Lost or Stolen


Special Thanks to @RevRunWisdom https://twitter.com/RevRunWisdom and to Scott Allison, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-need-heroes/201404/do-heroes-make-us-smarter AND to Alan Castel, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201404/wisdom-ask-siri-or-ask-grandma

Cam called while I was still on 76 East traffic into Philadelphia and I answered. “Joe, Roxie got a call from Franklin Montgomery, the director at the Port Richmond site.” I knew who Franklin was; we’d been working his site for six weeks. “Joe, he says he’s missing a laptop.”

“Well, that sucks,” I replied. “Was it one of our guys?”

“That’s what he’s claiming. He says it was there in the AM when he left for a meeting and when he returned, it was not there anymore.”

“When did he return,” I pressed my breaks too hard as the tractor trailer on my left swerved more than a little over our lane line. “We were there until 3:30,” I said, annoyed.

“After that apparently; he says nobody was there when he arrived back. He didn’t give a time.” Cam paused then asked, “What’s the bathroom policy there, Joe?”

“We use the bathroom inside the building. A guy comes to us, Janice or I, and asks for the front door key. We give it to him. Or her, if its Damaris.” At this point in our Basic Construction class, we were about four months into our nine month program. We were down to only seven participants, and one guy, Luis, who was borderline absenteeing himself out. So technically eight. We had started with 16 in this program, a part of The Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia’s restorative justice programming. That we had eight still in, at the four month mark, was good stats. I felt protective of the remaining guys and girl, who were really showing commitment to their success.

“Im not saying it was one of our guys, Joe.” Cam interrupted the angry analysis track running in my head, “And, Im not saying that it wasn’t. But, we’re going to have to adjust how our guys, and Damaris, enter, or have access to the building.”

Finally, some breathing room in the traffic, as I passed the Conshohocken Curve, “Cam, you know we can do a porta potty, or we can accompany the guys into the building for bathroom breaks. Janice can accompany Damaris. What do you think?”

“We’d rather not hafta afford a rental, but goin’ with the guys into the building sounds right.”

“Fine,” what a pain in the ass, I thought. And it was, for the rest of our time at that site, when someone had to use the restroom, one of the instructors would have to stop and accompany a guy to the building. We eventually made it into scheduled bathroom breaks. And we dissuaded the use of bathrooms when it wasn’t break time. We also never did solve the case of the missing  computer.

The next year, I was program directing for a bunch of kids out in Coatesville, with a woman, Carolyn, and we were invited to spend the day cooking at Chester County Food Bank. Their facility included a large commercial kitchen, a distribution warehouse, and their offices. The restrooms were located out in the office section of the building. Here, desks were littered with personal mementos, plants, and photos in frames, (Author’s note: think office decor of the second half of Dolly, Jane, and Lily’s film.) One girl, Michelle, approached me about seven and a half minutes into the preparation time for our first class recipe. “Mr. Ovelman, I haft use the bathroom.”  She stood on her toes, in white candies, or, what I would call candies, not sure what they’re called now, and pink and orange striped knee socks. Her arms stretched, and hands opened flat with her plea. Completely trustworthy, right, I mean, come on, it’s Michelle. But, we were here today, and it was Saturday, and we were the only people here today. The desks were littered with mementos. And there were two doors between the commercial kitchen and the office space, both on hinges whose natural position was closed. I thought about the missing laptop. I thought about the way it made me feel that one of my guys was accused of theft, when who really knows what happened. You know, a laptop is a hard thing to tuck into ones shirt, unnoticed.

I stopped, running through my head, looking out onto the 14 or so kids around the stainless tables as they diced and chopped, and two making a rue, and more at the sink peeling potatoes. Michelle doin’ the pee dance and beginning to draw attention. But, I didn’t want to hear on Monday that someone was missing something from one of their friendly desks. Perhaps something they’d mistakenly thrown away, or misplaced, or took home, or gave away or traded.. Or, or or… I didn’t want our kids to have to face that opportunity today; I wasn’t going to have all our kids, or our program, take the fall. I asked my partner Carolyn to accompany Michelle out into the office area, telling her quickly of the missing laptop story. She agreed. When they returned, I addressed the class of fourteen fourteen-year-olds. “Can I have your attention.” I called, and they gave it to me. I told the story of the missing laptop. I also shared my concerns about the building set up and access to the personal office space here at the food bank. I told them that I didn’t think any of them would steal, but also said that taking this precaution avoided any negative responsibility being thrown our way, for perhaps, maybe someone else’s mistake. The students listened.

Kyle spoke up as I finished. “Sounds right,” He asserted. And the students agreed to only use the restroom if they really needed it, but would try to wait until one of our scheduled break times. Emergencies had Carolyn or I standing in one of the swinging doors. And on Monday, we did not receive a call that anything was missing. What we did receive was a call that thanked us for leaving such a neat facility, as we had returned it to the state it was loaned to us, clean and tidy.

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