One of the questions that I get asked a lot from our churches, is if we ever have trouble with the husbands of our residents finding the shelter. Before Simon, I was always able to say “No”. But things changed quite a bit for all of us when he showed up.
I suppose you could say that this is the story of how my pants saved me. Simon wanted to kill me, but his knife got stuck in my pants. It was rather fortunate for me, I should say, that he was wearing them at the time.
Let me tell you the story.
Simon was married to a woman who had been at Deborah’s House months before. Blanca and her two children, Simon Jr. and Sandra, spent several months with us over the summer of 2007. She was having a rough time of it at the shelter. She had a tough time sharing limited space and trying to control her kids. Adorable as they were, they were also capable of causing a lot of problems. Simon Jr. particularly was prone to vicious acts of anger. When he thought no one was looking, he would kick a younger child, or stomp on a dog’s tail. He had so much rage bottled up inside him, but he was also capable of wonderful acts of beauty. Deep down, he was crying out for love and attention.
Just when I thought we were making some breakthroughs with the entire family, Blanca decided to leave, to go back to her husband. We couldn’t convince her otherwise and of course, the women at the shelter have to be given the right and power to make their own decisions. Although we were sad for Blanca, I hurt most for Simon Jr.
I thought he had made great progress, and that we had made such a strong connection. Every time I arrived at the shelter, he ran to greet me and hug me. He was so desperate for my approval. I think I was the only man that he ever knew who didn’t hit him or hurt him.
As his mother prepared to leave, he tried to stay. He didn’t want to go back to the vicious reality that he had known before. My heart broke when he begged me to let him live with us, crying alligator tears, and I was powerless to do anything at all.
Three months later, Blanca called for help. She had been stabbed three times and her face was beaten almost unrecognizably. We took her to the police, but the courts said that they could do nothing because her wounds were not severe enough. They would heal in less than three weeks.
She needed to leave Simon, but we could not take her back to Deborah’s House. It was too likely that Simon knew where our shelter was and could show up here looking for her. We found space for the family at a shelter run by a Pentecostal woman.
Two days later Simon began calling. Our first contact with him was the messages he was leaving with members of our churches who had reached out to Blanca as she was living with him again. Several women, members of our board, had been doing follow up with Blanca to make sure she was ok. They prayed with the family and invited them to cell groups nearby. Simon now had Blanca’s phone and all the numbers for these dear women. He began harassing them and making threats. The week before Christmas, he told them that he knew where our shelter was, and if he didn’t have his wife and kids by that Friday, he would come and kill everyone at Deborah’s House on Christmas morning.
We beefed up security and tried to get a police presence there as often as possible. We also looked for him at his home. Accompanied by a domestic violence unit of the Tijuana police, we went to his apartment hoping to find him. He was never there. We left messages explaining that she was not with us anymore, but offering to help him with his problems. I left my phone number in hopes that he would stop harassing everyone else and call me.
Now he had one more number to call. But it took him several weeks to decide to call me. I told him that I could help him, but that he needed to stop threatening everybody else. We agreed to meet at a public plaza, but before we could, he took off. He was paranoid and left when he saw a police cruiser nearby. My intention was to have him arrested and the police were there for that purpose.
Later that day, he called back and we tried again. This time the police didn’t show up and Simon did. When I finally saw him, I saw Simon Jr. I saw that little lost angry child locked up inside, he was not the monster that I imagined, or perhaps I should say that he was not only the monster. He was certainly capable of evil things, but I saw that little 12-year-old boy there and I knew that this is where his son was heading. My heart broke once again and I just wanted to help.
Simon was strung out on “crystal”, methamphetamines, and the signs were obvious. He ranted and raved and demanded that I deliver his wife and children, but he also cried out just to be listened to. I let him know that the only way that could ever happen, was if he could get off the drugs and to deal with his violence, so that someday he could become a man worthy of being his children’s father. I suggested rehab to start.
To him, part of his addiction was to his family, and the control he needed over them, more powerful than any drug. The need was too immediate and a plan which would take months was way too long for him.
I told him to call when he was ready for rehab.
He kept calling, and harassing. We met several more times, and I tried to gain his trust. I gave him some of my old clothes to replace the rags he was wearing. My smallest old Dockers had a 32 waist, which almost could fit twice around his drug ravaged emaciated frame. He had a velcro back brace which he wrapped around the pants as a belt to hold them up the next time I saw him.
In our conversations he could be calm as he talked rationally about his problems, or he could be given to fits of paranoid ranting about my participation in a huge multi- government conspiracy to take away his wife and children. It was my fervent hope that at the very least I could give him a person to talk to, so that he would leave our churches and the shelter alone. Simon, however, never stopped. His one mission, 24 hours a day, was to find his family, his addiction demanded it.
He showed up at Emmanuel Baptist church one day, screaming and trying to break down the door. He was yelling threats for the world to hear, that if I didn’t show up immediately he was going to start killing anyone he could. They called Adalia and me, and then we called the police to have them meet us there.
When I arrived, Simon was still upset. He was wearing my dockers again, and was walking a bit funny. The police were not yet there, of course. He wanted to talk, and so I tried to calm him down and stall him so that he could be arrested. I walked with him a half block, to where I could keep him with his back to the street from where the police would come. This left me with my back to a block wall. Smart, huh?
As we talked, and I waited, he kept fidgeting with his pocket. He was a bit crazier than usual, which is saying a lot for Simon. I told him I just wanted to help him. Simon has a sixth sense for danger and knew immediately when the police rounded the corner that something was up. As I’ve heard said before, “Just cause you’re paranoid does not mean that they’re not out to get you.”
He reached deep into his pocket and began to pull out a long metal shank that he had made and sharpened just for the occasion. It was about 15 inches long and extended through a hole in the pocket down his pant leg. But as he was pulling it out, it got stuck in the frayed threads of the pocket itself. He yelled out as he reached for it, “I’ll show you!” and then remained stuck there, grabbing, pulling, but without being able to lift it out any further. His mind also remained stuck at that same moment. He kept repeating, over and over, “I’ll show you, so this is what you mean by help? I’ll show you!” and different variations of the same.
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Seriously, I didn’t want to offend him. But the image of this guy fighting with my pants which were wrapped around him two times and held in place by a velcro back brace, and losing the battle, was too much. It seemed to me to take about 5 minutes for that police cruiser to make its way to where we were and for an officer to stroll over. All the time, I was wondering if I would have a chance to use that Tae Kwon Do that I spent all that time learning. Years of blocking drills and counter punches honed as razor sharp instinct to use in the flash of an eye at the precise moment necessary. Instead I just sat there watching this strange drama unfold as if I weren’t really an interested party, listening to Simon tell me, “Ok, now, I’ll show you, here it comes, O just wait, I’ll show you.” “Still waiting, Simon,” I thought, biting my lip. I must have gone over 10 different techniques in my mind that I thought might come in handy, but couldn’t decide on any in particular. I didn’t need one anyway.
The policeman arrived, asked which one of us was Simon, which I thought was kind of obvious, and then placed his hand on Simon’s shoulder. He released his grip on the metal shank and it dropped a couple inches twirled around a couple threads and fell, clanking harmlessly to the cement.
The police collected Simon and the knife and told me where to meet them to make my declaration. I arrived fifteen minutes later and went to the judge's office where I found Simon denying that the knife was his. It was a plant, he said. The judge was on her first day on the job with the domestic violence unit. She took the statements, listened to the testimony about the threats Simon had made, looked at the knife and then asked if anyone had actually been harmed. I said “no,” omitting the damage inflicted on my lower lip, when I had bitten it to keep from laughing at Simon.
The judge said, no harm, no foul. The fact that he didn’t actually draw the knife was enough to keep her from sentencing him to any serious time. She agreed to hold him for 36 hours in order to see if there were any other charges pending. As the police were taking him away in handcuffs, Simon turned to me and said, “I’ll call you tomorrow night”.
He couldn’t understand why I refused to see him again. I told him again, that when he was ready for rehab, I would gladly help him to get to a good center.
A month later he made the call. He had hit bottom, and he had no where else to go. I picked him up and we went to the first of several Christian rehab centers that he would know over the following months. I saw him there every week, and over time that is where I got to know the real Simon.
He confided in me things which he had never told a soul in his life. He shared the accounts of abuse and rape that he suffered as a small boy, and about how his father had found out about these things and became so ashamed of his son that he didn’t let a day go by without beating him. He shared with me the guilt and shame that he has internalized because of what was done to him. Then, he told me about all the things he has done to his own wife and children and the ever increasing guilt he feels. Not a day goes by, he says, in which he doesn’t think of the rape. “I beat myself up every day because of it, and that’s why I beat everyone else.” He deals with his pain with drugs and violence. Like so many men, in their feelings of weakness and shame, he lashes out at others not because he feels strong, but because he feels so weak.
In him, I see his son, and I see the life that Simon, Jr. might have in store for him if we cannot, if Simon cannot break the cycle of violence.
Simon clung to me just as his son did, and he wept in my arms. How much I wanted to let him feel in me the loving embrace of the father that he so much needs, who can tell him that it’s alright, that he is alright, that he is worthy of love and need not bear this shame anymore. How much I wanted to be God’s arms for him on that day and to take away his pain. How much I want, I need, to feel God’s embrace myself. But it is so elusive, and I am such a poor substitute. God wants to give this grace so freely, but we are so hard on ourselves, and forgive ourselves so slowly. I see this in Simon as I see it in me, and I know that this is what drives him to do those things which only compound his shame. Isn’t this true for all of us?
Simon has made progress, and he has slid back. He left the rehab center after two months and was back on crystal. He was back to calling me with his delusions. And then I didn’t hear from him for a month. I was worried, and then I saw him last week outside the prison a couple blocks from my house. There had been a big riot there and Simon was on his way inside. This time not as a prisoner, but as a part of a work team put together by the rehab center where he is now residing. He was going in to help clean things up after rioting destroyed much of the prison.
He hugged me and cried and said he was doing well. He looked fantastic, had picked up a little weight and could almost fit into those 32 inch dockers now. He told me that he wished he had listened to me sooner. I cried and told him that it’s never too late.
Inside every monster, no matter how cruel, how evil he may act, is a little child, a child of God who our Father wants to lift up from the depths to which he has fallen, and redeem to His purpose, and to enclose in His embrace.
That is the hope for every one of us, His children. Inside every one of us, is that child that God made and loves, and yearns to lift up and hold on to.
My prayer for Simon, for all of us, is that we may know and rest in that embrace.