How Many Times Have You Missed Your Chance To Be A Hero?

This week I’m celebrating the release of my short story Thugbook and last Friday the most ironic thing happened.

Before I get too far, let me tell you that Thugbook is a story about a social network that captures photographs of crimes in progress. Citizens upload pictures and the website locates them on a map, precisely where they were taken.

The cops, good citizens, and a few people willing to do anything for justice use the photos to know who the bad guys are. Some people take that information a bit too far.

It a fun, and a little bit serious, take on how we can use technology to turn our urban neighborhoods back into communities where pressure from neighbors keeps kids in line.

So Friday I was in a bar standing beside the pool table with my brother when a guy and his daughter, who was about twelve, came over. The glass covering the mechanism that holds the balls has been gone a long time. The girl reached in proudly and released the balls without paying.

Her father said to me, “They get smart fast, don’t they?”

Where was my camera?

This little girl could have been the first criminal for my Thugbook Pinboard. (Yes, I created a board on Pinterest where you can pin photos of thugs. Just like the book. )


Or should I have photographed the father?

How often have you seen that? A kid taking something that doesn’t belong to them or breaking something and the parent just going along. When did this become okay?

I remember another story a woman told me. She said her son was feeling down. They were in a restaurant so she told the waitress that it was his birthday so they’d bring him free cake. The kid was shocked. Me too.

These may seem like small things, but the lesson is a big one. We are teaching kids, some of them at least, that it is okay to take things we want even if they belong to someone else.

I had to wonder if some parents really have blinders on. And then I read about a teenager in New Bedford who was shot and killed by police. I feel sad for his mother, but listening to her I was absolutely stunned.

She cried and exalted her boy as a good kid who loved everyone. I characterized a family in Thugbook exactly the same way. I felt it was over the top until I saw this woman on television. She could have stepped right off the page.

The newspaper reported that her son was removed from school for throwing desks and assaulting teachers. That he was on the edge and didn’t belong in school with the general population. They put him into the public middle school because they didn’t have anywhere to put him and he ultimately found trouble and was shot and killed by a police officer.

There are two big questions here. First, how could the mother be so blind to her son’s problems? Second, how could the community not step in and help this kid learn how to deal with others?

It’s tragic that this boy died at 15 years old. He’ll never get a job and feel good about what he created with his own hands. He’ll never have the joy of seeing children and grandchildren grow.

Today I’m thinking this kid needed a nosy old lady next door. You know those women who are always in your business and aren’t afraid to tell you what’s on their mind? They expect you to behave a certain way and if you don’t they let you know.

Maybe we need more of those ladies and some large men very much like them.

Many people look down on enforcing the law for minor things, but it could be those minor things are what lead some of us to real trouble. Stepping in and stopping these kids early just might save them.

What do you think?

How many times have you missed your chance to turn a child around?


8 Comments on “How Many Times Have You Missed Your Chance To Be A Hero?”

  1. Myndi stray sock away from insanity. says:

    Little steps take us to big places. If condoned repeatedly, bad decisions that seem insignificant can very easily grow into something with painful outcomes. As parents, we need to raise our kids with an end result in mind. So sad about the boy who was shot.

  2. That father was probably so proud of his little girl.

    There have been many instances where I’ve wanted to do something, but you just never know which kids/parents are crazy and might do something if you act. I might step in if I had bigger cojones (although that would probably be really uncomfortable and unseemly since I’m female), but it’s a little scary sometimes, not knowing what the reaction will be. There are some nuts out there with violent tendencies.

    Having said that, I’ve stopped a few kids from picking on animals or damaging trees. I hope it made them stop and think before doing it again.

  3. I can tell you as a mother, I’ve marched my two kids in (when they were both about 3, they did the same damned thing) and made them give bubble gum back that they had stolen. I was humiliated as were they, but it was the right thing to do. Parenting is a tough gig… that a lot of people do not take seriously enough.

    They bawled their eyes out as they gave their apology to the clerk and the store manager. I thought I was going to puke. All I could do was hope and pray I was teaching them a lesson.

    As far as intervening… I find quite the opposite. I see more badly behaving parents than I do children. They are the ones that need a boot in the ass. I loathe narks, but I’ve been on the phone more than once, calling police when I pull up to a bar and see a youngster sitting in the car alone while mommy and/or daddy are inside boozing it up. Repulsive behavior is an epidemic.

  4. I work with kids in CPS care- and they system in general is so messed up. That being said as they leave my care (I am a houseparent at a group home) and go home, to relatives, or foster care I always hope they have learned something, gained something, or someday as they look in the mirror something I said, read them, or showed them will help them change their life around. I never know, but I can hope. While they are with me they get away with nothing. Language must be PG, clothes must be modest, grades C or higher, and lying, stealing, fighting are not allowed. I add to this encouragement and rewards for good behavior and successes.
    In public, I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling other people’s kids what to do, who knows maybe they’ll be with me soon enough.

    • cjwestkills says:


      This is a wonderful thing you are doing. I’m not sure if you saw my Mother’s Day post, but my hero played a very similar role and she taught important lessons to many, many children.

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