There’s a great article on the front page of our local newspaper, the Keene Sentinel, written by staff writer Phillip Bantz.
Our big news in New Hampshire (after the devastating ice storm) is the conviction of Michael Addison, a young African American, for killing a white police officer. He is the first person in our state to be given the death penalty in 50 years.
There has been much debate over the morality and efficacy of the death penalty in New Hampshire.
In addition, Addison’s character and motive have been heavily expounded upon the last few months, too. There was evidence he’d bragged about his intentions to “kill a cop” someday. The prosecution resisted any defense of his horrible environment, noting that countless people come from horrible environments, yet they don’t choose to kill. Which is true.
It is not our finest moment, in so many ways.
This article is different. It tells a story about silent evidence.
Here’s a good definition of silent evidence. Usually, silent evidence refers to a happy story of success or survival, that overlooks the stories of those who didn’t succeed or didn’t survive.
This article is about the happier story that could have been….
Eight years ago, someone did imagine a different story for Michael Addison.
Eight years ago, Addison walked into a teen counseling center: Compassionate Connections, in Manchester, NH. Steve Bernstein, a counselor there, saw a troubled youth with a drive to change his life. He saw a young man with hope and optimism.
A young man who was trying to choose differently.
Addison came to the center regularly, of his own free will for well over a year–unusual in and of itself. He became friends with Bernstein. He got his driver’s license. He pursued a GED. He sought counseling. He talked about learning a trade.
He wanted something different. He acted on that. And he showed up, consistently, choosing differently every day, for over a year.
So what happened? How did he end up a handful of years later, murdering a cop in cold blood?
Why did he walk away from everything that was working for him, and choose this?
A few sentences say it all. Bantz writes,
“Addison never left the center. The center left him. After working with Addison for about a year and a half, Bernstein said the grant money that was the lifeblood of his center dried up, and he was forced to close it’s doors.
The next time he saw his friend’s face, it was on the news….”
It’s a weird, inversed modern version of what-could-have-been from Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Maybe it’s facile to say things could have turned out differently.
But…they could have. A little more money, for a little more time, and there may have been a different story. Maybe no story….
There would have been no murder, no police officer shot in the line of duty, no devastated family left behind, no grieving community. No flurry of news stories and headlines and debate about the dark soul of a heartless monster who killed for no reason. No death penalty debate.
Just a non-story, just another electrician in Manchester, plying his trade, maybe supporting his own young family. Maybe giving back to his community, reaching out to help other youths, as others had reached out to help him, once upon a time.
Just another link in a chain of hope, and compassion, and choice. A chain now broken.
As artists, we create such chains, too.
We choose creativity. We choose passion for making beautiful things. We choose to add to the good in the world.
Yet we cannot see how our actions manifest themselves in the world. We cannot see what good they do, or what is left undone. We may never know what comes of our decision. We may never even see success, or affirmation.
It seems like a small thing, sitting here today–I cannot see the chain I create by putting something beautiful out into the world, the chain I create by making something, whether it’s evocative art, or beautiful jewelry, or a story I tell about my process. I cannot see it.
I cannot see what would happen if I stopped, either.
I believe in silent evidence. I choose to believe. That somehow, the world is perhaps, at least, a slightly better place because of what I put out there.
This story today in our local paper, about what could have been different for this killer, affirms that for me. Not confirm. Affirm.
I hope it does that for you, too.
Because something in my heart says it’s so.
We cannot see the chain.
We can only choose to believe it’s there.