Friday, February 15, 2013

I Was Ben Sherman...

...but, thankfully, I was not armed. 

Season 5 of "SouthLAnd" started this past Wednesday.  If you have read this blog at all, you know that I am a "SouthLAnd" fanatic.  It's my favorite show since "Dragnet", "Adam-12",  and "Emergency". 

Anyway, one of the main cop characters in "SouthLAnd" is Ben Sherman (played by Ben McKenzie), who is partnered up with the slightly older and far wiser Sammy Bryant (played by Shawn Hatosy). And Ben has been dabbling in some rather shady cop behavior lately.  Engaging in some "ends justifying the means" type of reasoning.  And he has been having a little "walk on the wild side" in his personal life.  Decompressing in ways that may not be so healthy -- physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Now, Ben Sherman is a really good guy inside.  He has a very strong sense of justice.  He joins the LAPD with a soul full of compassion, a desire to do good and make a difference.  He is a highly intelligent and capable man.  He probably took a lot of AP courses in high school and went to a well-respected university.  In the first season, we learn that he took a college course in Black Studies, which seems to have touched his heart.  So, he enters the world of police work expecting to have good relationships with the people he encounters.  And perhaps (a bit pridefully), expecting them to respect him because he has come to help them and the communities in which they live.

Ben reminds me a lot of myself when I was hired to teach high school right out of college.  I had taken all the advanced courses at my own high school.  I had gone to a well-respected university, where I learned all the latest in liberal thought.  I was full of good intentions and compassion.  I wanted to do good and make a difference.  And perhaps (a bit pridefully), I expected those I encountered in my work to respect me because I had come to help them.  The school at which I began my teaching "career" was in suburbia, but there were many, many kids bused in daily from some rough neighborhoods.  There were gang members, wanna-be gang members, drug dealers, drug addicts, baby-mamas, baby-daddies, and a lot of kids who couldn't read or do math at anywhere near grade level.  And I was tasked with teaching science to these young people.

I was 23 years old at the time.  Five feet, three inches tall.  One hundred twenty pounds.  Not in the least bit intimidating.  Here is what happened the first day of school when three confident, formidable young women were sitting in my classroom, listening to me talk enthusiastically about the Scientific Method.

     Girl #1:  DID YOU KNOW I HAD A BABY?!?!
     Girl #2:  YOU HAD A BABY?!?!  I DIDN'T KNOW YOU HAD A BABY!!!!
     Girl #3:  WHAT KINDA BABY YOU HAVE?!?!

Now, of course, they were playing with me.  They wanted to see what this little teacher in the flowered dress, who looked like a teen herself, was going to do about this.  And, naturally, I had no idea what to do.

This is what happened the third day of school:

     Boy (who was eventually arrested for drug dealing, after being observed on campus wearing a fur jacket with wads of cash sticking out of the pockets):  I need to go to the bathroom.
     Me:  You can go after class.
     Boy (unzipping pants):  If you don't let me go to the bathroom, I'm gonna shit on the floor.

I honestly have no memory of what happened next.

These are the kinds of experiences I had, day-in and day-out, in my teaching "career".   Let's just say I started to become a bit cynical.  I started to feel a bit hopeless.  These kids were not interested in all the good I wanted to do for them.  They did not want my help.  My youthful pride was injured.  I also felt exhausted and grief-stricken at all the sadness I saw around me.  And sometimes -- I admit -- I got very, very angry.

I got angry when I saw lovely young women being pressured by self-centered, cocky young males into having sex, and then being left alone and lonely when they became pregnant.  I got angry when I had rocks thrown at my back by a group of adolescent males.  I got angry when a kid high on coke got in my face and called me a bitch.

Was this anger justified?  Sure.  But, it was also dangerous.  It was dangerous because it caused me to become more and more cynical.  It caused me to lose hope.  And it even caused me to feel rather aggressive at times. 

So, when I see the development of the character of Ben Sherman, I don't approve of all the stuff he does.  But, I can understand it.  I can relate to it.

And it makes me thankful for the following:

     1.  That I had a nice boyfriend, so I was not tempted to drown my sorrows in a wild and crazy sex life.
     2.  That even if I had not had a nice boyfriend, I would not have been clever enough to figure out how to have a wild and crazy sex-life.
     3.  That I would have been too embarrassed to hang out in a strip club.
     4.  That I was, as I said up-top, unarmed.

I am also thankful that the teacher next door to me was a bit like Sammy.  He was older and vastly wiser and more experienced.  He was also kind enough to mentor me, even though it was not his job.  He taught me, like Sammy is trying to teach Ben, to have realistic expectations of myself, of others, of what I could actually accomplish.  And he taught me to see the humanity in people, to look for the good -- even when it is extremely difficult.  And he taught me the importance of self-control.

I hope Ben learns these things from Sammy.  I hope he learns them before he ends up in an orange jumpsuit -- or loses what is left of that good man who was described as having "kind eyes" by the mother of the lost little girl.

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