From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Touch from Above

Always forgive your enemies . . . nothing annoys them so much.

Oscar Wilde

The phone rang at three-thirty A.M.

Thinking it was my son playing a joke, I blurted, “What’s up?”

“Mrs. Washington?” the unfamiliar voice asked.


“I’m from the Medical Examiner’s office. Do you have a son named Grub?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but your son’s been shot several times.”

I immediately sat up. “Go on . . .”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your son is dead.”

At that moment, I felt like my life had ended. My son, whose real name was Damon, was only nineteen and had two children he loved very much. I got up and went to my other child and told him his brother was dead. We fell into each other’s arms and cried harder than I had ever cried in my life.

By mid-morning, the house was full of people from my church and family. I sat in a frozen daze wondering what I had done to deserve this numbing pain that was all too familiar.

When I was ten, I witnessed the murders of my mother and my sixteen-year-old sister at the hands of my stepfather. I was to die that day, too, but the gun didn’t go off when he fired at me. Then a short time after my last son was born, his father, the love of my life, was murdered. And now the fourth murder in my immediate family. I hurt with heartaches and headaches that defied medical description. It was like being pummeled by cinder blocks that just wouldn’t stop falling on me.

Somehow, as I can’t really recall, I slowly started gathering myself over the next few months. While getting updates from “we have a suspect” to “captured and arrested,” I realized we have a hurting world of young people. Deciding to take some kind of control of the accumulated tragedy in my life, I researched the backgrounds of my perpetrators and found they had all spent time in criminal institutions without any type of rehabilitation to dissolve the anger that drove them to kill another human being. I wrote the young man who killed my son, asking him for his forgiveness for hating him for what he had done to my life. In return, I forgave him for brutally murdering my son. He didn’t respond with anything positive for some time. Then one day I received a letter that thanked me for forgiving him. He calls me “Mom” today, and we still write each other as often as we can.

To continue to help myself heal, I began a program called “Mentoring A Touch From Above” that works with youth ages thirteen to eighteen in the California Youth Authority. I took on numerous youths but one in particular became my focus.

His name was Pony. He was a Cambodian who was serving time for armed robbery and assaults while in a Vietnamese gang.

Although Pony was a brutally bitter man, he and I became instant friends after I told him my story. He wrote a touching poem about Damon and, in turn, told me his life story.

The oldest of three brothers, Pony was the focal point for the future of his family. While Pony’s father was like many older Asian men in the United States, meek and quiet, Pony’s mother was in constant distress, a troubled woman in a strange land, who didn’t speak unless she was hollering and cursing.

Through my program, Pony completed his high school education in prison and earned his diploma. When he was released, I visited him in a halfway house where the older men were beating him. Driven from there, he went right back to the streets.

But from the skills he learned in my modest program, Pony began to look for jobs and joined a youth church group. After weeks of trying, he finally landed a job working with one of my company’s suppliers. He helped pay the bills in his home, mentored his younger brothers and was considered one of the best employees this company had hired.

If I had not volunteered to take Pony on so vigorously as a client, he would have been just one more number shuffling through the revolving door of the California Youth Authority. Today we have over two hundred “Ponys” involved in the program with two hundred to three hundred more on our waiting list grasping for a one-way ticket to exit this violent circle and reenter society.

So far, we’ve helped thirty youth who are now living permanently at home and who have returned to the mainstream by going back to school, getting jobs and working with their families. These thirty “adopted” sons are helping me, in turn, work through my compound losses by insuring their futures will not end in premature death.

Life is still going to throw them some punches, but with renewed hope and constant encouragement, Pony, like the others, will make it and will always have me to call on in times of need.

While my son’s life was tragically lost at nineteen, as a surrogate mother to Pony, those in my program and the hundreds behind them just itching to join, I can proudly say Damon did not die in vain.

Melanie Washington

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information on Mentoring A Touch From Above, contact 3970 S. Atlantic Ave., Suites 208–209, Long Beach, CA 90807; 562-490-2402; fax: 562-981-0512; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: www.matfa.com.]

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