Why am I so passionate about Rayon McIntosh? Why do I care so much?
Because Shawn James was Rayon McIntosh in 2002. And I was Rayon McIntosh again three years ago. And I’m Rayon McIntosh today.
While I don’t have a prison record, I do understand what he’s going through because I’ve been through it myself and still going through it. I know how hard it is when you’re trying to start picking up the pieces of your life only to have someone take the broom and dustpan away from you just when you start sweeping things up.
I was starting to pick up the pieces of my life in a similar fashion to Rayon. I’d been out of work since 2001 and I suffered from a deep depression after losing a receptionist job I thought would be the start of my future after two weeks in 2002.
It took me six years to overcome most of my problems and get things going in the right direction.
Like Rayon, I thought my luck had changed when I passed a civil service test and got a job working in a college library back in 2008. From personal experience I can tell you working the circulation desk is just as dangerous as working the counter in McDonald’s. And smart-assed college students can pull stunts just as dangerous as thugettes trying to slip possible P-note $50 bills past an unaware cashier.
Try opening a library early in the morning. You are on your own against people who have their watches set five minutes too slow who verbally abuse you about not being on time. Other students who don’t want to get the call numbers from a computer terminal and want to argue for five to ten minutes. People who want to throw a hissy fit because they left their ID card at home. And students who are too damn lazy to take college seriously and whine and moan when everyone else gets the reserve books for classes before them. People steal paper from the copier. It’s hostile territory and it requires the coolest of cool heads to navigate.
Yes, working the front counter anywhere is that dangerous. The Circulation desk in the library I worked at I was a cramped little space with one way in and one way out. When people jump the counter and rush the one way in, like they did with Rayon, that person is for all intents and purposes boxed in. So I understand why he acted the way he did.
In places like libraries and McDonald’s patrons and customers can get really aggressive. Aggressive enough to hide books, steal books and rip pages out of them. Bold enough to lie and say something in the lost and found with someone else’s name on it is theirs. Slick enough to come behind the counter and steal journals. Slick enough to steal money from people’s coats and money out of purses in the back. Hostile enough to put up a fight at closing time.
And management loves to hide behind company policy and blame the employee when mistakes are made in servicing customers or dealing with unruly customers. They love to create unwritten policies like unpaid overtime and searching student bags for stolen books and then abandon the employee when they follow these rules.
And they love to fire people and hang them out to dry when they make a mistake or take some action that they think makes them look bad.
And for a brothers like myself and Rayon McIntosh, losing a job just when you’re about to get your life in order so abruptly is like getting the rug yanked right out from under you just as they’re getting their footing.
Now I’m a brotha with no criminal record and a college degree. Rayon McIntosh is a brotha with a felony conviction. I’m 38 and Rayon is 31.
But we’re the same person.
Even though there’s a seven-year-age difference between us, I could easily have been Rayon and he could have easily been Shawn.
I just lost my job in October 2008. I was blessed enough to have built enough of a savings from that job at the library to start picking up the pieces of my life again as a self-publisher. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be, but I’m putting one foot in front of the other.
Rayon could be losing years of his life. He was on parole and being charged with another felony means he’s going to do serious time. He may not get the third chance I’m working towards.
I know how hard it is to turn your life around after a rough period. You run into so much resistance it’s like swimming against a tsunami at high tide or trying to go up a waterfall. People like friends and family don’t want to help you change and go forward because they’re comfortable with the status quo of you at the bottom. Even your own body resists you, making you sick because it’s comfortable with going nowhere. Some days you feel like you’re drowning.
And when you finally get a job and start taking steps to rebuild your life people at work from bosses to co-workers and even customers resist you because they’re comfortable and don’t like the change you represent. Instead of getting support, you feel abandoned. So just getting through a day is a struggle.
I’m praying for Rayon McIntosh. This young brotha needs God’s help and the support of everyone. It’s easy for any of us to judge his actions that day as excessive and call them criminal, but until we walk a mile in his shoes can any of us truly understand why he did what he did.