Virtual Voices

Trapped in Gangsta-ville

Culture

"Just get a job, bro!!" That sums up what I'd like to tell a 19-year-old man living in Grand Rapids, Mich. My dogmatism is sobered by the fact that this young man has the most complicated set of circumstances I've ever encountered. I started mentoring him when he was 16 years old.

Not only is Caleb (not his real name) unemployed, he's also epileptic. He does not own a car and can't afford to buy one nor can he afford car insurance. Medicare provides his monthly supply of $600 epilepsy medication. Social Security payments provide money for his living expenses. His parents are divorced. His father is a former drug dealer who ruined Caleb's credit rating by using his son's name to acquire credit cards and then maxing them out and defaulting on them. Because of his father's shenanigans, Caleb somehow filed for bankruptcy when he was 17 years old. Because of bad credit, no apartment complex will rent to him. A friend of his pulled some strings about a week ago to get him into an apartment so that he wouldn't be homeless.

Caleb's mother is completely broke and is in a questionable marriage with an international man she met on the internet. Caleb's extended family is in such disarray that no one is in a position to help him.

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Additionally, Caleb and his former girlfriend decided to have a daughter out of wedlock. The mother does not work, as she takes care of her infant while being fully subsidized by her family.

Barely graduated from an alternative high school, Caleb was socially promoted in one of the most pathetic school districts I ever seen. His math and reading skills are unbelievably underdeveloped. He's been involved in gangs and selling drugs over the years and many of his friends are now literally falling dead to gunshot wounds all over his neighborhood.

I recently received a text message from Caleb because many of those murderous gang bangers had been dropping his name to several people around town. He's scared. "I won't ever make any progress here I swear," he wrote. "I need to get outa here [and] start over."

Caleb wants out. He claims Christ, wears a WWJD bracelet, and asks me to pray for him often. He recently asked if he could move in with me and bring his girlfriend and daughter down later after "starting over."

This young man is literally trapped in a life depicted in the gansta rap of the 1990s. I encouraged him to go to a church for help, but I believe he's too ashamed to call. No car, no skills, epilepsy, out-of-wedlock daughter, ruined credit, friends being murdered, and sadly in a region with exceedingly high unemployment. Do I leave him 420 miles away in chaos or move him away from his daughter for a season? I don't have the answer yet, but I have been severely convicted in my assumption that men like Caleb just need to "get it together."

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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