The Lure of Gang Life

I joined the gang and suddenly had more money than I thought possible. I also lived in constant danger of taking a life or losing my own.
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I joined the gang and suddenly had more money than I thought possible. I also lived in constant danger of taking a life or losing my own.

With my legs slightly spread and feet planted in the middle of the street, I aimed my revolver at the gray car speeding toward me. The seconds ticked by slowly as I waited for the right moment, confident I'd shoot the driver between the eyes and dive out of the way before he ran me down.

That moment never came. Before I pulled the trigger, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a police car coming at me from behind. Getting revenge on a rival gang member suddenly didn't matter. I couldn't risk getting arrested again. I darted off of the street, looking for someplace to hide.

I was only 19 and had already been in jail. If the police caught me, I was bound to end up behind bars again—but for a much longer time. My whole life was headed nowhere but down.

It wasn't like I woke up one morning and said, "This is the day I'll destroy my life." I'd been raised by good, churchgoing parents. I was always a pretty decent kid. But one day I made a very bad decision. I was 12 at the time.

It was a pretty ordinary summer afternoon. Engines rumbled as cars slowly passed my house. Rap beats blared from boom boxes. The shouts and giggles of children at play could be heard up and down the street.

My friend and I sat in the front yard playing a game of marbles. As I knelt on the lawn, posed to flip a large marble with my thumb, I glanced toward the street and saw a guy sprinting hard. He was being chased by a police officer. The guy darted across a neighbor's yard, dropping something that looked like a gun. He then disappeared from sight, with the officer still running after him.

Always full of curiosity, I crossed the street so I could get a good look at what the guy had dropped. There it was, steel-gray body and black handgrip. I looked at it for a few seconds, then picked it up. I'd never held a gun before. It was kind of heavy, big and powerful-feeling. I carried it back across the street to show to my friend. "What will we do with it?" he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders and told him I was going to hide it in a trashcan in the alley. After I dropped it in the trash, we went back to the front yard as if nothing had happened.

Later that afternoon, my friend went home and I continued to play outside. Around suppertime, a man came walking up my street. It was the guy who'd dropped the gun! He stopped in front of my house and looked at me. I avoided his eyes.

He stood there a moment, then asked, "Did you see what happened?"

I took a deep breath.

He knows I saw him, I thought. What would he do if I lied to him? I wondered. Then I had another thought. What will he do if I tell him the truth?

I swallowed hard, mumbled something about what I'd seen and then led him to the back alley. I showed where I'd put the gun.

"I wasn't going to keep it," I said nervously.

"You didn't do nothing wrong," he said without any anger in his voice. In fact, he sounded like he admired me for thinking so quickly—and, I realized later, for keeping him out of trouble. "It's OK. You're smart. I need smart kids. Let's take a walk." Without my parents or any of my siblings around, I didn't think twice about walking down the street with this stranger. He seemed kind of cool and scary, all at the same time.

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