catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 11 :: 2006.06.02 — 2006.06.16


Our name Joe

He asked Leroy from Harlem
He asked Cisco from Mexico
He asked the white trash from Tennessee
They all said my name Joe
My name Joe, my name Joe

-from "My Name Joe" by David Massengill

A few weeks ago, we had a speaker from the local domestic assault shelter visit our adult Sunday discussion group.  She introduced the nature of the shelter's work and then the time segued into group discussion that focused on the difficulties faced by people coming out of "crisis" situations, specifically victims of domestic abuse and former prisoners.  I'm not sure we came to any clear conclusions except that situations for such individuals are infinitely complex.

Those released from prison and those leaving the figurative prison of an abusive situation have many difficulties in common.  One is a lack of resources.  Where does the money come from to get started?  Our speaker said that many abuse victims return to their abusers out of necessity. They have no savings, no possessions, no job, and no money management skills.  Likewise, many parolees return to destructive behaviors for lack of financial resources.

Another resource that is lacking for these individuals is a solid social network.  Women who leave their abusive husbands often leave friends and family behind as well, including pets and sometimes even children.  In many cases, related to both domestic abuse and prison, the culture of the social network that's abandoned is also a contributing factor to the abusive or criminal situation.

The road to establishing a new social network and obtaining financial resources is full of hazards.  Who is willing to take a woman into their home or rent a woman an apartment when they know her husband threatened to kill her if she left him?  Who is willing to trust a potential employee who served a prison term for armed robbery?  And this is where our discussion arrived at a dead end:  who is responsible for and able to "rehabilitate" or heal people coming out of such situations?  The state can only do so much and recidivism rates tell us it's not enough.

Our time for discussion was up before we could delve deeply into the issue staring us in the face:  What is the Church's responsibility to parolees and victims of abuse?  In thinking about it, a song popped into my head. "My Name Joe" tells the story of an immigrant worker in a restaurant named Joe who has a violent breakdown, but when the owner calls immigration, all of the kitchen workers pretend to be Joe, while Joe sneaks out.  The story is a beautiful picture of what happens when we commit to taking risks for one another.  What would happen if a church had a network of individuals who offered a room in their homes for women and children coming out of abusive situations?  What would happen if a representative of a local church accompanied a former prisoner to a job interview as an expression that the entire congregation was vouching for that individual's renewed integrity?  The possibilities are infinite once we put aside the priority of protecting ourselves and work together to come up with creative solutions.

Such ministries involve risks, to be sure, both emotional and physical risks.  All relationships do and even drawing a person into relationship is no insurance against her going back to her husband or him committing another crime.  But if we are living into our identity as the beloved community, we should be asking, "What's good for us?" rather than, "What's good for me?"  Although, if we take a longterm view, the answers to both questions might end up being the same.  Better support for parolees means a lower repeat crime rate.  Stable environments for children coming out of domestic abuse situations means more productive, well-adjusted members of society in the future.

What would happen if we stopped pointing our fingers at Joe and became him instead?

My Name Joe (MP3)
by David Massengill

Joe threw another tantrum
He could not to be understood
He cries like baby Samson
His English is not good

Joe's boss of the kitchen
But on the outside he knows
Low man on the totem's
Wearing giveaway clothes

Joe he fights the good fight
He wears a white uniform
The waiters are all artists
Out chasing unicorns

Joe works fourteen hours
After ten he starts to booze
He gets very sentimental
He sings the Buddha blues
Oh, he sings the Buddha blues

My name Joe my name Joe
There is a king in Thailand
And he plays the jazz drum
He has a fine and healthy son
Oh no I'm not the one
My name Joe

On the wall by the time clock
Joe's beaming from a photograph
Someone drew across his face
The waiters began to laugh

Joe picked up a hatchet
And he tenderized the wall
And when he got through
Time clock wasn't punching anymore

The waiters ran for cover
The maitre d' began to lisp
The drunkard in the corner
Said his lettuce was not crisp

Owner called immigration
Said there's someone you should know
He's an illegal alien
And I think his name is Joe
Oh I know his name is Joe


Came the man from immigration
Said I've got a job to do
Easy questions easy answers
Just point me to the kitchen crew

He asked Leroy from Harlem
He asked Cisco from Mexico
He asked the white trash from Tennessee
They all said my name Joe
My name Joe, my name Joe

The maitre d' he sputtered
The kitchen crew they roared
And while they were arguing
Joe slipped out the back door

On the beach Joe tries to listen
To the heartbeat of a whale
How it echoes his own heartbeat
And the distance he has sailed
Oh the distance he has sailed


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