I had not seen Andy since he was a little boy, and I was a little uncertain about seeing him under these circumstances. He was in jail, having been arrested with a dozen others at a local crack house, and I was there to visit him. When the article and his photo appeared in the paper, I pulled out a scrapbook I’d kept of my classes in earlier teaching years, and there he was. Crooked haircut, a smattering of freckles, big smiling eyes, a grin. Underneath I had written: “Andy, my main squeeze. A little rascal sometimes, but adorable.” His family had been poor, I remembered, and he’d had quite a lot of trouble with schoolwork. So I’d worked with him every day in third grade, trying to help him learn his multiplication tables. It took him longer than anyone else, but he finally did it. And when he did, the whole class cheered. A couple of summers he came to my house for a week or two, and I took him places and tried to make it a good time for him. I knew he didn’t have opportunities to do a lot of things at home. His mother was trying to make it on her own, and there were older, rougher brothers to deal with.
I lost touch with Andy after I took a teaching position at another school, but he remained one of my favorite students. Years passed, and then one day there he was in the newspaper, looking back at me from a mug shot. I just wanted to see him, to tell him that he wasn’t forgotten, that I wanted better for him, that he was loved. I knew Jesus would do that, so I wanted to too.
I drove to the Justice Center on a Thursday afternoon, praying all the way. Shutting up all my belongings in a jail locker, I waited my turn to go back. I had lots of company in this large room. The place was filled with mothers and children, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, all waiting to see someone on the other side of those doors. I sat in a chair, praying to know what to say to Andy after all this time. I squeezed and unsqueezed my left fist, wanting to feel that Jesus was holding my hand. Then, through my brain, came this phrase over and over: “I am with you always. I am always with you. I am with you always. I am always with you.” It felt like Jesus had his arm around me and was assuring me that this was where he wanted me to be. I relaxed some, and was ready to go back when my number was called.
Andy didn’t know me at first. He was on the other side of the glass, looking around to see who had come to visit him. I had to motion to him to sit down and pick up the phone. Once I told him who I was, I saw that little boy peek out through the 26-year-old man’s eyes. I asked him, and he remembered being in my class, learning math facts, staying at my house. He remembered being loved. I could tell it in his grin and the way he still looked at me the way a small boy looks at a teacher. Sweet little Andy, my main squeeze.
We talked for a while, but it was hard to hear through the phones, hard to be understood. And the glass was thick and impenetrable. I told him about a place where he could go to get job training and finish his high school education. I told him I cared about him and wanted him to know it. That all those years ago it had felt like he was MY little boy. And then it was time to say goodbye. I put my hand on the glass, and he matched it with his own on the other side. Into the phone he said, “I really appreciate you coming.” And then we both walked away. I felt overwhelmed and raw, pierced even, with both grief and love.
A few days later I mailed a packet to his home, with material about the job-prep place we had talked about. I enclosed a letter and a copy of the scrapbook page with his photo on it.
I don’t know how Andy’s life will turn out or if I’ll ever hear from him again. But I do know this: I know that Jesus cares about him. And I know that he will be with me always.