His Name Was Daniel

By Joel Eisenberg

He Could Have Been My Son.

He died in a gunfight with cops following a high-speed car chase. I will not blame myself any longer.

Nor will I change any names in this story. He received what he wanted — a modicum of national attention — and once he was killed his identity was public for about a week.

He was 29 years old. I am going to share this experience because I do not want the above photos to be the final public impression of a complex and talented man who deserved more. This has been gnawing at me since hearing of his death this past April from “multiple gunshot wounds.”

To his kids, the news reports — if you ever see them on YouTube — did not tell the entire story.

Nor could they have.

This heartfelt account is a Medium.com exclusive.

Introduction

Daniel Joseph Carver was a student of mine when I taught at-risk youth at Hathaway Children and Family Services, a non-public Southern California school, over 15 years ago. My 9th-grade classroom consisted of substance abusers, gang members, and others with severe emotional issues.

Race factored into Daniel’s class acceptance. He was my only Caucasian student. He entered his first school day mid-year, sleeves rolled up, a swastika carved into his skin. I will never forget his first words. He fashioned himself a “neo-Nazi” and loudly proclaimed, “I’m in a class full of niggers and I have a Jew teacher. What? You’re gonna teach me about the Holocaust, which never happened? How am I supposed to learn anything here?”

Daniel was in and out of the legal system for years. When he arrived at Hathaway, he was a teen, feeling his oats, manipulating and testing everyone and everything. That, in fact, was his real mark. In meeting with administrators prior to his entrance in my classroom, I was given the following heads-up: “He’s Mensa-level brilliant, which is why he’ll test you. His IQ is off the charts, he’s deliberately provocative, and this is his last stop before full-time confinement. You need to get through to this kid.”

I hated my job at that moment.

Working at Hathaway was my last gasp as a full-time teacher. I was done. I had wanted to be a writer — my authentic passion — since I was Daniel’s age, and I knew immediately upon hearing the newcomer’s first words that my teaching days were, officially, limited. When I entered college, I indeed intended to major in writing. I realized quickly, however, that any future career success in that artistic endeavor — as with most any artistic endeavor — would be less about what I knew, but who I met along the way that could influence my results.

I needed a fall-back. I was dating someone at the time who was a special education teacher. I visited her classroom on a few occasions, found those visits highly rewarding, and elected to follow suit. My Bachelor’s degree is in Special Education (Brooklyn College, class of 1985), with a comprehensive pre-requisite courseload in Abnormal Psychology.

I taught for just over ten years, all told, before plying my trade as an active writer-producer for the film and television industries.

Up to then …

Let’s just say I could write a book on my teaching experiences. Maybe one day I will.

“Getting Through”

I gave Daniel a fair shake from the beginning, despite my ever-building bile when he discussed his racial views. I noticed something early, however. The class waited for me to respond. I ignored what I could and addressed what (I believed) I had to.

And then I went on with the lesson. It was clear he strived for attention, but it wasn’t my attention he wanted.

It was theirs. Over the years, he had already proven to himself that he could toy with adults, who were paid a salary to work with “pain in the ass kids” (his words) like him and would later go home with the equivalent of a hangover after engaging his provocations. The adults had no choice but to deal with him, and he knew it.

To Daniel, as I later discovered, that challenge lost its appeal as soon as he entered high school. He believed that if he turned the students to his side, while loudly exclaiming his racism, they would respect him.

And he would become a leader.

As the year went on, his “nigger” perjorative morphed into an amicable “nigga” alternative. “Sup, my nigga?” he would ask of his classmates. Same nonsense, only more patronizing and less antagonistic.

And he proved to be right. For whatever the reason, he earned their respect.

Also, I noticed that when I gave him positive attention, his provocation substantially lessened. He remained manipulative, but he calmed somewhat and began testing himself to see if he could walk the straight and narrow within his classroom walls.

One afternoon, he asked to speak to me after class. The conversation went something like this:

“Why do you always take my shit and not put me in time-out?” he asked. “Is it because you’re Jewish?” He appeared to reconsider, but that was part of a routine. “But then, no Jew teacher I’ve ever had has taken my shit like you. Help a goy out here.”

“Because you’re a fraud.”

He exaggerated a laugh. “You’re kidding me, right?” He laughed harder. “A fraud? No one’s ever called me that before … Well, maybe there was this one time. They may have said ‘bullshit artist,’ or something — ”

“If you wanted time-out, you’d walk out of the classroom.” He tried to protest, but I went on. “Maybe if you stop trying to prove yourself for five minutes, I’d be willing to help you and not go through the motions for a paycheck.”

That was the moment I reached him, the moment of “getting through.” He didn’t know where to go from there.

He simply nodded, thanked me, and left the room.

I remember this conversation vividly, as ten minutes later I received a call from my wife that one of my close friends, a television actor, was found dead in his house. Suicide was initially suspected, but the death was ruled an accidental drug overdose.

I stood up from my chair, locked the door, sat back down at my desk and shed some tears.

It was that kind of day, since seared into my memory.

An Assault, and a Response

Daniel took baby steps to lower his guard and accept me. He began taking instruction, and working to prove himself to me this time, scholastically. The other students loved it. I frequently heard the whispers about how he was playing his teacher, and how he’d return to form when the time was right.

Views changed when another student assaulted me.

The student was considerably taller and heavier than I was, and he was pacing around my desk threatening to hit me. The other students stood, and he asked one to close, and guard, the door.

They all complied. Daniel was the individual who blocked the exit.

The student’s pacing was hastened. He could not be contained. His threats continued as I was sitting behind my desk. I asked him to sit, he became more volatile.

He balled his fist, wound up and slugged me in the jaw.

The punch, thankfully, was weaker than antcipated. I stood from my chair and said, “I’m pressing charges.”

He wound up again … and was restrained by a crisis interventionist who had just arrived inside.

I looked to the door; Daniel was just re-entering. He had opened the door, snuck outside, and yelled for an interventionist — one of several who were hired to monitor the grounds — because he thought I needed help.

The situation could have been considerably uglier, if not for him.

Daniel did not walk a straight line thereafter, though. His actions, which were soon known around the school, received mixed reviews at best. He began losing the hardcore respect which he strived to attain, and he lashed out to authority in response. He told everyone who would listen that he regretted “saving Eisenberg’s Jew ass.” He began arriving to the class high on meth, and with new (stolen) jewelry or video games he had tried to sell.

From there, a typical one-sided in-class conversation went along these lines:

“Daniel,” I’d ask, “do you know the answer?”

“Fuck you. Join your ancestors and die in an oven.”

I barely saw him until I left the position two months thereafter, as he would regularly walk out of class with a stated need for “intervention.” I once reported to admin that he threatened to return with a knife “the next time.” Admin insisted he was, as ever, being “provocative.” They said I was doing a “fine job,” and to continue my efforts. I asked them if they were aware of certain realities in my classroom. It didn’t matter. “You keep it up,” they said.

I was told I did not have to file the regulation incident report. Such would signal my sign-off from the world of teaching.

It was time to leave that world behind, and pursue my professional ambition of becoming a working writer.

And immediately alert campus security about the threat. Which I did.

A threat that was, this time, not to be realized.

The Hathaway school as I knew it — since relocated and renamed in a merger— would have been an anarchist’s dream, a series of small buildings within a mountainous region that was once owned by film director Cecil B. DeMille. The property was his ranch. When Hathaway became a school — replete with on-site residences — nighttime orgies, drug exchanges and other improprieties became di rigueur. This was reality. Suicides were threatened on a fairly regular basis, and it was not unusual for helicopters to circle the mountain range when students threatened to take their lives.

(I’m compelled to add a note here. It is emphatically not my intention to disparage the efforts of either the teachers nor administrators from my Hathaway teaching days. Our hands were veritably tied due to certain restrictions in our dealings with the students. That said, I will not shy away from the truths as elucidated in this piece.)

Daniel lived off-site with his elderly grandparents. His parents were in and out of trouble, and considered unfit for guardianship. It was unclear if they knew from where he stole the property that he tried to sell in school.

Of course, Hathaway has had more than its share of successes as well. It was by no means all doom and gloom. For every negative, there was a positive.

But those success stories will be fodder for another article.

I taught for just over ten years, all told. Unfortunately, systemic behavior patterns, such as those identifed above, were not unusual for young people designated — or stigmatized, as some would argue — with the label of being “at-risk.” For those students who took offense at the label, many believed they had been marked for life.

That’s a whole other perspective, right there. And so some of the students acted out, to live up to that mark. Some chose to fight it. These were the students who, with help, had the potential to regain a sense of control. Not everyone could. Chaos breeds chaos, and in such a setting instability tended to become cyclical.

My honest observations, from one who once won “Teacher of the Year” at a public school in Brooklyn.

Three Years Later

My phone rang. I picked up.

“Hello?”

“I read your book.” I recognized the voice immediately. “You really didn’t like teaching there, huh?”

Daniel.

“So …” I began, “how’d you get my number?”

“I looked you up.”

Well, my number was listed back then …

I had self-published a book called “How to Survive a Day Job,” a series of motivational stories primarily by celebrity contributors focusing on how they attained their dream careers. I guessed, correctly, that he took offense at my Introduction where, though I did not mention Hathaway by name, I had casually lumped in my teaching experience there and elsewhere as among the 100 day jobs I’d held while I pursued my writing.

“You were a good teacher,” he said. “I want you to know I’m sorry.”

I was surprised, and actually quite glad to hear from him. He informed me he spent time in the Army, which I verified later to be sure, to “straighten out” and learn a sense of disclipline. He sounded more mature than I had remembered him, and a bit weary. He then said he made a “mistake” and received a dishonorable discharge.

“That was a year ago, though,” he said. “I’m in Pierce College now taking Communications courses.”

The call went on, and I agreed to meet him for lunch. I was at first dubious about the college claim, but became convinced fairly quickly.

We met a few days later — at the college. I asked how his grandparents were doing. They were still his guardians, but he said they still did not get along. They didn’t trust him, he furthered, but he was being paid on a timely basis from a trust fund arrangement they set up for him so he could begin to look for his own place.

So far, so promising. “Are you clean?” I asked.

“I am,” Daniel said. “For now,” he added with a smirk. Still the wiseass. He told me he had gotten into “minor trouble” after his discharge, and he had been assigned a probation officer who regularly checked his progress. I asked him to call the PO on the spot.

“Now?” he asked.

“Yeah. Why not.”

He called, made the intro, and I spoke to him. I said I was interested in staying in contact with Daniel. The PO said to me Daniel told him about our meeting, and he was looking forward to it.

Was happy to hear that.

Internship

I started making something of my own mark as a writer. I was in business with a partner, and our office was in Hollywood’s Sunset-Gower Studios. I was co-owner of a production company.

Daniel stayed clean. He regularly attended AA meetings for his drinking, was regularly drug-tested, and received badges for his sobriety. He invited me to his “sobriety celebration” a wonderful affair where he introduced me to his girlfriend … and his new baby.

As to the girlfriend? She was Jewish!

Mazel tov.

She was also a former user, close to her family, and an excellent example for him of possibilities as to long-term recovery.

“Can you speak and say a few words for me?” he asked.

I did. He seemed happy, and he seemed healthy.

I called him a few days later. “Look,” I said, “I’m really proud of you. I have a company. Why don’t you intern for me part-time? If you do well, I’ll put you on salary.”

He couldn’t stop thanking me. He interned for me for six months, and did very, very well. He also asked, repeatedly, if my wife and I would consider adopting him.

When I say repeatedly, I mean it. At least once a week, he’d inquire if he was doing right by us. He was. He was doing great, but my wife and I had made certain tough personal decisions that would negate what he had been asking for.

Daniel finally accepted the reality.

And then …

The Fall

I gave Daniel money to purchase a new laptop computer for the job. Within a week, the screen was cracked and the image was a black blot to where you could only see color and image in its corners. I asked him what happened. He delivered a well-rehearsed excuse that he helped a senior woman exit a bus, and when he returned to his seat his computer was destroyed.

“Can you give me money for another one?” he asked. “I’ll take better care of it next time.”

“Why are your eyes bloodshot?” I asked.

“Haven’t been sleeping. Got the baby and all.”

He started using again. Heavily. And he was angry, at me especially for not considering the adoption request. To Daniel, I was the first adult with whom he gone that far. He liked me. He trusted me. His guard, as I requested in those early days, was down.

During his last confrontation with me on the matter, he expressed his belief I had let him down, and would not consider adopting him as I didn’t trust him. He was crying, and he became frustrated with his emotion. He accused me of thinking he was asking me because he wanted me to take care of his baby, like his grandparents took care of him. My responses to the contrary fell on deaf ears.

Over the ensuing months, we had lost contact. I had spoken with his child’s mother, herself a recovering addict, and she informed me Daniel was spinning out of control.

Shortly thereafter, he called me, in tears.

“I need your help,” he said.

“What’s going on?”

“They’re after me,” he said.

“Who’s after you?”

“The cops.”

He held up an elderly woman at an ATM. I immediately called his PO. Daniel was arrested.

He was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.

I was eaten up inside, thinking only if I had given him what he wanted, he would never have gone through this. He wouldn’t have gone back on the drugs, he wouldn’t have fallen apart. And, admittedly, there were brief moments when I considered having these conversations in earnest, with him and family who would have been impacted. Those moments quickly passed, though, and upon recalling them during the writing of this story … I realized I made the right decision.

Tough love surely has a double-edge, however.

My Student Passes

I never heard from him following his release, though I did briefly stay in contact with his PO. One evening, as I was turning the television channels I caught a few seconds of yet another Southern California high-speed car chase. The So Cal news surely loves their high-speed chases, as anyone who lives here can attest.

I again turned the channel, and didn’t give it another thought.

Three days later, early in the morning, I logged onto Facebook. I received a message asking for help for “funeral expenses.” A GoFundMe campaign was started, asking for $5000. The last name of the sender was “Carver,” but I didn’t recognize the first name.

Included in the message was the photo of Daniel I am including at the end of this article.

He was the person involved in the high-speed chase. He shot a cop in his leg, and he was gunned down.

Though some may find my response cold, I could not in good conscience contribute to that campaign.

Over the next few days, another realization hit. For a few-week period, I had been hearing about the so-called “Shaggy Bandit,” who had been robbing liquor and game stores in a nearby neighborhood on a regular basis.

Daniel again. On the right in our lead-off picture above. Surveillance video.

He had married, and his new wife was pregnant. She sent me the Facebook inquiry.

That child will never know his father either.

Post-Script

I found out later that Daniel informed the mothers of both his children that he thought highly of me, and had regrets. He also, I’ve been told, said to them he not only missed me, but also “forgave” me.

That led me to believe he held on to at least a semblance of resentment.

I am writing this article on Christmas Eve, 2018. I’m thinking of Daniel today. When inspiration hit to write this piece, on this of all days (despite being a Jew; he’d have appreciated that note), I had earlier on recalled a conversation when he was my intern:

“Remember I told you I hated Christmas?” he asked. “I couldn’t deal. Athiests aren’t supposed to give a damn about Christmas … but I want to make every day Christmas for them … legally, of course.” He laughed. I did too. “For my kid, or kids if I have more.”

“Be there for them,” I said. “Lead by example.”

“Okay, Mr. Cliche.” We slapped each other five. He then looked me square in the eyes and said, “I’m always tempted. If I don’t make it, please don’t forget me, and tell my kids Daddy was a fuck-up. I don’t want them to do drugs like me. I don’t want them to be racist — ”

“Never,” I told him in all sincerity. “If you don’t make it, and if I ever get that chance, I’ll let them know Daddy had a big heart. He was a good man who made the effort, which is more than some can say.” Daniel thanked me, and said he appreciated the words. “Now just don’t fuck up again,” I added with a smile.

My selfish dream.

We ended the conversation with him telling me he wanted to work with other addicts at a sober house. That, or he wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t give him the furrowed brow like he seemed to expect. I told him I thought if he got his act together he may well become one of the more effective out there.

I miss the guy. My friend, if your kids ever see this I want them to know Daddy was a man who loved you both very much and was very concerned about your welfare.

Even before one of you was born.

And Daddy was a man who tried to overcome his demons, so you didn’t have to follow by that example.

I sincerely believe that.