Looking around I saw the 5 wings with 10ft by 6ft prisoner cells, some of them quiet and seemingly empty whilst others with young men wearing sweat pants and a light blue T-shirt looking out with little enthusiasm. There were prisoners in clusters being moved around between the wings, accompanied by officers. Many of them had blank, expressionless faces. It was a challenge for me to avoid their gaze as I was unsure of how I was supposed to be with them.
There are many beggars around my neighbourhood. At times I buy them a coffee or a tea especially when it is cold outside. It is always the ones who stand out there with a copy of the Big Issue in their hands that I then lavish with my small gift of a heart warming cup of tea.
One many in particular whose name I understand is Toby looks more forlorn than the others. His eyes touched a sensitive nerve in my heart. They still had a twinkle underneath the sticky glaze of malnutrition and weathered skin. He had tears in his eyes. He was good. He got me. A soft spot for Toby emerged in my heart that I could not explain. Two weeks ago I sat with him on the side walk to chat, brought him some hot tea and gave him £10 saying it was just a 'one-off' for him to get himself into a shelter.
Now, I was born in India - a country where begging is not uncommon and is a sub-industry run by powerful mafia and degenerate under-world. I've been accustomed to, sensitised to living alongside the poorest of the poor. Sometimes hardened to it. It has been drilled in me that parting with money to beggars is of no good to them. Which is why I resorted to only giving my attention to those that were trying to make a living in what way they could. By selling books, the Big Issue, providing a service.
Why did I then think it a good idea to take Toby to a restaurant to eat a proper meal? Admittedly there was a lot in this for me. It was a test of the fact that I am bold. That I can go beyond just feeling sad and talking about helping. What it was not was any real help for him. Soon enough my 'one-off' £10 became a £5 meal, my time and another £10 to get him into a hostel.
When doing things that make a difference I have electricity all over my body. This time I felt something but it was not electricity. Not the charge felt when a client I coach gets to the other side and feels excited about new possibilities.
Have done him a disservice? Who has this served in the end really? My intention in buying food for Toby was to give him some comfort. He's 66 years old and my intellectual self was telling me 'dont do it' while my emotional self convinced me that it was alright. Just this once the man would have enough to get him into the shelter for the night.
Seeing that this is now not just a 'one-off' thing anymore some hard decision need to be taken. As a coach, one of my current growth areas is being bold. In being bold I hold the client as naturally resourceful and capable and I trust in my own intuition. In being bold I empower the client to make a decision from the inside out.
A conversation with my mother reminded me of an important value that she has lived with and understood in others. That of living life empowered as opposed to victimised. In this case the beggar is perpetually in victim mode and I have helped him continue on his journey in victim mode. What is true for me is that I wanted to make a difference in his life. The only way I will truly make a valuable difference is by facing the hard truth and taking the hard option to stop feeding his victimhood.
Kerry Stewart writes in a recent article Encounter According to O'Halloran, many volunteers think 'that's all they are, just poor people, and I can help them by giving of my excess and that makes me a good person'.
'[But] they are fellow human beings who have skills and capacities and resourcefulness probably far beyond anyone living in a Western society.'
"You're no longer a funeral virgin', Nina said to me lafter her beautiful, young sister-in-law Anna's funeral. The first time I ever heard this phrase was the first time I attended a funeral. Fortunate enough until then to have not had to experience such an occassion. Fortunate is what I say, although death is as much a part of life as life itself and there is something about celebrating someone's life after they have gone that we still can't be with in the Western world.
Yesterday I had lunch seated outside a restaurant in a quiet central London street. While I sat there a man approached me begging for money. I didn't even look at him directly, shook my head and looked away.
A second later I felt ashamed. Ashamed of reacting this way. What was I afraid of when I saw him? I noticed he didn't smell too great and he looked rather dodgy. I suppose so would I if I had to live on the streets.
Last night I did something big. Big for me. I was one of two guest on a radio show that I admire and for the first time a potential audience of over 30,000 would hear my voice. My voice. Wow, until I got on the call I did not realise how nervous I would be. There were thoughts floating in my head for days, for weeks about what I would say. Where I would mention my mum, my upbringing, my heroes. How I would frame my experiences, my purpose, my goal. I took notes, had colourful sticky reminders on my mirror so I would not forget a story.
Recently everything in my life had fallen apart. My relationship ended, the courses that I had embarked upon here in New York with the hope of changing careers ended, I’m looking for work and having to move out of the apartment I have been staying at when in the City. All at the same time. The stress and emotion of it all prevented me from keeping my eyes on my ultimate goals and that is that I would like to make a go of it in New York city. A job, a visa, a home and of course LOVE.