RIGHT TO REDEMPTION
Laurence Saalih Rhoads
This bright summer morning all was right with the world. Mom had prepared my breakfast as mothers do. With all the loving care within her.
I sat basking in the glow and attention that an only child could understand, unaware that my innocence would soon be shattered and that I would witness the first steps that would subliminally set me on a path of destruction, of myself and others!
Soon after breakfast a friend of my father came over to visit my father. While my father used the bathroom, the friend sat in the living room with us, and believing that we were out of the ear shot of my father he began to beg my mother for money for his habit, even saying that my father said it was cool.
Back in 1971 a great deal of black people were hooked on dope including my father. My father who had finished using the rest room came out and called his friend to the back room. What my father’s friend didn’t know was that my father had heard every word and wasn’t happy about someone trying to con his woman for money. It wasn’t long before two shots rang out and my father’s friend came screaming, “I am sorry,” and dashed past my mother and I, while my father closely followed pumping even more lead into his body! I was three years old!
The reason that this sticks out so much in my mind was not because of the gun play although I’m sure subconsciously I must have been affected in some way. What I remember mostly was that this was the first time that I would be separated from my father for some time, as well as my experience with the police.
The next morning the police came and took us all to the station where I had to be picked up by my grandmother. My mother was released a few days later, but it would be a couple of years before I would see my Dad’s face again.
Fast forwarding three years later, now home from prison my father decided to take me out with him one winter evening. After a few short stops we ended up in Padget, a bar on 48th and Woodland Ave. in Philly. I sat drinking a soda while my father proudly showed me off to his friends.
After a short time my father and I along with one of his friends exited the bar on our way to make another stop. As soon as we turned the corner a police car stopped us. My father and his friend were thrown against the wall and roughly searched by one officer as his partner watched over him with his hand on his gun. Before leaving the apartment, my father had wrapped a small .25 automatic pistol and two bundles of heroin in a plastic bag which he placed in the inside of my winter coat with strict instruction not to touch.
At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of what he had done, but as I stood to the side as they were searched that day. I knew I had what they were looking for. I don’t know if it was natural or maybe just being aware of my surroundings, but I knew even at the young age that we were getting over on the cops, and I was so happy inside. That happiness was rewarded in full with high fives and hugs from my father and his friend. I was addicted!!!
I could go on and on with many stories of how I was taught and saw the different aspects of the street life up close, but to what point? The point I’m trying to make is that children who are blessed to survive and grow older rely on their learning experiences in their lives.
What comes from those experiences and life conditions oftentimes results in crime. Crime is not the problem, crime is a symptom of a bigger problem that has gone unchecked.
The youth has to be reached early and taught another “learned behavior.” They have to be taught a sense of morality and worth of life. They must be taught humanity and difference of thought don’t have to be what separate us but can be what pull us together and make our community whole.
You can’t fix the end until you fix the beginning byproduct which creates the slippery slope that causes open to ignore the basic morals that we’re born with.
In closing, I would like to ask a question to anyone who might read this. During the penalty-phase of my trial, my lawyer used character witnesses to talk about how I was raised and the pressure that I was under to walk in my father’s footsteps, in an attempt to bring forth mitigating circumstances so that the jury wouldn’t sentence me to death.
My question is, that after nearly twenty five long years why can’t these mitigating circumstances that were used to keep me from getting the death penalty, be used now to return me back to society? I’m nearly twenty-five years older and have a new learned behavior. Aren’t I redeemable?
L__________ Rhoads BM8481
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