“I know now that if you’re serious, you’re gonna make it.” — Daniel Joseph Carver, 2004. Killed in 2018, at the age of 29.
Four days ago, I published a Medium.com exclusive. His Name Was Daniel quickly became, by far, my most-read story on this platform. The response to Daniel’s plight — a drug-addicted former neo-Nazi who bonded with his Jewish teacher — was overwhelming. See here for the original article: https://medium.com/@joeleisenberg/his-name-was-daniel-7c0c590f3160
Daniel was a former student of mine who valiantly battled his demons but ultimately lost his life-and-death struggle. He was killed at 29 years old in a shoot-out with cops, following a high-speed chase.
I recalled this morning that I had once received a couple of handwritten letters from Daniel when he was taking a serious look as to the possibility of a future, something most of us take for granted. He went through periods where he said he was modeling me, and he wanted to be a writer.
The first period of note was when he was 16, and it is represented by what follows.
Daniel and his guardians at the time had given me permission to reprint these communications in whatever format I had thought was best, as they all believed they may be able to help others. I used them for a book, that I will not promote here. Note: I did not use his real name in that effort, as he was still a minor.
I called him “Charlie.”
Here is the Introduction to what became his contribution to that book, the full text of the two letters, and my response to his first letter also as printed in that volume ...
“Charlie” (name changed due to age), an aspiring novelist, is a gifted boy of 16 with a tested IQ of 150. He also has a five-year record of illegal activity, including drug dealing, theft, and physical assault. One of his last opportunities to transition to a normal life began with his placement in a Southern California rehabilitative pre-lockdown facility for at-risk youth.
“Charlie” went AWOL from the facility during his second term, and two weeks later was caught selling drugs on the streets of Los Angeles. He was placed in juvenile hall for the third time, with the warning that he would be tried as an adult for his next probation violation.
It’s taken me a lot of time to work up the courage to write this letter to you. I want to thank you for all you have done for me. You have been the only teacher I have ever respected and … well, looked up to. I want to apologize for not saying goodbye and well … I got a lot of stuff to do now. I am done with this stupid, pointless rebellion I’ve realized I am not going to win.
I got a little plan, going to do my nine months and finish school. I am planning on getting a little job so maybe I can earn money for college (going to do it on my own like I had always planned to). Community College for two years then transfer to a four-year college. I am then going to get a job on a night staff for Juvenile Hall, then after a year or so get a job on a DSO (day staff) at Juvenile Hall. I want to work these jobs, pay my way through college and, legally, support myself, and finally ‘earn’ my way to a writing career. I only hope I can survive the journey.
I got real problems now man and I’m going to make it. I haven’t got one write-up and no complaints from staff. I have kept up with all my assignments in school and no complaints there either. I only wish I would have graduated with you. I should have graduated with you and I wish you didn’t leave.
This is going to be the pivotal moment of my life. I am a person who can actually do something with my life. Listening to a couple of gang-bangers tell about all the stupid shit they’re going to do. I just feel sorry for them.
I don’t know if you’re gonna get this or not but I actually hope you do. Going to go now, man. I really just wanted you to know how much you meant in my life.
I know now that if you’re serious, you’re gonna make it.
P.S. One day, I swear, I’m gonna be a published writer no matter what it takes. Please feel free to share this letter with ‘anyone’ you think could learn from it. If you ever write a book …
An old mentor of mine, who had no idea he was a mentor, once said something to me — during a personally trying time — I’ll carry forever. “There are no problems,” he said, “only solutions.”
Obviously, I received your letter. In fact, I typed it out after reading, so I didn’t lose it to a faded pencil. I was touched, and thrilled to hear from you. And … as I’ve since received the proper permission, I decided I would like to publish it for an upcoming book.
I hope you stay with your intentions, as I’ve always said, you’re an immensely expressive writer. This was an interesting week. I spoke to one of your classmates and tried to explain to him that whatever actions I had taken regarding you (that led to your arrest) were for your own long-term safety. Apparently, you understood, and for that I am sincerely grateful.
The bottom line: I saw potential in you from Day One. I know you can do it. All of the goals that you stated in your letter are certainly attainable and worthwhile. Design a life for yourself. Believe me, it’s a hell of a lot easier on this side.
Write me anytime. Call me in the class if you can. I know one day I’ll see you again. We’ll catch up.
Remember, all the rehabs, halls, etc. in the world are only effective if you want them to be. One day at a time. It’s easy to be grandiose in the planning — and I am not saying you are at all, as your goals are grounded and you have a good plan; I’m just saying it’s a trap when a person sets up extraordinary expectations and pressures for themselves without one. Just remember to go at your own pace. That’s all. Surviving the journey en route to attaining the long-term goal is what it’s all about. ‘
Anyway, I’m getting perilously close to lecturing again. It’s 2:44 in the morning, watching the Salem’s Lot miniseries as I’m writing this, and I’m tired. Your letter meant more to me than you know. I’m glad that you said what you did. It gives me validation as well.
Kick butt!! We’ll speak soon.
Two weeks after Daniel received this response, he was released from juvenile hall for good behavior. The next week he was arrested for the fourth time in two years for selling and using crystal meth at a neo-Nazi rave party.
Shortly thereafter, I received this brief followup …
I don’t have that much time. I’m on a break for lunch. Watching the rest of them eat and bitch; I wanted to contact you.
All is not as good as it could be, obviously, but honestly not as bad as it should be either. I’m disgusted, and disappointed with myself. No excuses.
However, I’m hearing I may be given still another chance. I may be going back into placement, because I’m still a minor. But I’m about to turn 17, so my window is closing.
If it happens this time, it will be transitional housing before they put me back on the streets. Also, I may have a chance to graduate. It’ll be on me.
I guess the system is not ready to give up on me yet. Please, don’t ever give up on me either. If you don’t, and my girlfriend doesn’t, and my grandparents … if you all stand by me, maybe I can believe in myself again.
It’s another day. I’m taking your advice. One at a time.
I guess I have a lot to prove. That’s all I’m going to say this time.
That, and thank you. For everything.
“Charlie” is back in placement, sober for three months, and out of trouble. He has since been in contact with his former teacher and promises that one day he will write a best-selling book about his experiences.
Daniel Joseph Carver passed away on April 9.
He shot first.
I only resent the fact that he is no longer here, and he was not able to see the response to his story as published last week. In his death, he is making a difference. Like he said to me repeatedly in the past, I hope others (continue to) learn from his journey.