He looks the look.
His pants are sagging and his hair is twisted.
At first glance, one would think “tough guy or thug.” I believe he prefers this description. It’s easier to keep people at a distance that way.
The image he projects also serves to protect. He isn’t really hard, although he has endured a hard life, but he does have a lot of pinned up anger. At times he is quick to fight and slow to listen. This has become his way of coping.
I ask him why and he informs me that life at home isn’t all that it should be. Without going into too much detail, it is the reason Johnny Cash wrote the song about a boy name Sue.
When we first met, he wouldn’t even talk to me. My attempts to engage him were rebuffed. When I tried to share words of wisdom, it was like casting pearls before swine. He would have none of it.
But that was then and this is now.
As we sit across from each other playing a game of chess, it is now he who engages me in conversation. It took me nearly a month to get him to play and I have watched his attitude and confidence soar as his skills improve.
He interrupts our silence and asks if I have ever considered selling drugs.
The fact that he feels comfortable enough to ask such a question is a reflection of the progress we have made. I try not to allow the shock of the question to register on my face, instead focusing on the chessboard.
I tell him no, never.
It doesn’t escape me that if he is asking, he may also be considering. I know that my answer alone will not be enough.
He moves a chess piece and asks why not.
I count the reasons to myself.
I recline away from the board and look at him before answering that I am a man who loves freedom. For me, it is perhaps the most precious thing about living. I would never want to do something that could hurt or hinder that freedom. I don’t believe they would allow me to ride my motorcycle in prison or play round after round of golf. What would I do with all this wanderlust?
He leans forward, and I gather we now are playing a game of verbal chess.
He says that you can make easy money that way, I suppose to drive the point home.
I assure him that there are better ways to make money.
Ways that don’t require you to break the law or have to look over your shoulder. Honest ways to hustle. If a man has a good work ethic, common sense and a willingness to learn, he doesn’t have to sell drugs.
When I was younger I wanted to make some money, so my dad purchased me a lawnmower.
He had taught and trained me by allowing me to practice on our yard. It was the sweat equity I owed him for living in his house and eating all those hamburgers.
I never realized the money a young man could make cutting grass until that summer.
While my peers depended on their parents for money, I was so proud to earn my own income. That was the first brick in my foundation of honest work.
Another way that I earned money was by being an official for YMCA basketball games. I purchased some black pants, shoes and a whistle. I studied to make myself familiar with the rules and every weekend I would call games.
A smile crossed his face as the light of understanding entered his mind.
With excitement he asks if I am a hustler.
I tell him that I guess you could call it that.
He demanded that I tell him more.
I reached inside my briefcase and pulled out a copy of one of my books.
I held it up to him.
He looked at it, read the title and asked if I wrote it.
I told him that I wrote it and published it as well. I said that I’ve always wanted to write.
I loved being told stories by my teachers when I was young, and as a result, I have always wanted to be a writer. I paid attention in school, and the things my teachers taught me I am using today.
I shared with him an article from The Messenger.
I told him that they pay me to write and that there are others who pay me to speak. I don’t have to sell drugs—I only have to be a good steward of the gifts God has given me. As a result, I can hustle without fear of the consequences and enjoy my freedom.
He smiles some more as we resume our game of chess.
I asked if he needed any clarification.
He said he got it, and that it is pretty simple when it was put together like that. He said he knows what he has to do.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from it.” Perhaps more training is needed.