By Luis Sosa
It takes a village to raise a child, some people say; but growing up in Ventura, California, my beloved single mother was on her own, not just with one child but four boys. It’s one thing when the village is comprised of educated, secure adults; but a village of negligent, impoverished parents breeds and almost ensures a childhood of adverse experiences, and quite probably, trauma.
From my room upstairs I could hear my mother crying, I slowly made my way down the stairs. I hugged my mom tightly. “Mama, don’t worry, I’m going to college and getting us out of here one day. I’m gonna do my best,” I swore. As I stared into her eyes I saw the pain and brokenness, the overwhelming tragic vulnerability. At ten years old, I was the man of the house so I did my best to never cry or show emotions.
“I love you, Mijo,” my mom said through her tears. I had plans for a better life, but times had gotten tougher on us. My father, a heroin addict, spent more time in prison than with us. My two older brothers followed in his footsteps; education was not in their plans. My mom worked all the time to keep us fed. Sometimes we had no place to live so we slept in the car. She always made sure that me and my younger brother had something to eat and made it to school. She was a plain looking lady, but for church every Sunday my mother would fix herself up and she was beautiful. She would light up the room. She had graduated from high school with plans for college. Unfortunately, her plans were interrupted because her single mother had to work to help with the bills.
The Least of My Problems
We lived a block from Sheridan Way Elementary. My fifth grade year I wanted nothing more than to be in school; my friends were there and my teacher (I swore we were in love). “Great job” written on my school work brought a feeling foreign to me; praise and positive attention were unfamiliar events. The balance of what was good and what was bad had begun to scale a lot heavier towards the bad. I felt a lot of shame over not having many clothes, especially when classmates noticed I was wearing the same thing two or more days in a row. But this was the least of my problems.
Fighting for My Education
The peer pressure from other guys my age in the neighborhood gang was at a high volume. There was always violence, and murders. West Ramona Street where we lived was a lion’s den. Stepping outside at the wrong time could be dangerous.
Twenty-four-seven there were drug sales, prostitution, and worse. At 7:45 a.m., the ocean breeze finds its way through the city, leaving the car windows frosty. As I hurried to school, “Shadow, Tiny, Mousie-Ventura Avenue Gangsters” is sprayed on the corner market. Across the street, “R.I.P. Bugsy” is sprayed on the fence. Bugsy was Ricardo, a thirteen year old, stabbed by rivals, weeks prior. Because of Ricardo’s relatives, his status and future in the gang had been almost inevitable.
Turning the corner, I saw them. I could run back home and try to get away, but I didn’t want to bring any more trouble there, we already had enough. I took a beating every time the Pee-Wees and I met on the way to school. Still, I made it there…bloody nose, clothes dirty from wrestling in the dirt. It was obvious by my appearance, but never mentioned by school officials. The Pee-Wees wanted me to join, but the gang was not in my plans. I guess you could say I learned a lot during my elementary school years, but mostly on the way to school.
School of Hard Knocks
By the time I reached Junior High I was becoming numb to my emotions. I was still receiving passing grades but losing interest. I had a lot on my mind. My mother’s discipline had become abusive, including fist fights with her alcoholic boyfriend. When my brothers were home it was a battle for attention.
I started carrying a knife to school. I had already become suspended for fighting. I felt outcast in many way, like no one understood except my friends. We were in the gang now. At the time it made sense, we looked out for each other. We all had experienced some kind of trauma in our youth.
As far as other relationships, several girls seemed interested in me, but I didn’t know how to respond. I had been sexually abused and I was ashamed.
Fell Asleep on Us
Something was wrong. “Sit down, Mijo.” My mother had been crying, “It’s your father, he went to sleep and never woke up. Though I held back my tears, I was broken. He died from a drug overdose. I was thirteen and I didn’t care anymore.
Waste of Time
“You’re never welcome back here, you hear me!” The principal’s words rang in my ears. I was in his office, hands cuffed behind my back. I waited to be hauled off to Juvenile Hall for bringing a knife to school. I stayed silent, stoic, he wasn’t going to see the emotion, the pain, the sorrow. “You’re never going to amount to anything; you’ll end up dead or locked away.”
I’ll always remember the principal’s words, “I don’t know why we waste our time with you people.” Those words…”waste of time” never left me, through Juvenile Hall, Youth Authority, to prison. In many ways, I’ve wasted my time. Still, I’ve aspired to self educate even through my struggles. While I was incarcerated at the Youth Authority, I received my high school diploma; an accomplishment which I’m proud of.
All along I was still that child; thinking I was a man, emotionally shut down. I was not a man at ten nor was I at twenty-five. My numbness and trauma have had devastating results. A life (Frank) was taken, a life sentence was given and so many lives impacted.
Originally published by Incarcerated Journalists Training at Mule Creek State Prison