Miss Candy,” was all he said. Together we walked into the station and an officer behind a glass window asked what we needed, and my teen told him, “I am here to turn myself in.”
He had stolen $150 from the cash register at his job. It had been caught on camera, and he could not repay it. He had used the money to pay another debt, and now here we were. He had told me his plan the day before—he was going to live on the run for the next few months. Staying at different people’s homes until he was not a priority. The warrant for his arrest would still be there, but he would never get caught.
I knew this was a bad plan, everyone knew this was a bad plan, but what do you do when $150 keeps you alive? He paid a debt and no longer had a target on his back—just a warrant. As his youth leader, I told him that he should turn himself in. He looked at me like I was crazy. Actually, he looked at me like I was white. He knew what dealing with the police was like. With family and friends in prison, he had no reference for trusting the police.
I prayed that there would be mercy, I prayed he would be treated kindly, I prayed for a trooper that would be kind. I knew this was the right thing, but I also knew how the system worked for black young men in my neighborhood.
The trooper we talked to was very kind, asked for his name, age if I was his guardian. Once those questions were answered, the trooper called his mom. I had met her once, she seemed nice, but I knew their relationship was rocky at best. She gave her permission for me to advocate for him and that was the moment he broke. He was almost a foot taller than me, and he crashed into my shoulder and cried. He said, “My mom doesn’t even care.” He wept, and I held him as he cried while the trooper watched from behind the bulletproof glass. Once we had gotten ourselves together, we went to the interview room.
Everything went smoothly, and the troopers we interacted with were kind and helpful and patient. This was not the experience we had been expecting. When we got back in the car, my teen said, “Miss Candy, that is the best things have ever gone with the police.” He was treated with respect. He had to serve weekends in juvenile hall for two months, they would pick him up on Fridays and bring him home on Sunday. He could continue school and youth group.
This one interaction changed him. It changed me. I had seen altercations with the police in our neighborhood, I knew why he was distrusting. But he trusted me, and I trusted in the Lord, and my God loves justice and hates fear. My teen and I had silently shared a fear of the police. This time our fear was unfounded and our collective fear became relief, as he did what was right and my prayers were answered.
This year we are joining CCDA's efforts to create the space needed to listen to stories of people in our communities who are directly impacted, to learn about the greater impact of mass incarceration, to pray, and to engage public sector officials who have the power and position to impact change. Check out their resources here.
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