The 17-year-old Cook County inmate who committed suicide by hanging himself was my student.
Nothing hurts worse than to find out bad news about someone you knew or someone you loved. And yet, in spite of all the headaches, grief, and high blood pressure medication I suffered at the hands of Tyshawn Carter, for me, he was both. I wonder if he knew he was remembered and loved. Given the choice he made to take his life, I can only imagine that he didn't know we, his educators at his South side charter middle school he attended a few years back, actually cared about him. And how could he? It seems that all I ever did as his dean of students was to suspend him. Strict, harsh disciplinary measures were the only thing Tyshawn ever received from me, and it grieves my soul to know this, because I believed in him. It was just I had no way of showing him this because he was stuck like a big fat hair ball in a clogged up drain smack dab in the middle of the suspension-to-prison pipeline system, as most young black male students are with emotional and behavioral issues.
That's the hard part about working with kids. They think you don't understand their issues. They think "you be trippin" when you tell them to "dress for success" as a way to inspire them to wear their uniform properly because to be a Scholar you have to at least try to look like one. Mind you, I don't believe you have to deny them the right to enter a classroom if their belt is brown when it should be black. Or if they have a white speck on their shoe to place them in in-school suspension for the day because the uniform code says "all black shoes only." Those are some of the reasons Tyshawn couldn't go into class. And this could and would send him into a fit of rage.
On the days he did manage to get into the classroom, often he would want to fight others or speak disrespectfully to his teachers. This would get him sent to the discipline office--my office--promptly. It was there in Room 126, a room of misfits and mishaps, that we would come to know more about Tyshawn.
I remember the day he made us flowers. He had been put out of class for God knows what this one particular day, and while sitting in the principal's office passing time, he made several of the school's administrative team flowers made from multi-colored construction paper. And they were beautiful! Whenever he would get sent out of class, I'd show him the flower he made for me to try to calm down. On a good day it worked. On a bad day he'd ask to go to the bathroom and climb out the window and the D-Team, the school's disciplinarian team, would jog all over the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood to try to find him. This was a game Tyshawn played often, and on most days, he won.
Then there was the day he went into a fit of rage in the cafeteria. I have no idea what set him off, all I know is that he picked up an extraordinarily heavy garbage can and chucked it clear across the room. When he was mad he was as strong as a bull and unashamedly apoplectic. When he was happy he was kind, thoughtful, and helpful. Unfortunately, the latter we didn't see very often at all.
I vividly remember his loving older sister who would get called out of class to try to calm him down. Or tell us where she thought he may have run off to. She had the height and talent to be an all star basketball player, but she had the stress of an overworked postal worker. Eventually, the whole family would just go "postal" and blow up because they were worn out from not knowing how to help Tyshawn.
Mom was tired of us calling her to come pick him up. Teachers were tired of him terrorizing the classroom. His sister was tired because she was just trying to be a normal student. And the entire school staff was tired because his behavior was beyond the scope of our practice. And if it wasn't beyond their scope, it was certainly beyond mine. Even with proven research that shows that students with severe emotional or behavior issues are often funneled through the school to prison pipeline with schools relying more on suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement to punish students, our school just like many others, worked to exclude him more than find resources to help him. It was this sad truth that led me to leave the field of education. It was two years ago that I vowed never to suspend another black child. Never again!
What really bothered me is that we'd have meetings about meetings to discuss our professional development topics where we evaluated statistics of how young black males were suspended at alarmingly higher rates than others, with auspicious plans of saving each and every last one of them, only to leave the meeting and be handed discipline referral sheets requesting to have students just like Tyshawn removed from class, or even the school. There were times I couldn't even go to the bathroom without teachers sliding referrals under the stalls! The hypocrisy of the school system would eventually stress me out to the point of near death. That's why I had to get out.
And now look. What I feared and foresaw has come to pass. A student shuffled through the disciplinary system did eventually land in jail, and now he's gone. Just like they teach at 12-step meetings: Untreated insane behavior leads to three things: jails, institutions, and death.
I can't even remember how it came to be that Tyshawn would leave our school. I don't know if we expelled him or he transferred. After a while, it seemed, he was just gone.
Now that I'm out of the system I can candidly say that all I did most days as a dean was to pray. I prayed for him. His family. The school. The teachers. Myself. My kids who I'd be too tired to parent after a day of struggling with not only Tyshawn, but all the other students like him. And believe me there were many.
We were all tired.
In the end no one was more tired than Tyshawn himself. I am so sorry to hear that he hung himself in his jail cell alone late at night. I can only pray now that his soul and family can rest in peace. -EA
To read more about Tyshawn and his tragic life's ending, click here for the Tribune's report.
About me: I'm a wife, mother, blogger, and exercise instructor at a Christian fitness facility. I am also a former gym teacher and middle school and higher education administrator. I have worked with some of the brightest students in the country, and some of the most troubled youth you could imagine. I now use the platform of the Body by Vi 90-Day Challenge to help people transform their lives both physically and financially so as to one day travel the world sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ so that no other student has to feel so alone and hopeless that they have to hang themselves in a jail cell.
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