I did my annual North Central Secure Treatment Unit gig this morning.  Fated perfect timing.  Sat across and along side many young men, convicted of violence and crime.

Six of us local business people conduct mock interviews in hopes of teaching these young men skills that will help them get employed upon leaving this high security unit. It's a noble...and quantifiably fruitless effort.

I interviewed six males, mostly black, mostly urban, mostly juveniles, who had selected "Landscaping" from the list of available fictitious job choices on their list. These fellas had spent the past couple of weeks being educated and drilled on what employers are looking for, and how to answer interview questions. They receive education as part of their very regimented schedules, between lining-up and counting-off in the hallways and trying to earn back their TV rights that they lost because, "Some people in here can't behave, and get crazy sometimes”.

I'm always at an advantage over my fellow interviewers, because I'm the landscape guy. I've hired it all. In this business, you need labor in the spring, and you can't be choosey. Some of these other interviewers need to be more selective. 

In the final years of my bigger business in the suburbs: I stopped interviewing all together. I'd simply tell candidates to show up with work clothes and we'd head out to the job. After a few hours, I could tell who would work, and who would not. Those who were undesirable were given $100 at the end of the day, and a pat on the back. Those desirable were handed employment paperwork and asked to return the next day. I saved a lot of money with this form of interviewing, and a ton of time being told lies and being made promises that no one was ever planning to keep. In fact, most never even showed up at the interview on time. Being late earned them an instant, "Thanks, but no thanks.”

I told my candidates these things this morning, and assured them that in landscaping, you WILL be given a chance at a new start...but you can blow it immediately. The choice is yours. This is why I love my profession: it's the animal kingdom.

That being said, I almost lost it, as I sat across from my last candidate. 15 years old. Big boy. Light skinned mixed race. Boyish looks and smile. Super earnest. Very likable. You could picture him milking a cow.

Unfortunately, he's never been near a cow, that didn't have 12' high, razor wire fence in between.

What he has been near is prisons, and drugs, and violence, and parents who sound like train-wrecks, and foster parents, and more foster parents, and programs, and "the system". He's been in for going on 5 years. In that time, NO ONE has come to visit him...No one. He's from Erie. His brother died recently in a gang killing. He has three left. Their "family dream" seems to be to qualify for the military. This guy sitting in front of me has likely already ruined his chances of even qualifying for that "dream". The guards told me, "They don't take the violent ones”.

I looked a this kid and I felt like my chest went hollow. There he sits, all potential, and life wisdom beyond his years...right on the edge of a cliff...and he doesn't even know it. A couple of choices one way or the other; and the rest is set in stone. 15 years old, with already two and a half strikes against him. Smart enough to learn, and break out...but will he? Most evidence says he will not.

We talked about jobs, and family, and Jesus and Mohammed. He has been Muslim for 2 days now. I told him to watch Life of Pi, but he reminded me about the TV situation. We talked about futures and family and not about school...because he has no real experience with that.
Right on the razors edge.

As we wrapped it up, I let him know that I care about him. That we just met, but I see a lot of myself in him. I asked him about his temper. He asked me how I knew? I told him because we are the same. We talked about being able to visualize the people we want to be; but how something always seems to get in the way. So close, but so not going to happen, because… momentum.

Lost boys. Many smart enough to actually "be something," if only they would give themselves a chance. If only, shown some love before this point.

Love your kids.

Love other people's kids.

Love is the solution.