Columbine, Kudzu, and a Colt .45

We were drinking coffee in the prison employee break room when Mark and Sam started comparing their childhood terrors. They both grew up with alcoholic dads. They both were subjected to a daily barrage of insults, hits, cursings, and cruelty. Sometimes they escaped by running or hiding, only to watch a pet or sibling or mother receive the blows. They learned that they both were taken with their dads to the same bootlegger tucked away in a mountain hollow. They swapped stories of fights with fists, bottles, knives, and guns. They pointed to scars. They felt lucky to have survived at all. And what did they survive with?

Mark stood in blue uniform with gold stripes on his collar and black weapons hanging from his belt. He’s a sergeant and earned badges as an expert marksman. Mark speaks with delight about shooting birds out of trees, watching the feathers scatter to the ground. Some days, he says, he just wants to kill something—anything. Just feels the urge. Loud noises still make him jump at night. He grabs his Colt .45 under his pillow to investigate the sound. He never answers his door without a gun.

Sam sat in a blue-striped shirt. He is a prison counselor. He does not own a gun. He walks away when a movie becomes too violent. Sometimes he likes to walk in the woods at night and call out to screech owls. Just feels the urge. Loud noises still make him jump. He will grab his glasses at the bedside to investigate the sound. He never goes to his door without his glasses.

VIOLENCE DOES NOT always beget violence. Gentleness does not always beget gentleness. Ask parents. The roads our children take are often wildly divergent. They defy explanation by even the most discerning minds. The same stimuli do not produce the same results. How do we explain it?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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