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Stories/Letters


(From time to time, as our web site comes together, this page will be posting old stories and letters to give visitors a sense of our journey.... this one was about a dear friend who we lost along the way. - jf)

 

My Friend Tracy

By John Flynn

The News Journal wrote that no makeshift corner memorials had sprung up on the spot where my friend Tracy Green was shot to death last week! The article seemed to be implying that no one mourned Tracy’s death! That couldn’t be farther from the truth!

I met Tracy while he was serving time in Gander Hill Prison. He was a member of an offender’s support group I volunteer with called New Beginnings. In an environment where men are measured by postures of strength or fierceness, Tracy stood out! He was tall and slender, with a gentle voice and a kind smile. I was always impressed at how, in a place filled with loud voices, Tracy was able to speak so softly. He truly embraced our New Beginnings philosophy of rejecting the role of the victim, and of the personal empowerment that comes from taking of responsibility for your own choices. When Tracy shared in group he would lean in on his plastic chair, his head bowed, and speak in a voice barely above a whisper. The sincerity of his heart and the ferocity of his desire to be free were such that much louder men would grow silent and lean in to listen to his words.

Tracy’s meek manner stemmed from true humility. He was a man of real faith. Those who did not know Tracy well could easily misinterpret his meekness of spirit. Once, when pushed to defend himself in prison, I’m told he grabbed a man with such strength that the man immediately became frightened and confused. A friend of Tracy’s later told the dude, “Don’t mistake Tracy’s gentleness for cowardice. He ain't scared of anyone!”

Since Tracy’s release from prison he has been attending our weekly program for ex-offenders called New Beginning- Next Step. Next Step is dedicated to the idea that none of us can make it on our own! Ex-offenders need community as much as they need jobs! The road on leaving prison is rarely easy. It helps to have a place to share its trials, setbacks and temptations. It’s also important to be with people who can appreciate and celebrate the small –and large– victories which are so important to building a new life!

Tracy had many such victories since he left prison!

For the past several weeks Tracy was working days at St. Francis Hospital, where, although a new employee, he became an instantly beloved member of the housekeeping staff! He would enter patients’ room each morning with that big smile and say, “Hello! I’m Tracy Green and I’ve come t clean your room!” And, according to my source inside the hospital, Tracy would then go on to clean that room like it had never been cleaned before. He took real pride in his new job! On the day before he started, Tracy called me to ask if I could take him out to buy his uniforms! On the ride in the car, Tracy confided his excitement to me. “This job is not just about pushing a mop, Mr. John!” (I never could get him to stop calling me MISTER!) “The things I say to patients each day could be just as important to their care as anything a doctor or nurse might do! You never know who’s having a bad day, or how you might turn that around for them!”

That was SO Tracy! I can’t tell you how many of my bad days were brightened by a call or smile from my friend!

It’s a sign of Tracy’s impact on the people he met at St. Francis, that they had a memorial service for him in the chapel the very day they received news of his death!

For over a year, Tracy worked for the Delaware News Journal at night. He'd started on the loading dock, but had been quickly promoted! The schedule was difficult but he liked the people! He was also enrolled at Del Tech and proud to be doing well in his studies.

It angered many of us that these facts were completely omitted by the paper in their front page stories about his murder. Instead, they simply reported that Tracy had “a lengthy criminal history and was on probation”.

When I told Tracy I was concerned that, with all he had taken on, including his increasing role – and joy– in the raising of his young son Tray, he wasn’t getting enough rest. He said, “Mr. John, I slept enough in prison for a whole lifetime! I got too much to do, and too much lost time to make up for, to sleep anymore!”

Shortly before he was killed, Tracy called another Next Step member on the phone. The man had not been coming to meetings for a few weeks and we had recently learned that he was making some dangerous choices, putting his freedom in real danger. Because the man had been a repeat offender, we also knew that his next trip to prison could well be his last– that even a small offense now might cost him the rest of his life behind bars. During the call, Tracy urged the man not to give up! He told him he loved him, and prayed with him on the phone for strength and guidance! That man called me in tears after hearing of Tracy’s death! Over and over he kept saying the word that was echoing in my own heart, as the tears in his voice matched the tears in my eyes... “WHY”?

Why did this happen? Why did Tracy have to die?

I had no answers.

And then the man asked, “Do you think God was talking to me through Tracy?” “There’s not a doubt in my mind”, I said. “I think He’s talking to all of us!”

One of my New Beginnings guys inside Gander Hill had an interesting take on the fact that there were no flowers or teddy bears left on the street where Tracy was shot. (One of our Next Step members actually took some items to that corner after reading this in the paper!) The young man said that those memorials are really for corner boys, drug dealers, and soldiers of the game. He said, "They don't put no markers up for a working man who gets killed!" In his eyes the lack of a memorial was actually a testament! It meant that Tracy had really made it to the other side, and had gotten all the way clear!

We will all struggle with Tracy's loss in our own ways! For me, and for my New Beginnings and Next Step families, this struggle must include a decision to rededicate ourselves to the small but important part we can play in the work of bringing hope and some measure of real justice back to our streets. As senseless and tragic as Tracy’s death is, and as angry and heartsick as it leaves us in these hours and days, Tracy died having lived to become the person he wanted to be! May we all be able to say as much!

The same young man who gave me the new perspective on murder victim street-memorials, also drew my attention to this quote from Khalil Gibran (Seriously, if you want to shatter some stereotypes, all you have to do is meet some of our guys!) He believed these words captured what Tracy was doing, and what and New Beginnings and Next Step should (and will) continue to try to do:

"You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.”
― The Prophet