As children we see life through a different set of eyes than others, and we accept the reality of our surroundings by how others judge us. We were the poor kids of the neighborhood and the others kids let us know that. My parents divorced when I was 5 and things were rough for my mother with 3 kids to raise on welfare. We thought we had it bad. Sometimes, we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from or who was going to help if things got worse; I remember we would stand in line to receive the food box for the month.
Mom would put meals together and then she would leave for several weeks at a time, being on the road working for the Roller Derby. We never knew who our babysitters were going to be or if they were going to treat us with some sort of dignity and respect. Many times we took matters into our own hands and got rid of them and others just left, because we were not always the best behaved kids in the world, and we were always in some kind of trouble. The cops would bring us home at least 3 times a week for doing some crazy thing in the neighborhood, or stealing something from the local store to eat.
After a while the cops and the store owners would just ask if we had something to eat or if there was something that we needed. Those were the days when people did come together and help others that were less fortunate, and we definitely needed the help. Our cousins lived in Firestone Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. They had some of the same obstacles to overcome except they did not have the community support that we received. My aunt was a single mother and did not receive food stamps. As I think back now on the difference between our lives, and the obstacles they faced compared to ours, we had it made.
We faced challenges just as they did; I have been behind bars many times in my life. Both I and my older brother had interventions that changed our lives. My brother found out that the only way to change his life was to change his environment and look for other ways to support himself and his family than drugs. There were no food boxes available to my cousins and the cops were not as forgiving as they were in our neighborhood; the cops took my cousins to juvenile hall. There is one difference between my cousins and my family; they were half black and white.
They were not looked at with the same sympathetic eyes as us and they told us about the way they were treated by the people of the city, and putting you all behind bars was the only way to solve the problem. From early on in their lives, they had to face the harsh reality that they were not treated the same as others even in their own community. Being called names by the other kids in the neighborhood, they had to fight everyday just to earn respect and they became the aggressors. They did things that we never thought of at our age, but that was the live they lived.
My cousins went to juvenile hall very early on, and when they would get out, it did not take long for them to be locked up again. One of my cousins has spent over 3/4th of his life behind bars, and that is the only life he knows. We had spent a couple of days here and there in juvenile hall where they spent months throughout their teenage years. They did not have the same kind of caring community members as we did in our little part of the world; being a big city, crime was a way of life for kids there. There were not many options for the young people and joining a gang and the reality of death was just an everyday part of life.
Drug abuse was prevalent and my cousins excelled in the life of crime. If it had not been for the YMCA in our community and the people that were placed into our lives, things for us could have been just as it was for my cousins. Both of my brothers have been in jail a time or two, except for my youngest brother who is spending the rest of his life in prison. He was sentenced to 25 to life, 25 to life and 18 years for crimes he was involved in 1994. I moved away from Stockton, California in 1996. My older brother moved away several years after I did and he now lives in Waldport, Oregon. He is a well respected part of the community.
My journey began in 1995, after suffering a heart attack behind an overdose of Methamphetamine; I knew that I needed to change my life when I woke from the coma, and the charges that I was facing from running from the law for over 2 years. The judge whom I went in front of gave me my way out, but the road was not going to be easy. I had to complete a drug program, pay up all my fines and go to parenting classes. My kids had suffered long enough; they had to deal with all my addictions, the stealing, lying and cheating. It was going to be a battle, but I was willing to do what it was going to take to put my life back on the right track.
The judge looked at me and told me “that if you do not complete this program and do all the requirements that I have set forth, that I would be facing 15 to 20 years straight time”. Thanks to the Veterans Administration and a Stockton Sheriff named Officer Garcia, the judge was going to give me a chance of a lifetime. All of the charges against me were to be dropped, and my records sealed and I would have a fresh start in life. The judge said it was against his better judgment to give me this opportunity, but I had a lot of people willing to give me a chance. He was looking forward to putting me behind bars.
My cousins never had any kind of opportunities such as the one I was given and they were criminals and they would be punished to the full extent of the law. All of my cousins are in prison for life because of 3 strikes law. One of my cousins was not so lucky; He was shot and killed by the Los Angeles police that said he had pulled out a gun but none was ever found. They called it justifiable shooting, also known as guilt by association. I look back at the events of my life and realize that we were not poor by any means compared to other families in the Los Angeles area.
The opportunities we had been given were not there for them and although we committed some of the same crimes, their punishment was more severe. I could never imagine being where I am today. I thank God for the people I have had in my life that gave me some different perspectives and hope that I could have more than I ever dreamed of. I look at how my cousins were raised and they way we were, and there are similarities, but we had it easy compared to them. Being of two different nationalities and dealing with the everyday stresses of the big city life must have been a burden that I am not sure if we would have survived.
I must admit that life was not always rosy and wonderful, but we always had a roof over our heads and we might not have had the best meals but at least we had one. I am grateful to all the people I have had in my life that thought there was something to fight for and never let me give up hope. I pray for my cousins every day and give thanks to the lord for all that I have been given. Works Cited ”. Howell, James, Decker, Scott H. “The Youth Gangs, Drugs, and Violence Connection Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, January 1999. U. S. Department of Justice. Boyz N the Hood Singleton, John. 1991. Columbia Pictures