By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor of Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a residential foster care facility for young men coping with sexual assault charges. In 2001, during the Anthrax scare that followed 9-11, my agency’s director and I mapped out a plan for how we would deal with our men, aged 12-18, if we had to go into lockdown in the event of a local terrorist attack. The following pages are based upon those discussions.
The plot so far: A 2-kiloton suitcase nuke has exploded in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the staff of Unity House are about to form the Men of Honor Society for two purposes: One, to keep the twelve teen-aged boys of Unity House busy and not fighting each other, and two, to act as a rescue group to the local neighborhood. Due to the destruction and radiation, the police and army can not get into this section of Worcester. The people living on Marion Avenue and Plantation Street only have the Men of Honor aiding them.
To read more of the Men of Honor:
Chapter 6 – Boy Scout training comes in handy
Day Two – 11:15am
From the CNN broadcasts we learned about the “7-10 rule,” which was to become critical to our survival. For every multiple of seven hours, alpha and beta radiation decreases by a factor of ten. Hence, the danger from the dust was one-tenth after the first seven hours, and then one-hundredth after forty-nine hours.
I had an educational opportunity with the guys on this one.
“Seven times seven hours is how many days, guys? Hint: what is seven hours, times seven hours?”
“Okay, good. Now, forty-nine hours is how many days?”
No one replied.
“Two days plus one hour,” I answered. “C’mon guys, each day has twenty-four hours, so, two days is forty-eight hours. We have to wait two days before we lose another tenth. Tomorrow, the radiation will be one-hundredth of the original danger. At that level, according to the experts we just heard, we can go outside for ten to fifteen minutes, total, without suffering any health effects.”
But we learned sadly that for us to be outside for any significant periods of time, like the hour or two we would need to walk to safety, the radiation would have to be one-thousandth of current levels, which would take two days times another seven, or fourteen days. And lastly, we would have to stay indoors for twenty-eight days until the levels reach the point where we could be out in the dust without any worries.
“One month? I’ll go crazy!” said Kevin P when I spelled out the math.
“I’ll kill myself, instead,” said Willy. “I ain’t gonna live in this place for a whole month.”
“One month with Dave?” said Trey. “Forget it. I’ll take my chances.” He said it just loud enough to make sure I heard it.
“Yeah, but one-month without school? No homework?” I offered. That neutralized their anger a bit.
“Yeah, but what about our friends?” asked Kevin P. “We aren’t gonna see ‘em for a month?”
“Yeah, what about Trish?”…
“… and Samantha?”
“… and Joey D?”
The names of girlfriends, crushes, fantasies, and buddies just poured out. I was impressed they had so many social connections. I had given all these guys diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, which meant that they had trouble making real relationships. I told them that young men who have real relationships don’t need rules and consequences. Men who care about others know the right thing to do.
My job, as I saw it, was to help them evolve into “loving and loveable young men.” It wasn’t my idea, it was T. J. Doyle’s, who said he got it from a “professional mother” named Nancy Thomas in Colorado.
In that simple moment the Men of Honor Society was born:
“We gotta help them,” Trey announced.
“Who?” Kevin A asked.
“Everyone?” Willy said, sounding worried that he was going to have to save the whole world if he wanted to keep up with Trey.
“No, I mean Trish, and,” then pointing at Kevin P, “Samantha,” who was Kevin P’s date for the upcoming Halloween dance, “and Joey D,” pointing at Willy.
Joey D was Willy’s ‘homie,’ or ‘bro.’ I was never sure what Joey’s official designation was, but it meant “really good friend at school.”
“And everyone in the neighborhood,” Trey continued. “I saw two girls playing out in their front yard this morning. They don’t know anything about the radiation, the alpha waves and all that. We gotta tell them.”
“Wait a minute, Trey,” said Terry. “How do you know two girls were playing in their yard this morning?”
“I saw them.”
“I know, but how? How were you able to see them? Your room is at the end of south hallway. There’s trees outside your window, and the rest of Dorchester Hill is in the way. You can’t see anyone from your room. In fact, no one can see any rooms of the Unity House from the neighborhood. That’s why we picked this place. You couldn’t have seen anyone unless you were outside and went for a walk. An unauthorized walk, Trey.”
“I, …ah, saw them.” That was all he could say.
“BUSTED, hey, hey, hey…” teased Willy. “You were on a smoke break and you got caught.” Willy poked Trey in the ribs.
“Oh, shut up fool,” responded Trey.
“You gonna make me?”
“Oh, fool, you don’t know how I’m gonna make you.” Trey flailed at Willy with a head slap.
“Hold it!” Terry and I said in one voice. “Hold it, you two.”
“Trey’s right,” I interjected. “We know a lot about what’s going on. The radiation is hanging in the atmosphere and is blocking all the TV and radio signals. We know what others don’t, and it can save their lives. We can help.”
“Did you go out your window?” asked Terry.
“Well, nobody opens a window anymore,” said Terry. “It endangers the whole house.”
“I’m gonna talk with Terry,” I said to everyone. “We’ll see about modifying the “No Smoking” rule so that you don’t have to sneak out to smoke.”
State regs had forced us to forbid smoking, yet I supported their desire to smoke. First, the rules against smoking were unenforceable and put us into all sorts of compromises. The primary one was supervising personal walks.
To skirt the rules on ‘No Smoking” the guys would stash their cigarettes and lighters in the bushes along the drive up the hill. Then, they would have to maintain alpha privileges in order to be eligible for an unsupervised walk during which they could catch a smoke. Alpha status walks were a big privilege because it was tantamount to being allowed to smoke.
But, half of our guys were never on alpha. They were always being knocked back on status, so they had to sneak out of their rooms to get a smoke. That meant jumping through their windows when we weren’t looking, and our windows and screens were a total shamble despite our constant repairs.
Plus, I knew that smoking was good for our guys; it calmed them and made them more alert mentally.
“Studies have shown,” I would argue at staff meetings, “that, lung issues aside, smoking is beneficial. The nitrous oxides in tobacco smoke make the neurons of the brain more neuroplastic, or more flexible, which is a good thing. The trauma of their lives has made their brains more rigid, literally. Tobacco changes that, and helps our guys to be calmer and more alert.”
I fought the system continuously over this issue, but I lost every time. Actually, I wanted my guys to smoke pipes because pipe tobacco has significantly less harmful additives, such as souped-up nicotine, or the arsenic which is added to slow down the burn of cigarette paper. But everyone, including Terry, thought I was nuts.
All this confused the guys because I wouldn’t let them smoke in sessions even though I encouraged their smoking outside. I told them that I would be criminally liable if I let them smoke with me, but that was too much of an abstraction for them to comprehend.
Nevertheless, I promised that when they turned eighteen, I would buy them the biggest, best cigar of their choosing and at the stroke of midnight, when we were freed of legal responsibilities to the state, we would light up stogies together.
The few I did that with were outstanding moments, times that I remember to this day. Sometimes great therapy is easy.
“We gotta do something,” Trey said. “My people are gone. Worcester is gone. My Granny May is gone I guess, since it looks like South Valley is toast. My sister’s kids, Ra Whayna and Bethshallla, too. They were about the same age as the two little girls I saw playing just down the street. I can’t do anything for my nieces, but I can do something for those two kids.”
I had never heard Trey talk like this before. I had heard of his Granny May, with whom he lived for a few months in between juvy time on a pot bust a few years ago, but I never even knew he had a sister or that she had kids.
Nor that he cared so deeply and would be able to talk about it.
And here he was in public, in front of the guys, opening his heart and sharing his feelings.
“Trey, you’re right,” I said. “We gotta do something. But we gotta be smart. We gotta make sure that we don’t make things worse for ourselves. We just can’t be running around Worcester telling everyone what’s up. But, you’re right, and we will do something, soon. But let’s eat first and come up with a plan. One that we can put into motion today. I’m not saying we’re gonna put this off. I’m saying we’re gonna do something in the next few hours, or tomorrow at the latest. I just want us to be safe.”
I put my hands upon Trey’s shoulders. “We are going to do something, Trey. Please, trust me. So, let’s go eat and then we’ll make a plan.” Then I pushed him out the door.
After he was gone, I turned to Terry.
“Boss,” I said, “talk to me. How far are you willing to stretch here? Are you willing to let our guys be scouts? Go into the neighborhood?”
She looked at me with steely eyes.
“Let’s take it one step further,” I continued. “We and everyone else in this neighborhood are grounded for at least another day or two. In reality, we’re here for two weeks, or up to a month. Radiation has got everything locked down. The best the military can do right now is fly drones over us and take gawd-damned pictures. What are we supposed to do? Wave for the cameras? The news isn’t even talking specifics yet, about rescue efforts. For food and medical help to get to us, it’s gonna take days before we’ll see anything. Can we turn this place into an emergency shelter for the Dorchester Hill district?”
She gasped and turned away. I was pushing her limits of acceptance, but I knew we had to do this.
”Jeez, Terry,” I said, getting excited. “We’ve got a lot here; a SYSCO truck outside filled with food. Here in the house we have propane stoves and running water. If our neighbors do need help, we might be able to provide valuable assistance until real help gets here.”
She turned back and I could tell she was thinking hard. Her heart was saying one thing and her head was shouting something else.
“C’mon, Terry, you know that Worcester always gets everything last. Help is gonna go to Boston and Cambridge and Hyannis, and places like that. We’re gonna be last. We’re friggin’ Worcester, for Christ’s sake, Terry. You know that joke about Worcester? Worcester is Worst-er? We gotta help ourselves and whoever is around us. Terry, c’mon. You know we’re on our own.”
“Dave, please, one thing at a time. How are we going to take care of our guys for up to a month? We have to think of the long haul.”
“True, but we’ve gotta think of ways to keep our guys occupied. We can turn them into real Boy Scouts.”
“Well, like Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts in the truest sense of the word. They go out into the neighborhood and keep tabs on people. They’ll be our eyes and ears. I’ll be out there with them. Hell, we’ll only be out there for fifteen minutes starting tomorrow, for a least a couple of days, maybe a week. We can’t cause too much trouble in fifteen minutes. We won’t be able to walk more than a block and get back in that amount of time. Hell, Terry, we can help our guys best by keeping them busy, helping others.”
“Maybe we should call them Men of Honor, not Boy Scouts,” said Terry, always thinking further down the road.
“Yes, Men of Honor, that’s perfect.”
The Men of Honor was a program that I had written a proposal on several months earlier. We had heard of a similar program from a social worker who worked in Roxbury. They had a Men of Honor Program to help their guys identify with gentlemanly ideals like honoring women, being respectful to each other, and loving nature.
I had even drawn up a code for the Men of Honor. It started with: “Men of Honor always tell the truth.” On paper it had looked great.
Terry really liked the idea and had asked me for a full proposal.
“It sounds a lot like TT’s ‘Unity Pride’ program,” she had said at the time. “You two should get together on this. TT was talking to me a couple of months ago about us hooking up with the ‘Worcester Pride’ movement that the African-American Coalition of Worcester is organizing. It’s a plan to get young men doing good things in the community, keeping them busy and out of trouble.”
“That’s exactly it, Terry,” I said. “That’s what I’m saying here. We should do the same thing now. Yeah, I remember TT saying something about Unity Pride and wanting to get “tee” shirts and red berets and yellow scarves and stuff like that. Like the Guardian Angels do back in New York City with that guy, Curtis Sliwa, and his groups that patrols the subways at night and provide escort security for the older folks traveling late. It’s the same thing here, Terry. Whaddya say?”
“I say, let’s eat and let me think about it. But I like the idea. We just have to figure out how to do it without the kids causing a ruckus, or getting more radiation on themselves. That’s my first priority here – to protect them.”
As miracles happen and I’m not making this up, while Terry and I walked to the kitchen to eat cold bacon and eggs we heard the thumpa-da-dumpa, thumpa-da-dumpa, of an old-school rap tune coming out of a 500-watt quadraphonic sound system heading toward our parking lot.
“It’s Tiny T!” screamed Willy, running to the window and then out the door, followed by everyone else.
“Wait!” I screamed. It’s radioactive out there!”
But no one listened.
Chapter 7 – TT arrives along with the Men of Honor
Day Two, Noon
Kevin P followed Willy out into the dust and embraced Tiny T, who was stepping out of his electric purple, chrome-wheeled-spinners flyin,’ four-wheel drive, extended cab Chevy Suburban, with a plow on the front and snow chains wrapped around each one of his over-sized studded snow tires. Tiny T was ready for the road.
Tiny T, Unity’s Residential Specialist Extraordinaire, swing-shift leader, and Sweet-God-Almighty to Worcester’s street kids for over twenty-five years had arrived.
“Yes!” I shouted. Tiny T is here, I murmured and pumped the air with my fist.
“Tiny T.” Sherman had once been tiny; in fact, he had once been the skinny runt of his family. So, the ‘tiny’ had once been technically accurate, but a massive growth spurt at sixteen propelled him to six-six and 290-pounds by high school graduation.
The ‘T’ stood for Tecumseh. Dorothea Sherman, Tiny T’s mother, was a righteous woman from Atlanta, Georgia and had a refined sense of history and irony. But she failed utterly at naming her son anything close to what his friends were willing to call him, hence the moniker ‘Tiny T.’ Evermore he has been known to the world as Tiny T, with one slight variation – professionally he was known as TT.
“How are you, Little Brother?” TT asked Kevin P, giving him a hug with no thought to policy.
TT acknowledged all of the gathered, each in turn, and with a calm, present demeanor, which was TT’s hallmark.
“Little Brother” was the affectionate term for all. Hugs, and knuckle-knocking, thumb twisting, handshakes followed, all deliberate, all energized, all worshipped. The Lord God TT,” had arrived, indeed.
However, all that Terry and I received was a “Good Morning.”
“Looks like I came just in time,” Tiny T said, walking in and seeing breakfast on the table.
“Hungry, TT?” Terry asked.
“Always,” replied TT.
“Let’s eat,” I said, as everyone piled around TT.
The guys jabbered as one voice.
“…You should’ve seen us peel out on Mr. D’s motorcycle, TT,” said Kevin P. “We drove here all the way in first gear. It was tight, man. We were screaming.”
“…We ran all through the backyards and through the Catholic Church cemetery to get back here in twenty-three minutes from the High School. We’re nuke busters, TT. We Are So Cool,” said Mr. Willy-Be-Cool.
TT nodded at each affirmation of coolness the guys shouted at him, while he slowly munched mouthfuls of bacon and eggs. He ate an additional four muffins with relish. “Have you guys eaten?” he asked the boys.
“… Oh, yeah. But I’ll eat with ya,” said Kevin P.
“… I’ll try, but I’m stuffed,” said Kevin A.
“… I’m not hungry, but could I have some coffee?” asked Trey.
“… I don’t like bacon,” said Willy. The crescendos of totally conflicting attitudes flowed over TT like a New England sun shower in April – ever inspiring and always cool.
After five minutes of total buzz, the guys were spent.
Then, TT spoke. “Little Brothers, there are some boxes in the back of my car. I’d like you to go get them, and bring them in to show Terry and Dave. Trey, here are my keys.”
With that, TT selected the trunk key from his ring of about fifty keys and handed it to Trey like he was Charlemagne giving a sword to his most trusted Knight.
Trey received it in the same manner. Trey and the three other lads went out in a rush.
“TT, the dust out there is radioactive,” I said.
“Yeah, I know, but we’ll wash it off in a minute.”
“TT, it’s good to see you,” said Terry. “Why did you come in? It’s your day-off, and it’s dangerous out there.”
“Well first, I wanted to see how y’all are doing. Second, I had a delivery. UPS came to my house just before the bomb went off and delivered some boxes I wanted to bring here.”
“How are things out in the world, TT?” I asked.
“How could you get here?” Terry asked over my question. “From what we can see the roads must be all blocked with debris. How’s Grafton Street. Could you get by?”
“Did your house survive okay?” I asked.
“Is your family okay?” Terry and I pumped questions at TT, one after another.
“Yeah, they’re okay. I got cousins, and friends of cousins and cousins of cousins at the house. Anybody who lost anybody in Worcester came over to my place yesterday. We’re loaded to the gills.”
“Really?” I replied.
“Oh, yeah, sure. Good ol’ Dorchester Hill saved your bacon and mine. I don’t live that far away, just a block past Rice Square on Massasoit, so I’m only eight blocks away as the crow flies, but it took me over an hour to get here.
“The streets is all tore up and blocked everywhere with all kinds of crap. I had to give up on getting up Dorchester. The hill is just too steep and the dust too slick, and there was torn up houses in the road everywhere. So, I doubled back, and came up Heywood just below us, and then cut my own road with the plow through those fancy gardens of the Magdalene Abbey there below St. Vincent’s. They ain’t too fancy anymore – not after the winds tore ‘em up.
“From what I could see,” TT continued, “St. Vincent’s is all gone, rubble from the hospital is everywhere. I don’t know if any of them Brothers are there in the Abbey, it looked pretty quiet when I drove past them, but the Abbey came through okay. Not great, but okay. Otherwise, it’s a total mess out there.”
“Have you seen the pictures of Worcester?” Terry asked.
“Seen some. My neighbor, Willis, has a computer that’s kinda working.”
“Yeah, us too, that’s how we saw the pictures and knew what’s going on,” I replied.
“It’s not pretty, is it?” TT said. “How’s things here? Who all made it back?”
“Well, Trey and Willy came back first, and the two K’s took a ride on Don Shanley’s BMW. That’s it,” said Terry.
“Ryan is still at North High as far as we know,” I added, “and Deon and Naleef are still at Grafton Street.”
“Grafton Street Middle School’s a mess,” TT said. “My neighbor, Miss Mills, had two grandkids from Grafton Street come home last night. There’s no water and the building got rocked pretty good. There’s only a few teachers and the kids are pretty keyed up, too. I think we better get our guys out of there ASAP.”
“Okay,” I said, “but the reports on the radiation say we can’t go out for another day, and then only for fifteen minutes.
“Hmmm,” grunted TT.
“TT,” Terry asked, “how much dust do you think is penetrating into your vehicle? You said you’ve already spent an hour driving in the dust. Do you think that’s safe, and if so, how much more can you handle? Any? Based on what we heard on the computer about radiation levels, maybe we should take your Explorer and head over to the school.”
“Gee, Terry, you think so?” I asked. “Is it worth a shot?”
”It’s a shot you should take,” said TT. “Deon can create a lot of trouble, and Naleef can draw a lot of trouble.”
You couldn’t have said it any better, TT, I thought.
“You’re right, TT,” I said. “Terry,” I continued, “we should go up there and get them. Now that TT’s here, one of us can make a run up there. I was just a little concerned about the roads and getting through.”
“Speaking of going out, TT,” said Terry, “Dave and I have been talking about the Men of Honor and Unity Pride. The guys want to go out into the neighborhood and help people. We’ve got food; we’ve got information. Trey went on a smoke hike this morning and saw kids playing in the dust, so there are people out there who don’t know what’s going on, or how to protect themselves.
“We were thinking of forming a Men of Honor group and sending the guys out for fifteen-minute forays to see what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
TT listened, smiling as he ate.
“Kind of like the Boy Scouts,” she continued, “but prepped first with the Code of Honor that we’ve talked about. You know, based on the ideas you and Dave have been talking about from the Double-ACW and the Roxbury house.”
TT continued smiling. Then the guys came in.
“What’s in the boxes, TT?” they shouted.
“Open them and find out.”
One box was twelve-inches square and long, about four-feet. The other was flat, like a shirt box. The kids tore them open.
Excitement reigned initially, but then faded. The long box had a stack of two- dozen red berets. The flat box had a similar number of yellow scarves.
“What are these?” Trey asked.
“Scarves, dude,” said Willy, “we’re gonna be gay pimps in yellow scarves.”
“Oh, no, Little Brother,” said TT, taking a red beret and placing it on his head. “We are Men of Honor. Each of you gets a red beret. The yellow scarves we save for later. They’re special ceremonial scarves we’ll wear to show our Unity Pride.”
Miracles do happen, I said over and over and over to myself. I said it out loud one time to Terry.
She too, nodded.
Today of all days for the berets and scarves and TT to show up; the timing was utterly miraculous.
“Okay, everyone,” TT said, standing. “Everyone gets a beret. There’s all different sizes, so make sure you get the one you want. Once you wear it for more than five minutes it’s yours, ‘cause no other brother’s gonna want to use a hat that’s spent time on your head.”
The four lads picked out their berets, and TT gave Terry and me each one.
“You too, sir,” said TT, indicating Bill.
“Er, TT, this is Bill, the SYSCO guy.” I said. “He’s hooked up with us for the duration.”
“Ah, I thought you looked familiar. Usually you make deliveries in the morning, right? From Sysco?”
“Usually, I’m on the swing shift. But I thought I recognized you.”
“Glad to meet you; I’m Bill Sowards.”
I never knew Bill’s last name before. It was good to learn it.
“Nice to meet you, Bill. Call me Tiny T or TT.”
“Pull your chairs in a circle,” TT said to the guys.
Terry, Bill and I joined them.
“We’re forming the Men of Honor,” said TT, putting on his beret. We followed. “You and I are now the Men of Honor.”
“But Terry’s a girl,” said Willy.
Oy, veh, what a time for details.
“Yes, Terry is a woman, but not a girl. She is the legal authority here in this house, so, she belongs to the Men of Honor in a special way.”
When TT spoke, the guys always listened. Every word was like a gospel message and I was in awe when he held court. He was truly beautiful to watch.
“The Men of Honor has a code,” TT continued. “A Code of Honor. We will go over that soon. Each of you will pledge to the Code of Honor in order to remain in the Men of Honor. I expect each of you to commit to it.”
“We’re not gonna do anything weird, are we?” asked Kevin A.
“No,” said TT. “I would never ask you to do something weird, or that would go against your dignity. This code will build your dignity. It will build your respect. Your mothers and fathers, and Terry and I, and the rest of the staff will be proud of you for honoring the code.”
“What exactly are we going to do?” asked Trey.
“First, we will establish what the Men of Honor code is,” said TT.
“For instance,” I interjected, “the first code is that the Men of Honor always tell the truth.”
“Yes, that’s right,” said TT. “That’s what Men of Honor do.”
“And they always honor women,” TT continued. “They never talk trash about women, or their friend’s girlfriends, or any women they meet. They don’t hit on women or treat them like ho’s. They always treat women with respect; they always act like a gentleman in front of a lady. They never curse or swear.”
Kevin A. looked at me on that one.
I looked back, and said with my eyes, ‘I got it.’
Just then we heard a knock on the bay window of the Commons room. Strangely the guys didn’t run to the window, so TT made the transfer of attention. “I see we’ve got company.”
Then, they all dashed to take a look.