Sunday, August 10, 2008

A World Apart

Jose Medellin was executed last week. I didn't know him and I don't feel sorry for him, but I mention it here because reading about Medellin brought back a lot of memories. My life was full of people like Medellin: proud, loyal, and very, very violent.

I never joined a gang but I ran with a tough crowd in middle school. By the time I was in seventh grade, lots of my friends had done stints in juvenile detention, or juvie as we called it, and I was scared shitless that one day my number would be up and it would be my turn. Still, I wasn't scared enough to stop running with my gang banging friends.

By the time I was in tenth grade, I was so comfortable with the gang lifestyle that skipping school to attend the funeral of a friend whose cousin, a member of a rival gang, had shot and killed him was no big deal to me. It was, however, a very big deal to my mother. She forbid me to go but I defied her because she didn't get it.

I had to go. Going to that funeral was a show of love and support for my deceased friend. Sure, he led a violent life that I didn't quite understand, but he was no less my friend because of it. He was a great guy who threw amazing parties and in my fourteen-year old world that meant a helluva lot.

In retrospect, a church packed with gang bangers was probably not all that safe and I'm certain the funeral procession to the remote town of Algodones was pretty unsafe too, but I was young and grieving. Only now do I understand that I should have been scared and that I should have kept my happy ass firmly planted in third period English class.

These days, I meet people who have never known someone in a gang, and that's weird to me. I meet people who see a group of black or Latino kids and feel afraid, and that's weird to me, too, because ninety percent of the people in my young life were either black or Latino. I was part of that so-called "bad" crowd and, you know what, it wasn't scary, it was a lot of fun in a criminally delinquent kind of way.

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