Still no answer, but I held my ground. The sounds of birds singing outside the windows, the sound of coffee perking in the lounge across the hall, and the large wall clock ticking, each underscored the stifling hush in the room.
In the sea of dazed, glistening eyes, Monique Jobert’s brow furrowed and her eyes squinted as she met mine. The newest member of the professionals, she opened her mouth as if to speak but turned her head instead.
"Tell me, Mrs. Jobert. Maybe I can help."
With quivering lips she proceeded. "Devon was our brightest hope with the best chance to escape. We all thought....well, we thought he'd beat the odds and make his way out of all the poverty and violence.”
The ocean of nodding heads, lowered eyes, and taut lips betrayed the existence of emotional undercurrents running deep in each of them, like the Mississippi River herself as she rolled through town to the Gulf of Mexico. My heart ached. Faculty members learned to rejoice in the smallest victories. This would have been a badly needed win to keep them going.
Mrs. Woods, a math teacher, spoke next, "I can't believe they found dope in his jacket. That's just not like Devon. Maybe it was planted on him?
"The police reported they obtained contraband from his pocket,” I verified.
"If anyone gave us a dream, it was him," said Monique. "He’s a...he was a quiet, intelligent, and hard working boy. My God, he made straight A's." Heads bobbed in agreement and more than a few sniffles spoke of their pain.
An elderly shop instructor, Mr. Gary, jumped from his seat. "It's hopeless." His knuckles turned white from clutching his coffee cup. The veteran teacher helped many youth stay out of trouble in prior years. He'd taught them a craft and a way to earn money.
"Why don't these boys learn a trade?" He had not yet grasped the insidious nature of modern urban life. The current problems far surpassed those of the past.
"Well, I still don't believe Devon dealt drugs," Mrs. Woods said. "But if he did, he had to have a good reason."
I must admit, I couldn't imagine a good motive, but now the floodgates opened. The group vented its anger, and the room buzzed with heated speculation.
At this point, Mr. Vincent entered the room and introduced a neighbor of the family, Cassandra Morris. The teachers supported the young boy, and she realized this, so she wanted them to get the real story. One of my colleagues offered her a chair. Her jaw set as she sat upright, her eyes meeting the groups. She held her head high and her back straight--indignant and determined to tell the truth.
"Devon, he hadda' grow up fast like mos' our chil'ren. Lucretia Jones, his momma, did her bes' to feed and care for her babies. Po' thing, she couldn't keep up no matter how she tried, being by herself and all."
The general public was unaware criminals preyed on their hard working neighbors who couldn't fight for themselves and had no support from law enforcement. One student told me how prowlers raped her and her mom on a regular basis. They bursted into their home, attacked, and left. With no other recourse, the women got large boards and nailed the windows and doors shut at night. The mother and daughter sat on the couch facing the door all night, taking turns to stay awake and keep watch.
Another young female student carried a knife to school with her each day. Someone reported her, and the principal suspended her. When I investigated, I learned the weapon served to defend herself. A rapist assaulted her daily while she walked home. Terrified, no one would come to her defense.
Cassandra continued, "Lucretia didn' have no money 'cause she get robbed all de time. Dem crim'nals even take her food stamps. Po' Devon, he growed up starving, and Lucretia, she couldn' do nothin' 'bout it."
Most of us think of hunger as missing a meal and your stomach starting to growl. What these children experienced held excruciating pain, not simply loud growls.
"So, Devon, he grew up hungry himself and didn't want his baby brother and sister to go through that the way he did. So, 'dat boy made up his own mind to do good in school, to find a little job to help feed them. Wouldn' nobody hire a boy of fifteen years, though, 'cause de law say yo' gotta' be sixteen."'
Cassandra's eyes watered before she told us what happened next. "The boy didn't want to worry his momma, but the empty cupboards..."
The young boy's neighbor shook her head and lowered her eyes before looking up again, “So, he done started sellin' dem drugs. Po' boy, he didn't last too long.".
Among the impoverished, there are two versions of an event––the one in the newspaper, a short item on the incident, and the real one. Now, we all sat here grieving over the untold story and the loss of this unfulfilled young life.
No one could deny Devon's actions were criminal, and he paid a huge price for them.
As we pondered the seething irony of his too-short life, though, my heart grappled with another reality: on some level, this boy, although misguided, was a hero.