Danielle Allen, a Harvard political scientist, examines the troubling life and early death of her Los Angeles cousin, Michael A. Allen, in a lyrical New Yorker profile, “The Life of a South-Central Statistic.” The cousin went to prison as a teenager in the 1990s, amid California’s three-strikes frenzy. He was paroled after a decade but failed in his attempts to build a conventional life. In 2009, he was shot to death by his lover.
Danielle Allen calls the narrative “familiar.” She writes, “A kid from a troubled home, trapped in poverty, without a stable world of adults coordinating care for him, starts pilfering, mostly out of an impatience to have things. In Michael’s first 14 years, his story includes not a single incidence of violence, aside from the usual wrestling matches with siblings. It could have had any number of possible endings. But events unfold along a single track. As we make decisions, and decisions are made for us, we shed the lives that might have been. In Michael’s 15th year, his life accelerated, like a cylinder in one of those pneumatic tubes, whisking off your deposit at a drive-through bank.”