When My Son Sammy Played Football in the Shadow of a Prison

Image Credit: WGAL.com
Image Credit: WGAL.com

I parked the truck on Orange Street and the seven of us got out. We walked across the grass of Reservoir Park. To our left was a child’s play area, a few basketball courts, and walking path. To our right, to the west, rose the Lancaster County Prison, stone walls like the turrets of a castle. It cast long shadows on that late summer afternoon fading into evening.

Sam walked with a bounce in his step. He couldn’t wait for flag football, and he had worn his cleats and these long jogging shorts he inherited from Cade and couldn’t wait to wear – certainly not until they actually fit him. We walked into the crowd and tried to find his coach.

“Coach X?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Are you Sam’s dad?”

“Here he is,” I said.

Sam paused, held back a moment. He’s normally full-speed ahead, climbing anything, trying anything, but he was suddenly quiet, unsure, staring at a group of kids where he didn’t know a single one. Coach X took care of that.

“C’mon, man,” he said, welcoming him into the circle of the team. “Boy, you got some serious swag. I like that.”

Sammy grinned, and the bounce was back in his step.

* * * * *

You hear a lot about the shootings here in Lancaster. I have some Facebook friends who’ve talked about how dangerous the city seems to be, how they would never move to the city, how they can’t imagine why anyone else would live there.

You know why I love the city? Because, a lot of the time, it makes me uncomfortable. There’s a disabled vet who sits on our street corner a lot, and I don’t always know what to do besides give him a bottle of water or $5 or sometimes just say hello. Every once in a while we can hear our neighbors across the street screaming at each other. At night cars pull up to the stop light blaring profanity-laced rap music. My bike and bag were stolen and someone hit-and-ran our truck, all in our first year. When we walk to church, we pass a line of homeless people lined up for breakfast.

But, wait, I’m not finished. Because it’s in the midst of this discomfort when people go out of their way to make us feel at home. Coach X welcoming Sam. His other coach giving licorice to the kids after practice. The folks at practice smiling at us when they walk by, saying hello, making us feel welcome. The kind guys (and Jenny) at the barber shop, treating my boys like they are little princes (even though they’re pretty nervous about getting their hair cut).

We came into this city feeling very much like the outsiders, but we’ve been welcomed by so many people, sometimes the very people others look down on. It’s been humbling and beautiful.

So before you talk about how dangerous the city is, before you make snide remarks about the people who live here, please, pay us a visit. Stay with us for a few days. I think you’ll be surprised.

* * * * *

Sam played flag football that night with some kids who I hope will become his new friends. His coaches modeled for him what it means to be a gentleman, an encourager, and a good human being. Craziest thing of all was that we learned this at Sammy’s practice, in the shadow of the Lancaster County Prison.