Cook: But words will never harm me

Cook: But words will never harm me

March 5th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

When we're angry or frustrated, sometimes the wrong words tumble out. We say things we really don't mean.

Here, let me give you an example:

I hope the officer who arrested and charged Jimmy Gaines with a felony wakes up tomorrow covered in boils, with his garden full of slugs, his head full of lice and a swarm of locusts with him wherever he goes.

See? I'm angry and didn't really mean that.

(I meant frogs, not locusts.)

"I have no ill feelings towards anyone," Gaines said.

I do. The criminalization of Jimmy Gaines is one of the silliest things to visit Hamilton County in many moons. Thursday morning at 8:30, Gaines goes before Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge David Bales, facing possible jail time and felony status.

All because of a joke.

Several weeks ago, Gaines, 25, walked into the admissions offices at Chattanooga State, hoping to re-enroll in college. Since 2009, Gaines had been saving to pay off loans so that his former school -- Southern Adventist University -- would release his transcript.

Things went wrong. Paperwork got lost. Someone hadn't mailed this, somebody hadn't faxed that. So Gaines gets frustrated -- any of us would -- and says to this admissions official -- a woman he knew on a first-name basis and felt comfortable with -- about 25 words of jest.

"I've tried everything I can to get my transcript except hold a gun to my head or tie a bomb to myself," Gaines remembers.

Hours later, Gaines finds himself handcuffed and headed to jail. Southern has been placed on SWAT-lockdown. FBI and SUVs, everywhere. The authorities search his truck, his girlfriend's home, and question him.

Why?

Because the admissions officer had called police, reporting Gaines and what he'd said.

(If Gaines was such a threat, why wasn't Chattanooga State placed on lockdown too?)

Hamilton County police arrest him, and charge him with making a false report, which is like jamming a round peg in a square hole.

According to Tennessee law, a false report happens when an individual tells police something that is untrue or unfounded. An individual tries to obstruct an investigation by making an untrue statement. An individual intentionally says or does something -- like the fake bomb threats at UTC last year -- that cause emergency workers to respond.

Gaines did none of those things.

It's as if the arresting Hamilton County officer is some modern Javert, intent on punishing Gaines ... just because.

In response to Gaines' story, people all across America have emailed, called and written, all saying what a gem of a guy Gaines is.

"Jimmy's a tall, goofy, sports-loving kid who'd do anything to help those in need," wrote his girlfriend's father. "I've watched it over and over again. And Jimmy is the one who used his jail time to witness and pray with a new friend."

Lee Davis, Gaines' attorney, has dozens of testimonies, and plans on passing some onto Neil Pinkston in the Hamilton County District Attorney's office, who's handling the case on Thursday.

"I would trust him with my life," said Gaines's boss at the YMCA, where he's a personal trainer. "I really don't think I have ever met anyone in my life who is as selfless as he is."

At the Y, Gaines works with cancer patients and survivors.

"Jimmy has a calming effect on them," a colleague said. "His ability to show mercy without pity is a tremendous gift."

He's crafting an afterschool program for inner-city kids. He wants to be a teacher. He doesn't drink, smoke or cuss. Never even been to the principal's office.

"He was just a good little boy," said his elementary school principal.

Best of all comes the graceful hospitality from Southern. Students collected more than 1,100 signatures on a petition. They created a banner -- "Jimmy, we are praying for you. You are loved." -- full of messages of encouragement.

"Instead of trying to have him incarcerated, perhaps it would be best to take the position that he has already learned a painful and expensive lesson from the consequences that have occurred, including the hiring of an attorney, much notoriety, and a rather uncomfortable night in jail," wrote Greg King, Southern's Dean of Religion.

Amen.

Gaines has learned enough for a lifetime.

"I believe we are put in situations in our life for a reason," he said Tuesday. But really, in this twisteroo of a tale, he's been the one teaching us.

He's sincere, selfless and mature. He takes the high road. Prays with strangers in jail. Devotes himself to kids and cancer patients. Hasn't criticized, hasn't Tweeted. He's the anti-Kanye: humble, apologetic, gentle.

"Obviously, I'm very very careful with my words now," he said.

Don't be.

In this crazy, post 9/11 world, we need to hear a lot more from people like you, Jimmy Gaines.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.