This was the first book I did in the Monastery. It is available on Amazon either as a Paperback or Kindle. All paperback sales go to support the monastery while the Sisters have graciously allowed Kindle sales to go to me.
He Pled Guilty
by Rose Mary Danforth – Jax, Florida
Something wonderful and life changing happened to my son Thomas, and it is still changing the lives of many who knew him…and even some who didn’t know him.
Thomas knew all about the dangers of alcohol, but he couldn’t accept that his Native American/Scots-Irish background would make him an addict so quickly. Somehow he thought you had to be “old” to be addicted.
Thomas found out about addiction first hand. He started drinking at eight years old. He would sneak his Dad’s beers and then later with his friends he would try out whatever they had.
When Thomas was thirteen years old, his dad and I had the final judgment of divorce—and Thomas joined a gang that day.
Just as he couldn’t foresee what addiction could do to his life, he also couldn’t foresee what damage could be done to himself, his family and his community by being a gang member. What followed was a nightmare. I won’t give you the details, but I want to tell you of the change that Thomas had in his life.
Thomas had a very “tough” exterior. His facial expressions were hard and his attitude was unbending. But that changed on the day that he stood before the same judge who had seen him so many times before.
The courthouse was empty. His was the only case being heard that day. His defense lawyer had walked out of the courtroom and off his case, calling him a “punk” and suggesting that the judge just lock him up and throw the key away. He suggested that I should just forget that I had a son called “Thomas,” cut my losses and get on with my life with my other children.
I told him that because I was a mother, I couldn’t forget my son Thomas, and I asked him to pray with me for Thomas. He just laughed.
On this particular day, with no other cases, Thomas knew he had everything going against him. The judge had ordered his defense lawyer to represent him or be in contempt of court. The prosecution had already made a deal with Thomas on a previous case and had dropped some of the charges. But then Thomas went back on his word to testify. So they were ready to get him this time.
He was faced with being adjudicated as an adult and facing serious charges. When the judge asked him how he pled—much to everyone’s surprise—he pled “guilty.” Even his lawyer was baffled. Thomas went on to explain that he was an addict and that he couldn’t be trusted with freedom.
He then prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary and as his tears (he never cried) fell to the floor, the prosecution and defense started making incredible changes in his charges.
The final part was when the judge sentenced him to a drug rehab program, against Thomas’ wishes. He just wanted to be locked up, and the key thrown away, but the lawyers for the prosecution and for the defense told the judge that they had confidence in him, and the judge agreed that he had what it took. Even the court transcriber was crying, and Thomas told them that he would not let them down.
At the detention center, as he awaited a placement in a rehab program, he volunteered for kitchen duty, something that he would never have done at home.
During one of my visits with him, he showed me the big heavy metal bases of the tables where they ate their meals. He explained that when he mopped the floor after meals, some of the strings would come off the mop and get caught around the bases of the tables. He would pick them up and put them in his pocket and later, back at his bunk, he would dry them out after he had made them into a one-decade rosary, which he then used to teach the other guys how to pray it. They all had their rope rosaries hanging on their bunks.
On another day that I visited, before he left for his program, one of the other offenders came to our table with his mother. She told me that she wanted to thank Thomas for saving her son’s life. Her son had told her of an incident where the other guys in a different module had tormented her son to the point that he tried to commit suicide, and the guys kept pushing him to do it.
The staff removed him and put him in a padded cell after they had stripped him down. But he tried to put his head in the toilet he was so determined to die.
Thomas heard about the situation and asked the staff to give him a pair of underpants for the boy to preserve his dignity and let him into the cell. Thomas calmed the boy and told him that he would be his guardian while he was there and would do what was needed to work with the staff and stop the harassment. This worked and the boy was able to leave the lock-down and there was no more harassment. And Thomas prayed with him every day.
When Thomas left the detention center to go to the program, he told his “homies” that he would be back but “not in chains.” He kept his promise. He became the main speaker for a program that addressed the problems of youth. He spoke to thousands.
The judge who sentenced him took time off from the bench to sneak into the detention center to listen to Tom talk to his “brothers from another mother.” He would tell the young offenders:
“You are not just a bunch of black fingerprints. You are not just a statistic, you are the future and I believe in you. I will be right there with you as you get an education, turn your life around, have a family, because I am your brother and I love you. And I will keep coming back, and if only one person listens to what I’m saying, then my life is worthwhile.”
Thomas had found out when he arrived at the drug program that some of his rival gang bangers were there and out to “get him.” After a confrontation on arrival, Thomas ripped off his shirt and, showing his “tattoos,” told the group that he “spit on these tattoos, and spit on his colors, and spit on everything that prevented them from being “brothers.”
Both Thomas and the other guy were told to “take a walk and calm down.” When they met up in the courtyard outside, the clenched fists and clenched jaw of the other boy gave a clear message to Tom.
As the boy turned on his heel to walk the other way, Tom jumped him from behind with his arms tight around him, preventing the boy from lashing out. Tom kept shouting over and over, “You can’t stop me loving you!”
When he released the boy, and they both stood looking at each other, something “clicked” and the boy and Tom hugged as the others looked on from behind the classroom windows.
This became Tom’s new weapon…backed by the rosary.
Thomas died at age 17 in an automobile accident, and for two days the church was full: ex-gang members, rival gang members, six priests, and two monsignors concelebrated his Funeral Mass and the judge who had sentenced him gave the eulogy.
The judge has since written to me saying that if he can accomplish just a small part of the good that Tom did in his short life that he will be a happy man.
Thomas openly embraced those who used to be his enemies. The local newspaper carried his story on the front page. Thomas had made a commercial for television, which was aired two days before he died, so the television aired his story in part.
He consistently spoke out against abortion as a violence worse than any war or gang violence. He even followed a Planned Parenthood speaker at The Boys and Girls Club with the aid of fetal models that he passed around. He held one on high, shouting, “Does this look like a blob of tissue to you? It looks like a baby to me.”
He got a standing ovation from the youngsters that day, and they crowded our Prolife Information Table for literature and just to talk to him. The Planned Parenthood booth was left to the woman who presented their program.
Many of the young people he hung with were victims of abortion propaganda, but he helped them to see that it was really a life, and that no one had the right to take a life. Only God had that right.
He encouraged couples who were living together to get married. They still come by my house to show me their new babies or tell me they’re still going to church.
Tom had signed up to go to college and wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor when he graduated. He wanted to get married and have a family. He had hopes for the future, but he told me many times that he didn’t think he would live to see eighteen.
The night before he died, one of his friends asked him as they watched a television movie, “Tom, if you were to die today, where do you think you would go”?
Thomas said, “I know I’ve not been an angel, but if I die today, I believe I would go to heaven because I really believe in Jesus Christ.”
They had nicknamed him “Preacher Man.”
Tom always loved children. Two hours before he died he had been playing with a friend’s toddler. He loved to play basketball, or football. He loved to toss and catch the football. That was what he used to do before he got caught up in a world of guns, drugs and drink, and living in the fast lane.
But that fateful day he returned to the innocent game of his childhood. When he left with his sixteen-year-old friend to move the furniture of a friend whose house had flooded, he was wearing his scapular. And when his friend’s truck hydroplaned on the wet curve in the street and ended at the light pole, I believe that God saw his very best quarterback, and decided he deserved a broader field, because Tom had greater games to play.
Since his death, five little boys have been named after him, some who might have been aborted if their parents had not heard Tom’s message: “No one has the right to take a life.”
Many make visits to his grave where they look at his picture on the headstone and in looking into his eyes, they see themselves more clearly. As a result, some have asked for help to get off the drugs and alcohol and entered programs. Others leave their gang colors or their addictive substance with a note that they are finally listening to his message and are “laying it down and doing the right thing.”
I put a mail box up by his grave because I was getting all these notes that were left there, asking Tom to help them, or from parents asking Tom to help their teens and then the thank you notes for prayers answered.
On All Souls Day, we had a prayer service and a Blessing of the Graves of our loved ones after the morning Mass and a family from three rows back came and told me that they had left prayers and that they had been answered.
I showed them Tom’s friend who is also buried close by. He was shot by the police, but he had put his scapular on the night before, telling his friend that he felt he should wear it because Tom had his on when he died.
I had given out scapulars and rosary beads at Tom’s funeral and so I did the same at this young man’s funeral, and I have already ran across some who took them and have had a “turn around” in their lives.
Our Lady told St. Dominic that one day she would save the world, through the rosary and the scapular. I have witnessed this reality in the lives and deaths of those young people so despised by society but so loved by God and His Blessed Mother.
Both their headstones have our Lady of Guadeloupe and the Divine Mercy and the rosary and scapular hanging around the necks of the statues placed there as a witness to the power of love. I can still hear him shout out: “You can’t stop me loving you.”
I was the director of a crisis pregnancy center when Tom died, and as I was typing this post, my eye caught the short article that I had written two years after he died. It shows how Tom’s mission isn’t over. It is titled “Her Worst Suspicions and Dreams Came True”:
“I hope it’s just the flu, I’m too old to have another baby, my kids are grown. I just kicked my husband out, he’s a junkie, plus my daughter has been acting strange lately. I have this gut feeling that she might be pregnant. I’m gonna bring her with me and she can have a test also.”
When they were filling out the “intake forms,” the teenage daughter asked her mother what she should write for the question: “Abortion—Adoption—Parent.” Her mother let her know that a baby wasn’t an option for either of them.
While we waited for the test results, I shared some of my past family problems, and how God had turned things around for the good. I showed them a short clipping of a video that Thomas had made before he died, and that is when I found out that the mother knew my son. Thomas was friends with one of her sons.
She then realized that God had a plan for her baby, just as He had for my son. When her daughter’s test showed “positive” also, she had already decided for life.
Her daughter has become her mother’s best friend and helper in the caring and raising of the two infant children. She has improved her grades at school, and her mother has custody of her new grandchild.
We are happy for the outcome and also for the ongoing contact with them.