The Beat Within: ‘To Me, They Were My Real Family’


This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop.

It was the year 1969. I was born in December to a single mother. From what I was told, I was a handsome young fella, and even at a very young age I was told, “Boy, you look just like your daddy”. Speaking of which, I only saw my dad on the weekends, or at family functions on my dad's side of the family, if my mother wasn't mad at him. If she was, she would tell him I couldn't go.

At this time my mom and I were living in a very rough part of South Central Los Angeles, and my dad was living in a nice area in Inglewood, along with the rest of the family on my dad's side. So when the weekends came around, I really looked forward to being with my dad and visiting my cousins. So, when my mother told me I could not go because of reasons unknown, that really affected me.

One time when my mother was mad at my dad she kept me from attending my grandmother's funeral (my dad's mom). Can you imagine the effect that would have on a kid? I was devastated! Crushed, I cried for days. My mother would tell me, “Boy! Get out of my face with all that crying.” All I could think of was, “How could she do that to me?” How could somebody be so selfish?” To this day I don't understand, and we never talked about it again.

I do know that it played a major part in the road I chose. The reason I say that is because, right before that happened, I graduated from sixth grade. I must say that was my proudest moment, walking across the stage with all the other kids. Since that day, everything changed for me. I blame my mother for being so self-centered and my dad for not standing up to her.

Moving on from elementary to junior high school, I started to meet other kids who shared the same struggle as I did and, for some reason or another, we understood each other not knowing who or what we were becoming. As time went on, we became closer like brothers. Eventually, we started to become rebellious against our teachers. In addition, we started skipping school and hanging out with guys much older than we were. I went from an A and B student to a straight D and F student. I started hanging out past my curfew, smoking weed, and drinking alcohol with my newfound brothers. To me, they were my real family.

I can remember the first time I was arrested and released for trying to trade in counterfeit money at a liquor store for one of the older guys I was hanging around with. At a very young age, I was taught that snitching was a bad thing and so, by me not telling the cops who or where I got the counterfeit money from, when I finally got off my punishment, I was able to hang out again. I was treated with so much respect, so much love… way more than before I was arrested, and I was later told that it was because I kept my mouth shut. The older guys told me I was loyal and even took me out shopping and bought me clothes and shoes.

When I walked in the house with a bag of clothes and shoes, and my mom asked me where it came from, I told her the whole story. She said, “Those shoes look nice.” That was all I needed to hear. So, that's why I chose gangs over my family. However, I still had a choice and I chose wrong, because now I'm serving a thirty-years-to-life sentence.

Lastly, to my readers: be on the lookout for my next letter on why I chose family over gangs.

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