National Homecomers Academy
William T. was only 21-years old when those steel doors locked. That was in 1977 and Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. There were no personal computers or cell phones then. That was the era of typewriters and rotary-dial pay phones. The price of gasoline was 65-cents a gallon. The minimum wage was just $2.30. And William T. was in the prime of his youth with a lifetime of possibilities. All of those hopes and dreams came to a crashing end when the steel doors slammed shut.
But, on this night, William T. is a happy man. Seven-hundred fifty-two days of “deliverance” – a spiritual awakening that occurred just before he left a Florida jail cell with a heart that ached to be a better man. He believes that he is a force for good. He has banded with the other Homecomers to be an agent for change. William T. will to do everything and anything to convince at-risk men and women to “choose a different path.” He can show them where the other path leads. He speaks from his heart. As he talks, he passes out his card – “William T., National Homecomers Academy, Community Change Agent.” And on that card is his cell phone number. He delivers the message: “You can call me, any time. Day or night – or in the middle of the night. I’ll answer.”
From the corner of his eye, William T. spots a young man – reluctant, withdrawn, hanging back from the others. When the chance presents itself, William T. slips away from the crowd and approaches him. He’s about nineteen years old and thin. His eyes, bloodshot with pupils dilated, reveal instantly to William T. that the young man is high. William T. has that unsettled feeling that he is looking at himself in a distant mirror.
“So, Shorty. What’s your story? Why are you here?” asks William T. And the two men begin to converse. And little-by-little, they build a rapport. William T. learns that the young man is troubled – continually being prodded and coaxed by his “street friends” to participate in activities that could cause him to windup “behind bars.” They talk for the next hour.
As the grill is being stowed away and the stereo speakers disconnected, William T. slips the young man his card and, with a smile, repeats to Shorty what he had earlier told the crowd: “You can call me, any time. Day or night – or in the middle of the night. I’ll answer.”
A little more than four months have passed since that August night. And William T.’s cell phone is ringing. He opens his eyes and picks up the phone. It’s 2:38 a.m.
“Hey, O.G. (short for Old Gangster), you said I could call you any time.” says the voice on the other end. “I did, Shorty. I did say that,” William T. replies.
For the next two hours, the O.G. and the young man talk. Something is about to “go down,” and Shorty’s “friends” want him to be a part of it. But, the young man doesn’t want to be involved – and William T. counsels him and speaks from his heart. William T. talks about choosing paths and about consequences. “Stand-up and man-up,” urges William T.
Somewhere in the District of Columbia, that next evening, an armed robbery occurred. The perpetrators were arrested. “Shorty” was not among them.