"Hello Officer Johnson, this is Captain Black. ... Yeah, we've got a D.O.A. here by the river ... Yep, I'm sure he's dead ... some kid ... these ministers came and told me that there was a dead guy in the park ... they led me down there, we searched through the bushes, and we found him."
Tonight was one of the toughest nights on the streets yet for me. Every Thursday night, for the past four years, we've rented out a pool hall. We invite all of our friends, the street kids, to come inside for free pool and an opportunity to feel normal. Nothing about tonight felt normal for me.
It was one of those "first-ever-experiences" that I would just rather not ever have had.
Three street kids, all of them good friends, came running up to Robbie and me at the pool hall. "We were just down by the Platte River walking on our way over here and we found a dead guy."
These kids were scared out of their minds. Scared because they didn't know what to do. Scared because they were afraid that they were somehow going to get in trouble. And scared mostly because, well, it could have been one of them.
"I think he must have overdosed or something ... we touched him and he was ... cold," said one of the kids.
Robbie and I offered to go and handle the situation. We knew that there was an off-duty police officer working security at some apartments nearby. We told the kids that we would go talk to him. From here, the night only seemed to get darker.
The three kids took us to a lookout and pointed in the general direction of the body. Robbie and I then went by ourselves and found the off-duty policeman. Captain Black drove us through the park down to the river. We got out and began walking towards the water through the tall dead grass and overgrown bushes.
With a lump in my throat, butterflies in my stomach, and adrenaline flowing through my body, I said, "Don't think that he will be here on the trail. I think he's probably up in the bushes. The kids said that he was in his squat."
After a few minutes of searching, the beam of light from the officer's MagLight lit a small pile of clothing. When we rounded the big bush and looked down, there he was. He was no old "homebum" like I thought he would be. He was a young kid. He was a street kid. I knew his face. I'd seen him walking down the street within the past month at least twice; though I never even knew his name.
His face was now white, his lips purple, his body curled up into a tiny ball.
So THIS is where life ends? Beside a nasty dirty river? In a squat uninhabitable for human life? Overdosed on heroine? Dark? Alone?
We made our way back up to Captain Black's car. We called on-duty police officers. The fire department, ambulance, and homicide showed up. The atmosphere soon lit up like an episode of C.S.I. ... only real. We filed our reports and left the scene. I'm sure there will be no murder conviction. It's hard in a court of law to convict absentee and abusive parents, drug lords, heroine itself, and even the Prince of Darkness.
We met back up with our 80 plus street kids, now at our weekly meal in that very same park; the flashing police lights just in the distance. The mood was somber. The kids asked quiet questions.
One of the kids who had found the body pulled me aside. I asked him if he was okay. Staring at the ground, he said, "Yeah." He was not telling the truth. I asked him what he was thinking. He said, "I'm tired of my friends dying."
I asked, "Did you know that kid?" He said that he didn't, but could have so easily. He knew that that kid hadn't been in town long enough for him to know him. He began listing the names of his friends that he knew were "next." I asked him if that could have been him. He looked up at me and said nothing. This time, his eyes spoke the truth.
He walked away. My teammates surrounded me. I cried.
I, too, am tired of my friends dying. It's a part of the business I'm in. In four years, I know of at least 10 of my street friends that have died. I've been a part of one of their funerals. But I've never even seen a single body. Tonight ... Tonight this was too real. The image of his face will be with me forever.
Back at the pool hall, Nikki was having a conversation with a young girl. She was crying. It had been another bad day. She says to Nikki, "I'm tired of people being [expletive] ... I guess it doesn't really get better for people like me."
I so desperately want these kids to know:
- There is a LIFE where your friends aren't killing themselves slowly and taking you with them.
- There is a LIFE where love is real and is not dependant on sex or filled with abuse.
- There is a LIFE where everyone around you isn't held captive by drugs.
- There is a LIFE where you don't have to sleep beside a river or underneath a bridge or in a storm drain.
- There is a LIFE where you really can trust people.
- A LIFE where people don't stab you in the back day after day.
- There is a LIFE that begins NOW and goes on forever.
- There is a LIFE that is filled with a supernatural LOVE.
- There is a LIFE that doesn't end in the cold, dark, bushes beside the Platte River.
- There is more than this so-called living.
- There is LIFE.
Tonight I feel the gravity of living in desperate times. LIFE must be lived. And we have got to show the way to LIFE.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." (Luke 4:18-19 NLT as Jesus explains his mission.)