My rating: 5 of 5 stars
you get old enough and start to think: yep, got a handle on my patch of turf, i know how my world works and what matters. and then you read a book like this and realize that there are entirely different American experiences just a few miles away.
this book is by a man who was a gang member as a young ‘un. he hung with his homies, did drugs, had way too much unprotected sex, shot people, got in seemingly endless fights. (and all this was in the 1970s, before gang violence [and cops] had adopted more deadly weapons of mass destruction.) with help, he slowly but surely worked his way out of la vida loca by the time he was 18 or so and went on to write this book.
i read the book because i’m working with kids in juvenile hall. not all of them are gang members by a long shot, but some of them are, and i am trying hard to understand what in their lives brought them to such a pass. to me, an outsider, it makes no damned sense at all. it’s no surprise to find out that poverty is an issue, racism is an issue, police harassment is an issue, crappy schools and drugs are an issue, lack of opportunity is an issue. even so, it never made sense to me that kids shooting each other was somehow a necessary or viable response to the societal misery inflicted on them.
after reading this book, i’m starting to get it, a tiny bit.
one thing that did genuinely surprise me in this book is the endemic violence brought on by the police. personally, i’m pretty neutral about cops–my interactions with them have been few–but i am generally at best distrustful of authority. what’s described in this book, however, is very like an undeclared war.
i quite truthfully cannot imagine (and i’m a pretty imaginative person) what it would be like to have an armed, trained force of people ever-present in my neighborhood who might, for any reason at all, decide one day to fuck me up and throw me in jail, and no matter what the circumstances, i would be wrong.
that alone would certainly do a number on my ardent desire to become a productive member of society, even if the poverty/racism/schools/drugs/lack of opportunity issues weren’t there, which they are.
i am thoroughly convinced that violence doesn’t solve a fucking thing, ever. but i am getting a toehold of an understanding about how, when you can’t walk outside without fear of getting shot, beaten, jailed, or murdered, having a gang of friends committed to your protection can start to look like a pretty good idea.