The following is the true life story of Manos, a young inmate,who wrote this as he leaves the juvenile justice system and enters the adult system. The letter was originally published by The Beat Within, a juvenile justice system writing workshop, which has generously allowed The Crime Report to share.
Hey Beat, What’s cracking? Today I’m going to talk and write about my long life story from beginning to end. It all started off when I was born in O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. I was born on September 23, 1992. I can’t really remember a lot of my memories from when I was a little kid, but I’ll tell you the ones I do remember.
Before I get started, let me tell you that I have two younger brothers. One of my brothers’ names is Jonathan and he is fifteen years old. My other brother is six years old, about to turn seven in October. My sister just turned thirteen back in February. So that makes me the oldest in the family as you can see.
Well, let me take you back to when I started school. I started school at the age of four or five; I can’t remember exactly. I attended Grant (Elementary School) from Kindergarten to 2nd grade. I went to Grant because the school was so close to where I lived. It was just a couple of blocks away. My mom used to walk me to school. At Grant, I made a lot of friends that I still know at this time. Well, let me continue about school. Like I said, I went up to 2nd grade in Grant.
After that, I moved from San Jose to Los Angeles. My dad had family over there, so we moved in with them for like a year. It was pretty fun over there. I enjoyed my stay. I was enrolled in school and everything. I took the school bus because my school was far.
The thing about being in Los Angeles is that it was dangerous out there. I used to be at school and they would have to close the school and make a barrier of chairs against the door because they would say that there were people with guns and masks in the campus, trying to steal or get something. It was very scary just hearing that, especially because I was small.
After that, time went so fast. I came back to San Jose and started school at Grant again.
Let me tell you a little about how I was. I was a very intelligent kid. I liked going to school. My favorite subject was math. I was good at it. I was also into Pokemon cards. I liked collecting them and watching their TV series. When I was small, Pokemon was very famous. A lot of kids liked it. I also liked reading. I’ve always liked scary books because they have a lot of suspense. To this day, I still like scary books. I was an ordinary kid: I liked playing dodgeball, and I especially enjoyed playing at the playground with my friends. I finished the rest of my years that I had for elementary school at Grant.
After that, I started going to middle school at Hoover Middle School in San Jose by Lincoln High School. I was nervous and a little scared. I ain't going to lie about that. When I got there, it wasn’t even bad. A lot of my friends from my elementary school went there, too, so I wasn’t alone like I thought I was going to be.
Well, school started and it was very fun. I had my first real relationship in 6th grade. Her name was Leslie. She was a very beautiful girl. I really don’t remember exactly how long we were together, but it was pretty long. After we broke up, it was just girl after girl, enjoying life. I wasn’t looking for another relationship. It felt good being alone, because I was able to do whatever I wanted.
Well, to change the subject from relationships and girls, as I entered middle school, everything changed. I noticed no one really considered it was “cool” to get good grades. The whole school dynamic changed when I entered middle school. I figured I had to adapt to fit in with the rest of those around me. If you attended class and did your work, others looked at you differently. You were seen as a punk if you didn’t experiment with drugs and alcohol.
In the beginning, my friends from grade school and I tried to stay to ourselves, but we started hanging out with the wrong people. We slowly started drifting apart from each other. Some of us started hanging out with gang members, some of them got heavily involved with drugs, and others just stopped coming to school completely.
Childhood friends don’t always make it through life’s obstacles together. We picked up new habits. As school went on, I saw that none of my new friends and I were interested in hanging out after school and doing homework. It was more of “let’s kick it, smoke, drink, and party with girls.” My view on school changed. I no longer woke up in the morning with the same motivation to do well in school, but instead, I woke up in the morning just to ditch school, drink, smoke and hang out with the ladies. Nothing was the same anymore. No more good grades. No more nice letters sent home to my mom. No more certificates or awards taken home to show my mom. Instead, I took home citations and suspension forms.
I was continually getting in trouble with the law at school. I would get cited by the police while on campus for having pocket knives and drug paraphernalia. Fights also started having a huge impact on my motivation to go to school. When I started gang banging, I got into a lot of fights.
At first, I refused to let others call me a gang member; I would say that I just hang out with them, but that doesn’t mean I gang bang. That didn’t last for long, though. I quickly fell in love with the life-style, the attention, the respect from those around me, the thrill we got from confrontations with rivals, the girls that loved everything about us, and the feeling of having a family.
After thousands of warnings from my family and peers to not get involved with gangs, I decided “It's my life.” I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, I made the worst decision I feel I have made in my entire life. I became a gangster.
This all started happening in just the 2nd semester of my first year in middle school. In just six months of middle school, I went from an honor roll student to a young gang member, interested in nothing but doing drugs, fighting and looking good in front of females.
That same year, I was held back a grade due to a big drop in my academic participation. My teachers knew I was a smart student, but I feel that they didn’t put that effort to push me that extra step toward doing my work and achieving good grades.
I can’t exactly blame my failure in school at that point on my teachers, because the attitude I presented in class showed them that I didn't want to learn and that I didn’t take what they had to say into consideration. I feel they kind of gave up on me really easily, compared to those teachers that I have now.
Studies done by the University of Illinois show that parents who establish a routine for meals, bedtime and study/homework, and encourage the child to ready him/herself for studying will most likely get their young child in the habit of doing homework immediately after supper or after school. This will help them get adjusted to doing to same routine as they continue going to school down the road. This will help them succeed academically. That’s what I've learned from my teachers.
I feel that’s mainly right, but they never take into consideration that middle school is mainly when students are introduced to the real world. They are introduced to gangs, sex, and drugs. That’s when they forget what the real purpose of going to school really is. They lose their focus on their primary goal. Those are topics that educators should really focus on: keeping the students focused on their primary goal, informing the students about the negative consequences of being in a gang, having unprotected sex at an early age, and doing drugs.
I personally can't say that if someone had told me this, and had helped me stay focused and away from those negative things at school, I wouldn’t have come out the way I did. My mother didn’t really say anything to me. She would say, “You are your own man, and you will make the choices you want in life, regardless of what I say. So I want you to know that regardless of what choices you do make, I still love you. But I want you to learn about life the hard way.”
So, from that moment, my life went on and I entered high school. High school was even worse for me. Everything was completely different than middle school. In middle school, everybody hung out with everybody. Of course, except for gangs. But what I mean is that Mexicans hung out African Americans and Asians etcetera.
In high school, I noticed that everything was separated racially. I got deeper into the gang lifestyle. I went from just worrying about fighting at school, to worrying about getting stabbed on school campus. I went from just smoking marijuana, to drinking heavily, doing ecstasy, and cocaine.
Also, unlike middle school, drugs had a big role in high school. Drugs meant money and I got involved. I now saw school differently. I saw it as a place to make money. I completely forgot about what school was for. My freshman year, I went to school for two reasons only: to meet girls and to make money. I missed more than half of my freshman year, not because I didn’t go to school, but because I just never went to class. I figured that you can’t make money in class, so why go?
High school also brought so much drama to my life. It was a place to make a name for yourself. I kept on getting into fights. I found myself in situations where I was in front of half of the school, getting called out to a fight. Fights occurred a lot in high school.
The difference between those fights in middle school and those in high school is that you might be fighting someone four years older than you. It was also unlike middle school where, once the fight happens, it’s all over. There was no retaliation after the fight. In high school, if you fought someone and you beat that person up, you would most likely be getting jumped badly or maybe even worse, getting stabbed. Pretty much what I’m trying to say is that if you fought at my high school, be ready to fight that same person every time there’s an encounter between the two of you.
Within the two years that I was in the public high school, I fought over fifteen times on campus. Not to mention all the fights out of school that took place due to some stupid incident that occurred at school. All in all, high school was very exciting, but it also brought me so much drama that I still have to go through 'till this day. But it’s the life I chose to live, so I can’t complain.
Teachers in high school were a lot more lenient than any other teachers I had met. I knew that they knew that there was gang tension, drugs being sold on campus, and a lot of racism, but they didn’t seem to care. As long as they got their check at the end of the month, they didn’t care.
Some teachers encouraged us to fight. They fueled the fire. For example, there was an incident that occurred one time in class between two rivals, and things escalated really quickly. One of the students in the incident then decided to stand up and confront the other student to a fight. Now, at this point, I’m watching the teacher. He notices what’s going on, and doesn’t even bother to call the principal or the on-duty police officers on campus. He just states that if they are going to fight, to take it outside of the classroom so that they don’t end up breaking any of the equipment. Now you tell me – is that a good thing to do on his part? But think about it. My school at this point had had prior “race riots,” continuous non-stop fights, and God knows how many drugs being sold on this school campus. Do you think that stopping one little fight will change anything? What would you do if you were the teacher?
As I went into my sophomore year, things didn’t really change much. I still didn’t go to any of my classes. I started trying to persuade the principals to help me out and let me get away with not going to school because I started getting letters home due to my attendance. I started having to go to numerous court dates due to my attendance and for various citations I had received.
I kept getting lucky with my encounters with the police. I would get cited or they would have my parents pick me up, but I never got locked up. I thought I was very lucky, but like it always happens, the luck eventually ran out. Police at school harassed me more than ever because they knew that I was a gang member and sold drugs. I got arrested multiple times with threats of going to juvenile hall for a long time. I knew the school officials had it in for me.
One day I stole a car. I kept it for two days close by my house. I used it like it was mine. I was stupid for doing that, but I didn’t care; it was whatever. Well, one day I was about to go to pick up my friends. I did get over there, but on my way back to my hood I got blurped by a cop. They knew the car I was driving was stolen and they told me to stop. I kept going though, until it came to a stop, and I was blocked so I couldn’t go anywhere. So, I stopped and got pulled over. From there, they took me to juvenile hall.
From that day, it was my first time getting incarcerated. My life was getting out of hand. My first time locked up, like everyone else, I thought there was a lot of stabbing and people getting capped and stuff, but it didn’t turn out to be like that. I got 45 days and I did my time and got out.
As of 2008, I have been admitted to Juvenile Hall nine times. Currently as I write this, I’ve been here since November 2009 for another case I got caught in, and won’t be getting out for a while. But it’s all good. It ain't a big deal. I always say time is time. I’ll be out someday. All I can do now is wait 'till that day comes and be back home. For now, I’ll be getting my education and staying strong.
Read more of the Beat Within here.
Picture via Franklin County Courts