Amal’s Dead Brother

February 10,2010
Talia's Blog
Talia Rivera( )

Talia Rivera is a 33-year-old mother of two. As Executive Director of Villages without Walls, she works with high-risk gang members in Boston. [Read more]

Amal was being treated at a mental health institution. He was 16. After his older brother was murdered, Amal became enraged. He began to fight walls with his fists. He broke glass windows and cut his hands. He was suicidal. And he was unable to talk of his brother’s death. Amal's brother was walking home when he was confronted by two Plaza Park Boys. They thought he was Amal, but he wasn't. They murdered the wrong brother. His brother had just graduated from high school. He was days away from attending Georgia State University on a full scholarship. When I visited Amal, I first met with his clinician. She walked me to a small room with a barred window, and offered me a seat. "I'm worried," she said. "Amal is learning to manage his anger but he still hasn't talked about his brother. Neither do his parents." Amal entered the room. He sat across from me, wearing a prison suit with shower slippers and socks. I could tell he was medicated. "How are you doing?" I asked. "Good." "So tell me, what are the days like here?" He began to share. But still, he did not talk of his brother's death. The next day I visited his parents. Mrs. Mohammed welcomed me into her home. She wore a head scarf. A portrait of Muhammad Ali hung above the television. Mr. Mohammed sat on the couch, aloof, acknowledging my presence with a nod of his head. "Can you help me find another place to live?" asked Mrs. Mohammed. "I don't want to live here anymore." When her son was shot he began to run toward their apartment building for help. He collapsed in front of the door and died. I asked her why Amal wouldn't talk about his brother. Her husband looked at Mrs. Mohammed. Mrs. Mohammed looked at me. "It's our belief," she said. "We believe once you are gone, you are gone. That is why Amal will not talk about his brother's death." It was a religious belief that did not allow Amal to talk of his brother's death. They were in pain, all of them. I could see it in their eyes. But I respected their God; and tried also to forget about the death of Amal's brother.