PEGGY RAMBACH

 

Swimming With Rocks in My Pocket
L.M.

The job was for a marketing company. The ad said they were looking for students or recent grads for an entry level position and a basic foundation with accounting was a plus. I graduated high school with a reasonable grade point average of 3.6. Although I went directly to Boston College, shortly, sometime after starting, I dropped out and was currently in a community college trying to raise my grade point average. Accounting was my major. I was confident I had the skills to do entry level marketing. My academics and previous employment carried the experience the job needed. After submitting my well-worked-on resume, I got a response back from the company much sooner than I expected. Things were falling into place. All I needed now, was to look the part.

Buying a brand new suit was completely out of my budget. I came up with the idea to buy a suit from the Goodwill and tailor it. I scheduled an appointment at a local dry cleaner on my way to the Goodwill. Entering the store, I ignored the smell of old wet yarn that had permeated the place since as long as I could remember. I noticed a group of about three women looking through school clothes for their children who were running around playing what looked like Hide-and-Go-Seek. This reminded me of my childhood, when my mom coincidentally purchased my first bike from this exact same Goodwill. I too, was running around playing with the toys here – and now I was looking through the suits. My search ended when I found a suit that was somewhat in style and not totally faded; I had no time to waste. $19.99 was an ideal price.

That night, I was nervous, pacing back and forth, looking at my online banking account that read $219. It wasn’t even half of what I needed to pay my bills this month. I could hear all my roommates laughing and cheering downstairs, pre-gaming for yet another “thirsty Thursday” ritual they faithfully stuck to. Their parents paid for their rent and all living expenses. You would think they would be more cautious about how they spent their money, but they bought marijuana, alcohol, and ordered out so much, that every time our door rang it was Amazon or a food delivery. My parents didn’t even have a longitude or latitude where I could locate them. I went to the kitchen to make a single packet of Ramen noodles with Shriracha sauce. Ironically, it cost more than the packet of ramen and the bowl I was eating out of. The night came to an end with my anxiety at full throttle and my stomach at half full.

The interview was today. My suit looked great and my Payless shoes looked the best they could. I looked in the mirror and suddenly remembered the sound of the heavy door slamming behind me after being released from prison. One year of eight by twelve confinement. One year of stabbing and fighting, people attempting to recruit me to join their gang and guards treating me like the lowest possible piece of matter a human could be. I thought, will this employer judge me because of a mistake I made in the past?

The following morning I took one last look at my roommate. He was in a deep sleep on the couch still wearing the same clothes from the night before. I closed the apartment door. My phone beeped and, I remembered the bus app. It was arriving in two minutes. I realized if I missed it, the next one wouldn’t come for thirty minutes. I ran, ran as fast as possible in a mixture of snow and ice. I missed it! But if I ran fast enough I could catch it at the next stop. Snap went my shoe! The entire sole detached itself and I stepped into puddle of slush then slipped and fell. I watched the bus disappear into the fog.

I was twenty minutes late. “Have a seat. He’ll be ready within the next ten minutes,” said the assistant. Ten minutes felt more like thirty. Then a young man walked out of Mr. Johnson’s office as the assistant said he was ready for me.

I stood up and took a deep breath. I sat in the chair with my left leg over my right to cover up my decapitated shoe. Mr. Johnson was a laid back, late thirties man, who rabbled on about his days in college, on how he was a lady’s man. He was confident and playful at the same time. There was a mini basketball hoop stuck on the back of his office door and under it, a poster of Kobe Bryant. He complimented me so much that I almost wanted to ask him, “When do I start?” Everything he asked about from spread sheets to platforms to salesforce software I could do. Then he answered the phone and told the assistant to come in. The assistant came in with a folder in her hands and walked directly to Mr. Johnson’s desk without looking at me.

Mr. Johnson looked interested in whatever the paper said. The assistant walked out. Mr. Johnson took a deep breath. Then he looked me dead in the eye. The energy in the room was different, Mr. Johnson not so nonchalant anymore and my throat was dryer than it’s ever been. The room became cold and quiet as we played copycat with our pupils. Then he broke the silence. He told me the interview would have to come to an end. I couldn’t tell what it was but I knew something was wrong. I was just about to walk out of the office before Mr. Johnson said, “Mr. M –, there’s a strong chance the position will be filled before contacting you.”
What just happened? Everything was going perfect I thought.
“You didn’t get the job because of your background check.” It was the assistant. She was outside smoking in the designated area.

I walked away with no umbrella to stop the light drizzles. I decided to walk before going directly back home. The sky was a dark fog like my mood. My right foot was soaked. I was hungry but only had Ramen noodles to eat. My suit was tailored with no job to look forward to. My apartment was just two weeks away from not even being mine. My options were limited. I feared this would happen.

Go back to school was all I could think of. What would I do? Live in a shelter while attending college? I didn’t even know where my mother lived nor where to find her, my father was gone before I turned five. To make things worse I was adopted at birth, so I not only didn’t have an adopted family’s support I didn’t even know my birth family. Where could I work? Gas station, McDonald’s or physical labor.

A background check has marked me. I could get a PhD and still have a background check to worry about. Why send me to jail to pay for my actions, if I’ll be paying for them for the rest of my life? When is justice served if you’re serving it the rest of your life?

I walked into The Prudential Mall and sat down on a bench. I took out my phone and surfed the free Wi-Fi. I felt alone, more alone then jail ever made me feel. At least in jail there were no bills and no interviews to worry about. Then I read a post on Tumblr. It said, “When you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, add more weight”. I got up and made my way to the bus stop.

 

Trees
William C.

It was a beautiful spring day and my father had set his sights on pruning the soft pines whose aroma would convey smoothly through the air in front of our home. I went across the street to get a better view of the mildly offensive evergreens that were now plumping over the handrails and rubbing the gutter on the porch roof. Having done some landscaping for my neighbor during summer vacation the year before, I thought, this won’t be so bad, all they need is a little haircut.

“Let’s get some tools out here,” my father said. In the garage he told me to grab the wheelbarrow and he filled it with a rake, broom, hedge trimmer and what he called, loppers, which were giant scissors to me, and finally an extension cord he placed over my head and hung around my neck. I followed behind him with the wheelbarrow as he carried the ladder, he began by stabilizing it and then telling me to fatten up his beer, which meant fetch him a cold one from the fridge. I grabbed the empty can and headed to the kitchen thinking, maybe things won’t be so simple. Even at thirteen I was skeptical of my father’s ability to prune. I am sure that Budweiser had no experience as a horticulturalist and had no business being involved in this project. Also, my father was not very handy; he’d crack a pane here and there washing windows, never mind the inch of paint he would get on the floor while cutting in baseboard. I always felt protective of my father because he was older than my friends’ fathers. Now, I was even that much more protective because my dad was going through radiation treatments to shrink a tumor in his lung behind his aorta. I did not realize how serious his condition was because when I went with him to his treatments at the Bonne Secours Hospital he would joke and make the nurses laugh; they all called him Jack. Still, when he was pruning I worried more about him than I did the trees.

I plugged one end of the extension cord into the hall outlet and the other into the trimmer. I passed the trimmer to my father and even though he’d stabilized the ladder, I held it just in case. Soon my arms, hands, head and shoulders were covered with branches, dust and needles, from the fat perennials. When he’d move the ladder I would rake the ground clean so he could see where it was most safe to set it up again. When I knew he was steady I raked the rest into a pile on the walkway. There was a lot to rake, too much, I thought. An hour passed. It was time to swap an empty for a full. This made number three for the King of Beers, the 16 ouncers that my brother called pounders. I just called them beers.

My brother was my dad’s favorite, the first boy; he even looked like our father. He had blue eyes and blondish hair and I had brown and brown. He was Junior. He got the fun stuff. He and my father would go to Red Sox games and on other days go fishing. Every so often they went to a little hole- in-the-wall fish market in Lawrence Massachusetts that served fried haddock like nowhere else on earth. On the ride home my brother got to steer the car while my dad controlled the gas and brakes. My brother would tell me about his excursions and I would wonder why I was not included.

One time, my father took me to my aunt’s house in Lowell Massachusetts with our dog, Max. I hung out while my dad and his sister had a few beers and some laughs. When it was time to go, I gave my aunt a hug and a kiss and hopped in the back seat of our Impala. I didn’t think much of it back then when my dad opened his door and he and Max sat in the front together and my aunt yelled “Jacky!” He said “What? He knows his place.” My aunt looked at me and just shook her head, and I continued to wonder if my father really liked me.
I walked up the stairs and realized that I could see more of the trees’ trunks than I had ever seen before. My mother was in the kitchen and as I grabbed the fridge’s handle and reached to the back, she asked me how it was going. I could only turn and raise my eyebrows with a smirk on my face and a shrug of my shoulders. So my mom got up and went out to the porch and as I snuck around her I heard her say, “Oh Jack.”

My mother told me to go and play with my friends. I went to the corner store, got a Pepsi and headed over to the Shawsheen River Bridge. I sat on the cement barrier looking down at the moving water. I spent almost three hours there looking for turtles and then eels down by the falls before I thought it safe to go home. As I got closer to our house I noticed a portion of the porch roof that I hadn’t seen before and the siding with light green stains from pine needles. It was like seeing a women with no makeup for the first time. I became anxious. I could no longer see the fulsome towers. When I finally got to the driveway I saw three stumps. One was my Dad. He was sitting on the porch steps with his elbows on his knees and his head bowed down as if he were in mass, listening to sermon. His hands, wrapped around his beer, resembled hands clasped in prayer. I said, “Hi Dad,” which seemed to break his trance. “Hi,” he said solemnly, then got up and went in the house, as it was almost dinnertime.

At the table we all focused on our plates in silence. I looked at my mom and I could tell she was not mad at my father. She just felt bad for him and sad for the trees. My mother is a wise woman. She knew my father’s pride was hurt to its deepest roots. That night I could hear my mom and dad in the living room, but not clearly. I scooted down the stairs on my butt and when I got about halfway I could hear my father saying, “How am I going to get them out?” I knew right then it was time to play my role in the aftermath of the monumental massacre.

The next day was Monday. I was focused, not on school or hanging out with friends, but on going home and getting those stumps out for my dad. This was my perfect opportunity to make him proud of me, the kind of job only my brother could do. As soon as I got home, I ran to the garage and grabbed the axe, pick, and a spade. Looking at the naked front porch I decided to tackle the left stump. It was a very warm afternoon and I was already sweating. I had dug holes in the past to bury our pets that passed but digging ground with roots was entirely different, like combing gum out of hair. I used the shovel, then the axe and finally the pick which was the perfect tool for exposing and separating the roots. Sweat stung my eyes as I lifted the thick earth- burrowed veins and severed them with the keen edge of the axe. My hands were burning where blisters had formed and already popped from the repetition and force of the blows. I wiped the grimy sweat from my forehead with my elbow and dropped the axe. I grabbed the stump; it was finally rocking back and forth, but I still had a second one to contend with. I really wanted to finish before my dad got home to surprise and impress him. But before I knew it, he and my mother pulled into the driveway which lead to the back door. I didn’t stop digging even when my mom came out on the porch said, “My, you’ve been busy.”
“Kinda,” I said without skipping a beat, like it was no big deal.
The second stump was easier than the first. By then I had developed a technique for exposing the roots and then hacking them apart. I hadn’t changed my pace but I wasn’t as sweaty since the sun the sun was no longer directly above. Dinner was going to be ready soon but I could taste victory.

No one looked up when I sat down to dinner. I was late. Everyone else was half-finished and no one said a word. My father finished eating, got up and went to his chair in the living room. I scarfed down what was on my plate and then immediately sat in the chair by the window. I was hoping my dad was going to say something about my effort, an attaboy or something along those lines. It did not happen during the time the news was on T.V. during my homework time and; it did not happen when I got ready for bed.

Time passed. Grass sprouted where the trees once stood. The space they left was like the space between me and my father that we could never fill.

 

Voltron
Javier G.

At the age of seven I was loyal to the cartoon called Voltron. I was Voltron’s biggest fan. On Christmas night my family and I got together to open our gifts and as I opened mine, I tried to guess what I could expect. So I thought about Liono from the Thundercats because I already knew he was affordable. Plus, my Moms saw me looking at him one day at the mall and asked me if I liked him. But when I finally unwrapped my gift, I was in shock. I realized that I was holding in my hands the black lion of Voltron. He was the leader and the main lion of a five-piece collection. I raised him up like I had won a championship trophy and ran towards my mom and dad calling their names and almost crying with thanks. Everyone saw my impression of a dream come true.
Now I was focused on how I could get the other four pieces to complete the entire five-piece set to turn the single lion into Voltron, the robot I loved so much. I convinced my brother to trade me his blue lion that was one of Voltron’s legs, for some Mario arcade game. Then, a couple of weeks after, I exchanged with my neighbor, some hot wheel cars for the orange lion, which was the other leg. A few days went by and I traded my Hulk Hogan action figure from the WWF for the red lion, which was Voltron’s arm. My cousin had the green lion, which was Voltron’s other arm. Green was my favorite color, too. But my cousin refused to trade. So I pulled out my toys and grabbed two G.I. Joes and a couple of Hot Wheels to call his attention to an offer. My cousin said he would do a deal for five G.I. Joes. The deal was outrageous and as he started picking them, it hurt. I felt so much pressure, but I sacrificed five of my best G.I. Joes just to be able to own the complete robot of Voltron.
Now I owned Voltron. I was so proud. It was the first time I had put a plan together and accomplished it. Now Voltron was mine. But I hesitated to play with him because I did not want to risk breaking him. My plan was to keep him forever.

But I would soon learn that plans can often change.

Around that time, my mother, on an emergency, had to travel from where we lived in New York to Puerto Rico to take care of my grandmother. My father took care of me and my brother. Then my aunt took care of us for a few months too, while my father worked, but I still needed my mom. I had problems going to bed at night without my moms tucking me in with a kiss good night sealed with her blessing. A few months went by and she decided to move to Puerto Rico permanently. So my brother and I had to travel from New York to Puerto Rico alone on a plane. We were both seven.
I packed my own suitcase and I grabbed a small box. I put all my toys in it along with my Voltron. I secured it all around with duct tape, wrote on it my P.R. address and I wrote my name on each and every side of the box with a permanent black marker. The day of our flight arrived and we had with us our Chihuahua, Browny, in a kennel, our luggage and I was holding tight in my hands, my box.

On the plane, the flight attendant told me to buckle up and then she told me to hand her the box.
I said, “Negative.”
She said, “Please?” and told me she would put it away.
“Sorry,” I said. “Not happening.”
She said “The plane will not take off if you are holding the box in your hands.” Then she gave me some earphones so I could listen to the movie and I handed her my precious box. She put it right above me in the overhead compartment.

When the plane arrived, my brother unbuckled his seatbelt, got up, and ran out of sight to look for our dog. Suddenly I was alone and afraid and went chasing after my brother. We found our dog. We met up with my moms, but I was not feeling right, like I was empty for some reason. And then I realized that I was not holding my precious box with all my toys in it including my Voltron! I had left my box behind! I tried to go back for it, but I wasn’t allowed back on the plane. My moms put in a claim for it and made calls from the house, but no one ever found it.

Even now, after all I’ve been through, I still think of that day as being the worst day of my life.

 

The Game’s Choice
Nathaniel B.

At the early age of eight years old I experienced a hurting loss of my father. He got shot in the back of his head on June 8th 1991 by a Boston police officer named Leo J. Ronan. My mom got a phone call from a friend who told her my father was laying face down, stiff and dead in a hallway of the project where he was born and raised. He was unarmed, but still got gunned down by a law official who didn’t get charged for taking my father’s life when my father was twenty-five years-old.

I was a first-born child and my mother’s only child, though my father had two other kids by two different women. I carried his first name and my mother’s last and as crazy as it may sound all the women my father had children with were from the same neighborhood. Back in the 80’s he had a way with the ladies and he had a big name in the neighborhood because he was getting large sums of money in the drug game. My mother didn’t care about that part of his life. She loved him for the person he was, not for the money he was making in the streets. She just wanted him to be a father to his first-born child that they had when they were both eighteen years old.

Now, as time moved forward, my mother took on both roles as mom and dad being the strong black woman that she grew to be. She taught me right from wrong, how to respect my elders and always keep myself well-mannered. She wanted me to be focused in school and when I wasn’t around her or with other family members, I learned form her how to be independent and stand on my own. At eleven years old, I learned how to cook a meal, wash and iron clothes, keep the house clean, be neat and organize my stuff, and always take care of my shoes. She taught me how to take care of your business, how to plan and set goals in my life. I was taught from a woman what it was to be a man.

But the streets defined manhood differently, and when I became a teenager, I listened to the streets and not to my mother. I grew up fast coming out of the projects in Boston, Massachusetts, better know as Bromley Heath, also known as “Heat Street” in Jamaica Plain. Everybody there was family and looked out for one another. If you weren’t from around the area you weren’t welcome unless you were with a person from Bromley Heath or invited to come there. Outsiders couldn’t just walk in and hang out, not even at the train station, Jackson Square. They would get robbed, stabbed or killed for being in the neighborhood.

I wanted to dress nice, but didn’t have the money. Yet, I still managed to wear the latest clothes out. How? The explanation is simple. I saw older dudes driving expensive cars, wearing flashy clothes and hanging out with the finest women I’d ever seen. Jamaica Plain was literally flooded with drugs, especially heroin, cocaine and weed. I saw two options staring at me: use drugs and get fucked up by circumstances or sell drugs and use circumstances to survive.

Beside all of these distractions, school didn’t hold my attention because I couldn’t see how school would help my situation. I observed that an education did not always guarantee employment, at least not good employment. I knew people who’d graduated school who weren’t doing much better than the high school drop-outs. Why waste time pursuing an education that didn’t pay off?

My cousin, Dee, gave me my first package and introduced me to the fast life. He wasted no time in schooling me. “For you, Nate, lesson number one: Don’t ever get high off of your product. It will make you loco. Number two: Don’t ever tell anyone about me. Number three: Stay low and always follow instructions. Trust me. Money will never be a problem for you.” Money will never be a problem. Those were the words any young kid in the ghetto wanted to hear. I thought about my poor, dear, mother working hard, struggling to support us on her own. I knew this was far from what she wanted from her only child, but situations like mine might tempt many people to break the law. I swear I didn’t choose the game, the game chose me.

Dee gave me my first package and I took it to the streets. I needed someone to check it out and make sure it wasn’t bullshit. I got my reading and it was time to open up shop. I couldn’t stop customers from coming to the spot I was working out of now, knocking on the door, back and forth, and waiting for me out front of the building. It was getting crazy. Some say you have to be scouted before you make it to the big leagues. That’s how the drug game goes. I was hustling hard. I was on my grind and it seemed like I blew up overnight.

Competition is a major part of any game and when it comes to the drug game, competition has no end. Jealousy, envy, hate, greed and the love of money often make the outcome of the game ugly. All it takes is a few words spoken to the wrong people at the wrong time and your so-called drug empire is finished. There was a no-snitching code on the street. At least I lived by that code, but when you’re getting too big on the streets and eating good and others are not, they will go to the cops and squeal – which is what happened to me, all because somebody told a lie to lessen their jail-time to get me in trouble to reduce the trouble they were in.

A man’s fear of not surviving, not making it or not having, is far greater than his fear of incarceration. This is why temporary desires make risk factors obsolete. The game kept me short-sighted and tunnel-visioned. I saw nothing but the limelight: the money, cars, clothes, women and jewelry and not what was really at stake, like coming to prison instead of graduating high school and going to college, and losing out on seeing my daughter and hurting those I love. There is no real strategy that leads to success for players in this game. Yes, one or two might fall through the cracks, but the hard truth is that the majority of us living this lifestyle are locked down or put in the ground.

I am blessed, but my poor decision-making cost me time out of my life and stole valuable time away from my child. It was a lesson and an experience that I had the opportunity to avoid, but I chose to be pulled into the lifestyle of a hustler who later became a boss, who would later take the biggest loss of life’s experience, which is sometimes the best teacher we can have.

Instead of allowing this time in prison to be a crushing blow of defeat, I am using it as a stepping-stone to higher accomplishments. I have spent my time on study, prayer, and personal commitment. My experience has taken me from being a man of the streets and shaped me into the man my mother made, the man I hope I am today.

 

Father Son Day
Vladimir H.

My ten year-old-son had just gotten a haircut from his favorite barber. Not wanting to go through the lengthy wait of sitting at the bus stop or wasting money for a cab, I called my friend, Marcus, for a ride. “Be there in five minutes,” he said. By chance he had his son with him too, and we decided to take the boys to Evans Park on the corner of Thetford Ave and Evans Street. The park was located two minutes from my home and would make it easy to feed the boys afterward.

As we were driving up Thetford Ave, I saw a black Volkswagen. The car whipped around the corner, no different than a leaf being hurled away on a windy day. Then it barreled towards us down the street. Even in a rush, the average person wouldn’t drive down a tight side street like the one we were on at that rate of speed. Then the car seemed to be straying over to our side of the road.

Thunder struck! We all jerked forward and everything stopped. A second felt like an hour. I saw a cloud of steam. The car hit us head-on. Marcus and I looked back to see if our boys were injured. “Are you guys ok?” we both asked. They were both sitting upright in their seat belts, real quiet.

Marcus and I got out of our car to assess the damage. I glanced up at the black Volkswagen to see two guys, both with their eyes wide open no different than an owl in the night. I guess it was safe to assume that these two idiots were in shock. Then both of them jumped out of their vehicle and took off running. At this point all I can think was, what the fuck? Do I let them run or stand here like an idiot? So, I took off running after them and so did Marcus. We didn’t pause to think about what we might be getting into. My only thought was that they almost killed us and someone had to pay. As a father I’d feel extremely wrong if I let them get away with it.
We chased the two idiots into a yard about ten feet away. The guy that hopped out of the driver’s seat cleared a fence as tall as me and the passenger tried to run around to the other side of the house, but the idiot got stuck. The fence braced the side of the house tightly. He tried to run past me and I grabbed him. He was swinging like a mad man as I tried to wrestle him to the ground. Marcus shouted, “Watch out!” and my grip loosened and his shirt began to slip out my hand. He swung a few more times and I lost my grip on him. He fell to the ground. Then this idiot jumped right back up and took off running out of the yard like a greyhound. I attempted to give chase but was too winded from the tussle. I also came to the realization that I was a little out of shape. I hadn’t had this much action since high school.

Me and Marcus walked out of the yard and saw a lady standing by the car. She was talking to the boys and making sure they were all right. She looked at Marcus and me and said, “I hope y’all kicked their ass.” We jumped back into our car and proceeded in the direction the fool took off running. Despite the head-on collision the car appeared to be driving straight. Someone has to be held accountable, I thought.

I could’ve called the police at that moment, but anger and frustration dominated my thoughts. Even if the thought had occurred to me I wouldn’t have called them. The police are never around when you need them, but are always on time for nonsense and harassment. I remember in my teenage years an instance where a young girl had been shot in a neighborhood. An unmarked detective’s car was a block away but didn’t respond to the scene. In this same neighborhood, I’d see young guys my age being frisked for no reason, day in and day out – sitting on sidewalks with their shoes off while officers dug through their pockets and pants. Then again what use would the police be if the other driver and his sidekick had gotten away? Better to have caught one than neither.

As we hit Norfolk Street we saw flashing lights behind us, none other than Boston’s Finest. Where were they minutes ago? Marcus pulled over. We waited for the officer to walk up to the window so we could explain to him what just transpired. Instead, I looked up into the barrel of a gun. Two young black guys and a shaky white officer with his gun drawn. The wisest thing to do at this point was to put our hands up. He noticed both of our sons in the back seat and put his side arm away. Common sense finally kicked in. He actually apologized.

It got worse. Five to six more police cars showed up. Before I knew it, we were being pulled out of the car and being searched. Standing against the car that we were hit head on in, legs spread with both hands in the air I thought, this is crazy! But then again, given the neighborhood that we were in I wasn’t surprised. Guilty until proven innocent. The police in Boston are more focused on the number of arrests they could make than actually being public servants that take care of the neighborhood. Just another day in Mattapan, I thought.
Marcus and I both asked the officer why we were being searched. His response was that his boss told him to do it. He seemed confused! Then a tall white guy who I guess was his superior came over and tied Marcus’ shoe laces together, mine after, and told us we are being arrested. Tied our shoe laces together! What part of police procedure is this? Then again I had never been to police academy. I could only imagine how slaves felt on the plantation.

We asked what are we being charged with and got no answer. Then we watched as both of our sons were put in an ambulance. Luckily, I was allowed a phone call to my girlfriend and she arrived quickly. I saw her speaking to the EMS crew. The boys were good. Seeing a face that they were familiar with was more comforting than having police officers and EMS workers asking them questions. Marcus and I were put in separate police cars and off to the police station we went.

At the station Marcus and I spent about thirty to forty-five minutes standing in the booking area. Something isn’t right we both said to each other. At this point we had been searched by a detective three times already in the police station. Each time we asked the booking officer what were we being charged with. His response was, “I don’t know”. This circus wasn’t over yet. The detective came down and searched again for the fourth time, checking my collar, lifting my pants leg with a puzzled look on his face. I asked him what he was looking for. I got no response. Then, a moment after, I was told that Marcus and I were being charged with Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon.

We were fingerprinted read our rights and given a bail of $341 and to the jail cells we went.
I was pissed off at this point, stuck in a stinking jail cell. Back in a familiar place, not a good one. A heavy metal door slammed shut behind me. I sat for a second and took in the gray walls, still atmosphere, and dim lighting. I sat down on a slab of gray concrete took a deep breath then exhaled. Alone in this cell I felt pissed off, but what could I do? I made a call to my girlfriend to take some money from my wallet to come bail me out. What a wicked turn of events. I never in a hundred years would’ve thought the day would have ended so terribly. I’ve gotten into my share of trouble in the past. A few times coming to Dorchester Court in order to resolve possession of marijuana, fire arms possession and driving without a license. Five years prior to this incident I completed a two year mandatory sentence and said to myself that would be the first and last time I’d be in the grasp of the law.

The following day we both appeared in Dorchester Court for arraignment. Once again another place that I had been before and never wanted to return to. My girl wanted to accompany me to the court, but I felt it unnecessary. Having gone through this circus before I knew nothing would come out of it but another court date. We were given two public defenders also known to some as “public pretenders”. Dealing with these people was like rolling dice. The majority of the time you roll snake eyes. But I thought that this was a simple situation that could be resolved with common sense and I felt no need to hire a private lawyer. I had been through worse in the past with a public lawyer and I came out on top. Marcus, though, decided to fire his. Had I known better, I’d have done the same.

We had several court dates that followed the arraignment and each time the prosecutors claimed to be unprepared and the victim was being held in another county. My lawyer was sure that it was an easy case to beat. He talked a good one. After the fourth trial date in the course of nine to ten months I thought the case would get thrown out. From previous run-ins with the law in my younger years, I’d known this to be a general rule of thumb. Then again the judges at Dorchester Court had a history of practicing “colorable” law. That is when a judge, thought to be unbiased and objective, makes decisions based on his or her personal and subjective opinion. I asked the lawyer why he wasn’t pushing to get this case dismissed? He assured me that I need not worry, the trial will be dismissed, he said.

But it wasn’t. On the last trial date my lawyer clammed up and was completely unprepared. I attempted to fire him, but the judge denied my request. The clown that I got into the tussle with showed up to testify against me. So I guess they made him a deal so that he could get a lesser sentence. (My sentence was eighteen months in the county jail with two years’ probation.

The system that is said to serve justice, unjustly served me. The justice system isn’t set up for a black man to be successful. My two sons, mother, and girlfriend are left to fend for themselves. I’ve left them financially secure, but money can’t take the place of a father, son, and boyfriend. What started as a beautiful father and son day ended in disaster. Will I ever trust police, lawyers and judges? I doubt it. In this day and age a black man can get shot for putting his hands up in submission, according to those who witnessed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And during an arrest, a black man, gets choked to death in an illegal chokehold and officers not be held accountable for using excessive force. Unfortunately, as black men, we must trust a system that isn’t worthy of a black man’s trust.

 

Worth a Chance
Miguel Molina

I grew up in a broken home where everything needed fixing. My father was an alcoholic and my mother was a crack addict. I was the youngest, my brother the oldest, and my sister the middle child. They were more like my parents.

We all had it rough. When my mother would say we were going food shopping, I would get excited when my sister and brother would look angry and wouldn’t want to go. I didn’t understand. It was a kid’s dream, right? To fill up on cookies, chips and ice cream until our tummies hurt. But we had to remember to fill up the cart, too, then get in line and leave the store one by one and laugh on the way home. I was too young to realize my mother had smoked the food money away.

My mother’s crack addiction stole whole Christmas’s from us, too. She was the Grinch. One Christmas morning I went to the tree and there were no presents there! I was heartbroken. I kept trying to think what I did wrong. I woke my brother up with my crying that Santa didn’t come, thinking I was naughty. My brother came into my room and sat beside me and said I wasn’t naughty. He said, Santa was so busy he probably just missed our house by accident. Then he told me to wait. He came back with something behind his back saying, “Here.” He gave me his favorite Thunder Cat action figure. I played with it all day and fell asleep with it in my arms. And even though he was an Indian Giver, and took it back two days later, I’ll never forget how he tried to make up for my mother’s mistake.

Although I didn’t know it then, my father knew and allowed these things to happen. He was afraid to be alone, so let my mother and her addiction run all over him. And she was just as shallow, for she let his alcoholism run her as well. And that’s why she allowed him to hit her which only fueled her addiction. My father was drunk every day of my life and passed out drunk every day of my life, so usually what he was mad about one day he would forget about the next day.

One night a loud scream woke me up. It was my mother yelling at my dad for more money, both crying and the sound of loud smacks, then my mother screaming louder. That was just one night. There were many more. These were the things I saw at my house. But when I tried to talk to my parents about it, they were too busy dealing with their own issues and didn’t want to listen to me. I had to learn to grow up quick, hard, and pretty much emotionless, burying my sensitivity and compassion for others. Because I didn’t know how to manage my emotions, I dealt with them the only way I knew how.

At the age of twelve or thirteen, I began smoking weed and drinking. I started hanging with the older kids. They were just like me, looking for and needing attention. They saw I had no fear. I would do anything to prove myself to anyone. If it was a fight, I fought. Break a window, I did it. Anything. Everyone in my circle knew that. So the first time I was released from D.Y.S. I visited an older girl I used to hang around with. She was talking about doing heroin, how good it made you feel, how nothing compares to it. At first I fought, made excuses, but she already had me and she knew it. I even paid for it.

In Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream an addict describes the feeling as being “a big warm hug”. Heroin was the hug I needed when I was younger, the hug I needed when the yelling and fighting began, when I had nightmares but my father was passed out drunk and my mother cracked out. It was the hug I needed when I got left at school because my parents forgot to pick me up. It was the hug I needed. Why would I have not wanted it and what reason would I have had to stop?

So as the years passed, my addiction grew. Shooting heroin every day comes to be expensive. I was committing crimes to support my habit. At first it started small. Shoplifting, stealing car radios. Then I began doing B & E’s which I got good at. But everyone gets caught. Me, I got caught a lot and was in and out of the county jail. Then, while serving a sentence there, I was caught bringing heroin into the jail and I was sent to a state prison for the first time. Even while incarcerated, I couldn’t fight the urge to get high. Every time I was released from prison I felt my addiction and my mental state were worse.

The first time I was sent to a state prison, I was classed to a level of Super Max because I caught my case at the county jail. I, who only had a minor criminal record, was sent to a maximum security prison where the majority of the population were murderers, rapists and violent offenders. I had to adapt to my surroundings so as not to appear weak. I felt like I was that kid again, having to prove myself all over again, so I was known to have a short fuse. Because of that, my institutional record became worse and I couldn’t do programs or go to school. Yes, my fault for fighting, however all of it stemmed over my having brought heroin into a county jail to get high. Nobody was hurt. I just wanted to get high. Was that worth my being sent to a maximum security prison? All of it could have been avoided if I had been given drug treatment. If my offense was smuggling drugs into prison, why not handle it in-house and get me help and support for a drug habit?

I’ve been to a few drug detoxes, but that’s all. If I had ever been allowed to go to a program, would I have completed it? I don’t know. But you have to try something in order to get an outcome. What I want to learn is: who is worth a chance and who isn’t? How can one determine if I’m worth a chance or not by my record when one doesn’t know me? My record does not define who I am. True, it’s a part of my life, but only a part.

Law enforcement and those in the Justice System don’t know the way I grew up, the way I had to live on the streets, the hurt and the pain I’ve lived through. How I wear my heart on my sleeve – and sadly, only do the things I do to support a drug habit that I would give anything not to have. If only I could get a job, better job training, heroin reduction drug treatment where people aren’t calling me worthless, and instead, showing me that I can become a part of society again and that they want me to become a part of society again.

First, we must accept that there is a drug problem in America, instead of brushing it under the rug. Author, Johann Hari illustrates in his book Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, how the prohibitionist system is designed to keep kicking the recovering addict back down, making it harder for the part of him that wants to walk away from drugs. We should develop a new system, a system that treats addicts with compassion, that treats addicts with respect, and gives them hope for success. In fact, there are other governments that have made tremendous changes with astounding results, like Sweden and Portugal. Johann Hari writes, “in the United States 90% of the money spent on drug policy goes to policing and punishment with 10% going to treatment and prevention. In Portugal, the ratio is the exact opposite.” (p. 239). At one time, Portugal had one of the worst heroin problems in the world. After Portugal changed its system from the prohibitionist system, figures were carefully collected The Portuguese Ministry of Health reported that the number of problematic drug users was literally halved from a hundred thousand to fifty thousand (Hari pg. 249). Instead of looking at addicts as criminals we should look at them as people who need help.

 

How to Survive in the Hole
John J.

In the prison I'm in there are two types of segregation units. One is the regular segregation unit where you do up to fifteen days to thirty days in the hole. The other is ASU which is the Administration Segregation Unit where you serve up to six or more weeks in the hole. Either way it’s hard to be in both units, isolated in a cell for 23 hours of the day.

Segregation is hard. There is nothing you can do in the cell besides look out the window and walk around in circles. You’re confined in a small space for a long time. When I was in the hole I passed my time by reading lots of books to keep my brain stimulated. It took weight off my mind. Reading made time fly by. Before I got locked up I never read a book besides Dr. Suess, Green Eggs and Ham. In the box I became curious and interested in reading books like urban books, books based on true stories and political books based on prisons. Teachers who worked in the education building would bring me the books. They would come up and visit us if we requested a teacher, or if we requested books or if we were a student in their class before being in the box.

When I was not reading I worked out. I spent about one hour doing pushups with a deck of cards, an Ace is 50, and King is 40 and so on. The point of doing it is to stay in shape so you won’t lose weight and to keep your mind occupied for a while. Pushups make you very hungry. You only get three meals a day unless you order canteen. Before working out eating a snack or two helps out. I think exercise is key to getting through your hole-time.

The time you have in the box is limitless. You’re not going anywhere anytime soon. You have all the time to think about your life and how did you end up in the box in the first place or jail period. One time I felt a little crazy, not suicidal though. I banged my head on the wall to try to figure what the hell I was doing and what was I going to do next with myself. When you are just sleeping and not being active with yourself, crazy thoughts come to mind like suicide or hurting yourself, because your brain hasn’t been doing anything besides sleeping.

When you’re in the hole you are not always alone. I would talk to the other guys that are in the hole in other rooms. Sometimes they are people you know. I knew a few guys that I chilled with on the street. We would talk about things that we did before being locked up and how we went to school with each other. It may seem weird but it’s easy to talk to other people on the same unit. All you have to do is talk under the door or yell through the crack of the door. If I was not talking to someone on the unit, I was talking to a female a couple floors above the unit. I either yelled through the vent in my room or I would talk in the toilet. The way you do this is to take a cup and use it to empty all water from the toilet into the sink. Then you hit the sink button a couple times or yell through the sink. Wait two minutes and you will get a response. Once she does the same thing, start a convo. That’s how you keep from feeling or being alone, by communicating.

The best way to survive the hole, though, is to stay out of the hole. I’ve been out of the hole for sixty days because I was focused on getting my high school equivalency degree, so I won’t have to go back to school when I get out of prison. I honestly thought I would end up back in the hole for fighting. Some people come out of the hole and go right back the same day or a week later. But so far, I haven’t had any problems with anyone.

Some tips on staying out of the hole are:

  • Get busy doing something. You have to keep yourself occupied. I suggest getting a detail on the unit. You have a little freedom and more time out of your cell.

  • Another way is to sign up for school and take some type of class to take your mind off the nonsense that floats around the unit. Try to stay to yourself and no one will bother you.

These tips helped me stay out of the hole. I know if I can do it, anyone can do it.

 

The Woman in the Mirror:
an analysis

Lorenzo B.

“Conceal Her” by an anonymous painter, exposes all who see it to the harsh reality endured by so many women all over the world. We could say that we don’t recognize this woman, but don’t we? How often has society overlooked a woman like her? How many times has this woman in the painting passed us by and how did we treat her? This painting raises our awareness and our sense of accountability for battered women who are battered everywhere.

“Conceal Her” is a painting of a black woman with long brown hair who is holding a make-up compact in one hand. Her other hand is applying concealer to her bruised face. She has two black eyes. Her eyes look straight ahead. They are focused on the damage done to her face but they also appear to stare, not at herself, but at the viewer. Beyond the bruises, there is an expression that represents her hardship. Her forehead, the definition of her eyebrows scream to us her physical and mental suffering.

Her body is bare and is highlighted in places. The highlights suggest the reflection of light. The reflection continues down the left side of her body, giving the impression that the light comes from the left. Moving to her right hand which is holding the compact, we see more lighting on her fingertips in addition to lighting on the compact. The glare on the outer rim of her eyes is much greater than the glare that would come from the mirror of her compact. We are looking at a woman who cannot see us, of course, but is looking into a larger mirror beyond the one in the compact. But because we stand to view the painting right where her mirror would be, she is looking at us.

The meaning of the title, “Conceal Her” is cleverly the opposite. By making us the mirror, the painter forces us to see the truth about the concealment battered woman practice every day. The mirror-effect opens a conversation about battered women and awakens us to the ugly truth of what is happening to women everywhere. Paying attention to women who have been in the position of the woman in the painting will help us focus on what these women are concealing. After viewing this painting one would hope that we do not take for granted the safety we have in our own homes. Finally, we must begin to give more attention to not only women, but people everywhere who need help. We should remember that the woman in the mirror is our friend, girlfriend, sister, and mother.

 

The Win
Daniel D.

 

My failure was my win.

Last year, when most people would be happy and full of joy, I was depressed. For me, joy was deeply stressful. I didn’t go out. I stayed in. My living room was always dark from the drapes always being closed. I had no energy to do anything. I didn’t want to eat. No cleaning. I didn’t even get up to feed the animal. Small tasks felt overbearing for me and on top of all that, I was having a child in a few months and even more stressful, I hadn’t started his nursery. His crib was still in the box. His clothes needed to be washed. Boxes of diapers were everywhere. My house was filled with objects everywhere, from dishes in the kitchen, laundry everywhere in the laundry room. Just a mess. I didn’t want to deal with it. I was lazy. No motivation for anything. I wanted to clean. I wanted to complete the baby’s room, but I couldn’t.

I was buried, buried under all my depression. I became even sadder. I would cry like an infant. I’d ask why am I crying and feeling this? Why had I no help? Where were the people who said they had my back? I’d try reaching out, but no luck. Then it seemed that I was a burden to people and I’d distance myself from everyone. I told myself I was horrible and this was the way. Emotionally, I was drained. I’d break down at any and every moment. I hated myself. I wasn’t good for anyone. My heart ached. My hands were clammy. I would become hot from anger building up inside. I’d get more upset for crying. Why was I crying? Why did I feel this way? How long will it last? Why me? When I asked for help I’d get responses like, “Just be happy.” Or “Don’t be stupid.” “It’s not a big deal.” But it was a big deal to me.

I finally went to a doctor. The doctor told me I had depression, manic, and anxiety issues which seemed right. Then the doctor prescribed me some meds and said we’d see how they’d affect me. All in all, they made me feel worse and it felt to me that everyone around me felt worse too. I hated how I felt and I hated being the reason people were upset. That’s when the idea came to me that I should leave forever and not bother them anymore. I just wanted to escape this feeling that was taking over me and my life. I wanted to rip out of my skin. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to die. Did I matter to anyone? How would I know? Did I even care? Sleep…never wake up to this again. What a tempting idea. But how could I? Would I? That’s when it struck me like a bat hitting a ball. I’d take my meds, my whole script of sleeping meds.

The next few days seemed to drag on like a weight on my ankle, slowing me down. All I thought about was killing myself. I looked for a place to commit my act and I decided to do it on the beach. It wasn’t far, just outside the house. I might as well go with a nice view and the beach was a nice enough view for the last view I’d see.

On that day, the beach was empty. No one around. Just like I wanted. It was 9:00 a.m., not too hot, just a nice day. No clouds in the sky. The ocean met the horizon. And there were fresh footprints in the sand from whoever had run by last, but no one was in sight. Alone. Just me and the waves. As loud as they were, I was surprised I could think straight. I grabbed the clear brown prescription bottle. It felt great to open it up, felt like a monkey off my back. I opened the bottle of water and in two huge gulps I ingested the pills and water. The pills felt like bricks hitting my throat. After I took them I felt bad, like I’d done something wrong, but my feelings were also mixed because I had wanted this for so long, now.

I sat in the sand, which was wet from the morning dew. I sank into it like a therapeutic mattress. It formed around my body like I was a baby in his cradle. I thought of how the waves smashing against the sand would be the last thing I would hear and the cold spray-mist on my face, the last thing I would feel. Time moved slowly. All noise became muffled as if my hands were over my ears. The blue in the sky was a blue I had never seen before as if I was seeing it for the first time. Everything was so bright and noiseless and beautiful and scary, and then the only thing I heard was my beating heart.

 

Life Friends
Carl D.

I had a best friend named Chad. We went to B.C. High together. I knew him since we were seven-years-old. We got into fights for each other and went to the movies together. There were times when he bailed me out of trouble. Chad didn’t talk as much. He was always reading Hood Books. He loved to play chess. He taught me how to play chess too. He loved to dress. Most of our clothes, we shared. He always advised me on how to talk to women. We listened to jazz. He gave me confidence to play football. His asthma slowed him down from playing football. He couldn’t play as much as he wanted to. He talked about traveling the world and about becoming a millionaire when he got older. If he saw a homeless person on the street, he gave them some money or food. He was loved. He always smiled when things were not fun, but yet, he spoke his mind in a peaceful way.

One summer night, when we were sixteen, we were driving home from school. We went to the pizza shop. We saw some girls there and we started talking to them. Five minutes in they were digging us. Just a few words got us invited to a party on a Saturday night. So we had two days to put together an outfit to impress a bunch of different women. But the two women that invited us, Toya and Kiesha, they took interest in us bad. We were at the party having fun, looking good, me and my best friend Chad. We were inseparable, but we split up at the party and started making out with the two women, Toya and Kiesha.

Next thing you know, we lost track of time, and next thing you know it’s four in the morning. Looking good, dressed nice, couldn’t tell me shit, we were on our way home. I was worried about getting stopped by the police. I saw the Boston Herald delivery truck go by. It was cold outside. It was cold outside. It was cold outside. Three steps later I saw the police cruiser pull up. I heard tires screeching on to the curb and two cops get out and pulled out their Glocks. I looked at Chad and said, oh shit. I knew something was about to go down. I just didn’t know what. The pigs were screaming at us, telling us to shut the fuck up, and don’t move, let them see our hands then we were on the ground wearing some fly- ass gear. My anger was out of control. I saw Chad laying there. His face was red breathing hard. Then he is reaching for his inhaler. Then I heard a loud noise of cannon. I see Chad lying in a pool of blood. I got my face on the ground crying nothing but pain and tears.

I picture, day in and day out, his lifeless body and say, why? It was sad that he did not make it out of the 9th grade. If he lived to see today, our friendship would have been a lot stronger. I never saw anybody get killed in front of me before. The worst thing that traumatized me was seeing the blood pouring from his body. There was a time when I wondered, was it my fault? For over twenty years, I have felt bad because I saw his mother fall to the ground when she found out.
I was sitting on the back of the police bumper. I was looking at is body under the white sheet. Sometimes I have wished I was under those white sheets. I have never been the same. I have his shirt that has the bullet holes in it. I still look at it everyday.

 

Nothing to See Here
by David C.

“Johnny,” my father yelled, “Help your brother get dressed.” My brother hated helping me to dress because most times I had shitty draws. My brothers used to tease me and call me droopy draws, which would always make me cry. “Why does he have to go?” my brother said under his breath. It didn’t bother me though, because we were going downtown and that meant a ride on the bus and train. I had only been on the train three other times with my mother.

As we walked outside our front door a burst of cold wind hit my face. The snow looked so white and clean. My brother took off running up the street and I was right behind him, leaving my father behind. There were cars parked on both sides of the street, most covered with snow, and people were digging them out. “Rags! Rags!” The man hollered from his horse-drawn cart “Rags!” The only other time that I had seen a horse was on T.V. The man stopped, and my brother ran over and began to pet the huge animal and when I followed him into the street my father yelled, “Boy! Get your ass back up on that sidewalk!” I sucked my teeth, but I did what I was told. Bam! My brother hit me in the head with a snowball, knocked my hat off and it almost landed in a pile of dog shit. “Why’d you do that?” I screamed. My dad looked up and said, “Keep it up and I’ll turn around and take your butts home, right now.”

The bus stop was on Blue Hill Avenue. It was only a five-block walk from our house, but it felt like we had traveled to the other side of the world. There were so many people walking up and down the Ave. Cars were stuck in the snow. There were some men helping to push a woman’s car out of a snow bank. I looked up the Ave and could see the bus coming and I could feel my excitement build. Rrrrrhhhhmmm! The bus pulled right up to the sidewalk and the door opened and I stood there looking at the driver. He was a chubby old white man with a white beard. He almost looked like Santa Claus. My brother pushed past me and got on. I was right on his heels. All I could smell was cigarettes and fumes. As my Dad ushered us to the back of the bus, the driver barked, “Hey, hey! Where’s the fare?” All the white people on the bus stared at my dad like he had just stolen something. “Johnny,” he said. “Where’s the dime I gave you for the bus?”

“Right here” said my brother. Johnny walked back to the front of the bus and put the money in the box. My dad gave him a slap on his head and said loud enough for people to hear, “You kids are gonna drive me to drink.”
We walked past several empty seats, only to stand up at the back of the bus. I had to hold on to my father’s pant leg to keep my balance. What a ride! Finally, seats opened up and Johnny and I shared a seat next to my dad. I fell asleep and when I woke up, we were pulling into Dudley Station.

As we got off the bus I could smell the popcorn and the peanuts that an old grey-haired black man cooked in a big red cart on two great big ole wagon wheels. “Peanuts! Popcorn!” he yelled. Cars were honking, people talking loud and bumping into one another. There were Christmas lights strung up everywhere. “Come on,” My dad said, and we walked over to a hot dog stand. The sign read Joe and Nemo’s . “How many?” the man behind the counter yelled out. My dad ordered three dogs with mustard and relish. Man! What a treat! It was by far the best hot dog I had ever tasted. I tried to eat mine slow to make it last. I looked at my brother and he was on his last bite. “Man, you’re so slow,” he said. As I took the last bite, I could hear the train. I looked up at the tracks and saw the sparks and heard the screeching wheels as it made its way around the corner and into the station.

“Is that our train?” I asked.
“No, we’re gonna get the next one. I wanna go in that store over there,” said my dad.
I looked over at my brother Johnny and he sucked his teeth and kicked a big hunk of ice.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
“That’s a liquor store!” he shot back.
But I still didn’t understand why he was so mad.
“Watch Davey. I’ll be right out.”
Just as my dad went into the store another train was leaving the station. Johnny pointed an imaginary rifle at the train and started shooting. “Bang! Bang! Bang!”
I reached for my gun and started shooting with him. “Bang! Bang! Got it.”
“No sir. You missed,” Johnny said.
“Did not!”
“Did too!”
Just then my father came out of the store. He had a brown bag in one hand and two candy canes in the other. He put the bag in his pocket and just as he was handing us the candy a big white policeman came over to us and said, “O.K. Where’s the FUCKING gun!”
We stood there in shock for a few seconds. Then he grabbed my brother Johnny and began to pat him down.
I looked at my father. I was scared to death. My eyes welled up with tears and my nose began to run.
“What’s going on?” asked my dad.
“Where’s the gun?” the officer shouted again.
“He ain’t got no damn gun!” my father shot back.
The officer let go of my brother and turned to my dad and said,
“You watch your nigga mouth.” As he said it he was poking my father in the chest.
I felt so helpless and scared. He said a bad word and my father didn’t say anything. I almost thought my dad was scared. Why was my father letting this monster scare us? The officer turned back to me and my brother and said “O.K. Open your coats.”
I looked at Johnny and I could see the anger in his eyes. He sucked his teeth and said, “Told you I ain’t got no gun.”
”Is that a fact!” the officer said. “O.K then, take your coat off.”
I looked at my father and a feeling of shame came over me.
“As a matter of fact, all of you take your coats off,” he said.
We took our coats off, and as we stood there in the freezing cold for what felt like an hour, the cop seemed to get even more angered because he didn’t find a gun. When he went through my dad’s coat he found the brown bag that was in his inside pocket. “I’ll take this,” he said. “Take your shoes off!” he yelled.
“What!” said my dad.
“You heard me, I said take your shoes off and sit down.
Tears of anger were now streaming down my brother’s face, which made me cry even more. As we sat in the snow I look at my father and he was looking down at the holes in my socks and I almost thought I could see tears in his eyes.
People were walking by looking at us and then at the cop. You could see the disgust in their faces. “Keep moving,” he said. “Nothing to see here.”
“Are you satisfied?” my dad said.
And with a big smile on his face, the cop said, “Yeah, you can go now.”

We put our shoes and coats back on and I heard my father say under his breath, “Damn cracker.”
I was shivering and cold. My socks and my butt were wet. All kind of things were going through my head. I knew that niggas were those men that hung out on the corner of my street or one of those bad boys that my oldest brother Danny knew. But why did that man call my dad a nigga? Was my dad a nigga? Was I a nigga? And what’s a cracker? I mean we ate crackers. My mother used to give us sardines and cheese with crackers sometimes for dinner. I was so confused and angry at my dad.

It started to snow again just as we put our coats on. I looked at my hands, then at my brother and over to my dad. Not until then, had I ever thought about the color of my skin.
“Why did you put on those dirty holey socks?” my father said.

I looked at my brother Johnny and he gave me the evil eye, a look that I had seen many times before, so I said “I don’t know.”
“Wipe those tears out your eyes before I give you something to really cry about. And wipe your nose!”
“I wanna go home!” I cried, as I licked the snot form my nose.

My dad looked down at me then he let out a sigh. He told my brother Johnny to watch me, and he went back into the liquor store and when he came out we got back on the bus and went home.

 

The Good the Bad and the Ugly
A Critical Analysis of Edvard Munch’s Woman in Three Stages
Alexios T.

Many cultures expect women to present themselves with sophistication and propriety, Also known as the “good girl”. A good girl is more demure and not promiscuous and holds strong motherly values that every man wishes he had in his fiancé or wife. But as we all know the “good girl” doesn’t exist. Women are human like everyone. They are flawed and also very complicated. Perhaps they are more complicated than men. Many women try to put on that good girl face because that’s how they wish to appear. In truth they have their own emotional downfalls or insecurities, and have evolved to disguise their complexity behind the “good girl” image. Edvard Munch depicts the many versions or complexity of this kind of woman, one who does not present her true self to the world.

The drawing depicts three women who are the same, but look different. They are shown in three different stages with different backgrounds. The first stage is an innocent pure, strong and demure woman. Although she isn’t in the center of the photo, she seems to pull the eye to her as if she were the main part of the picture. She is wearing a long, modest white dress. White implies that she is innocent and virginal. Today’s society would consider her the “good girl”, the version of herself every woman is expected to present. She is a woman who is free, independent and confident. We see this based on the fact that she’s placed on the brighter side of the picture, leaving her more exposed and without fear. She is also placed with her back to, or in front of the other stages, as if she’s covering them and wants people to see her mostly as the good girl. In her section of the picture the background shows a lot of swervy, flowy lines which could be perceived as a long road, perhaps a long road of wisdom she’s traveled to get to that stage of the “good girl” image. Also in front of her as she stands on this “road”, are compressed swervy lines that look like a deep blue ocean. This could initiate her future and the endless amount of possibilities or opportunities she has to look forward to.

On the far left of the lithograph is the image of another woman. She is on the opposite side of the drawing from the good girl woman because she is in a completely opposite phase. She is wearing a long solid black dress covering everything up to her neck; her hair and make-up are also black, expressing her side that is mysterious, dark and complex. Perhaps it’s the good girl’s inner demons or everything that does not define a good girl. The good girl is virginal and confident in what she wants and she expresses that openly. The darker image’s face shows that she is stuck. She is confused and secretive. Perhaps it’s a more erotic side to her that isn’t socially acceptable for her to reveal. She wishes she could because it’s who she is. Perhaps Edvard Munch expresses that all woman generally have some type of darker emotion who, just like her, shove it to a dark place and hide it from view. Her hands are placed behind her back representing a form of confidence for what she believes in, in her own dark inner world. She will never express that publicly. That’s why she is still fully clothed in the dark. Though that mystery is what pulls men in: The fact that she presents herself as a good girl but deep down could be that naughty, freaky, wild girl of every guy’s fantasy.

The final version of The Sphinx, or Women in Three Stages depicts a woman who is completely nude. She is in a very relaxed position, almost as if she’s lying down on a bed with her hands placed behind her head. Her eyes are closed. Her hair is messy and her face expresses a pleasurable state. For the third woman to reveal herself, one has to break through her other two versions. Perhaps this is the reason she’s placed between the “good girl” and the “dark girl”. She will only reveal this part herself if she is completely secure. This stage can be considered both good and bad; perhaps this is why she is placed in-between dark and light. The good part of it is related to her own pleasure and how every woman good or bad desires sexual pleasure. It expresses the degree of comfort that she finds with herself and a lover. This same idea can be a bad thing as well, because she can use her sexuality as a weapon. A man never knows what he’s going to get at any time. Because one minute a woman can be giving him the best time of his life and another minute she can be his worst nightmare.
Most men have seen or caught a glimpse of the complexity of women but are still confused about them. Men have their own complexity and perhaps this is why men and women are attracted to each other. Men, who feel that what they see is what they get, later find out that this is not the case. The lithograph by Edvard Munch will open up the eyes of men and help them understand women. Edvard Munch has contributed to greater understanding and harmony between men and women.

 

A Sexual Renaissance
by Ronald F.

At the age of six or seven, I met a girl. Her name was Davina Hamlin. She was in my first and second grade classroom. We rode the same school bus and lived in the same housing development. She was always smiling which to me meant she was a very happy girl. She seemed like she was the boss of the other girls in our class and on our bus. She always wanted to sit next to me in class and it made me feel special. Because she sat next to me and talked to me a lot, I received a lot of attention, more than usual, I guess, or rather, more than I was accustomed to. I liked the attention very much. I felt important.

At this time, I was a good student and paid close attention to the teachers. I sat at the table with and next to Davina and some of her girlfriends. We used to hang our coats on the back of the chairs and pretended the table was like a secret fort. One day, Davina went under the table, saying she dropped her pencil. The next thing I knew, I was pulled by my legs and under the table. Davina straddled me and ground below her pelvic area into my own and before I knew what was really happening, it ended. I climbed back into my seat and said to myself, Wow! That was so cool! The teacher never said anything about us being under the table, which is what I expected. I got such a rush from not getting caught. The feeling of my private area being basically massaged felt exhilarating and pleasant at the same time. Soon after, we would sneak into the girls’ bathroom and do this same act at least three times a day.

The principal caught me in there one day. I had to sit in front of his office for a while. The next thing I knew, my mother came walking through the main entrance of the school and she was very angry. We walked out and as soon as we did, she pulled a belt out of her handbag and began to hit me. She ordered me to never go into the girls’ bathroom again.

Everyone knew what happened to me and I was so embarrassed. Davina said she could make me feel better and told me to meet her in the girls’ bathroom. All I knew, was I really liked what we were doing and I loved the way it made me feel, so I did what she told me. My mother was called up to the school a few times more and yes, I got whipped each time. I didn’t care. It was worth it.

One day, after getting off the school bus, my brother and I were on our way to the house when I heard someone calling me. I kept turning around and then realized the voice came from the building window. Once I located the voice, I knew it was her. She asked me to come upstairs and I ran to the building. She let me in her apartment and led me to her room. I had a weird feeling about this. Her parents weren’t home and I thought I shouldn’t be in there, but I trusted Davina and she knew it. She told me to take off my pants and my underwear, as she did the same. She led me to the bed. She lay on her back while bringing me on top of her. All the while massaging my boyhood. She inserted it into her girlhood. With her hand on my backside, she guided my movements. What I felt was indescribable. It was so magical. I had such a warm sensation come all over my body and mind tingled. I thought to myself, I wanted to feel this all the time!

Davina devised a plan. She would come to my house every weekend and sometimes more, to ask if I could come out to play. Well, my mother would let me go. My mother knew I was in the girls’ bathroom with Davina and I thought it strange that she would always let me go outside with her. There was no supervision outside. These thought left me very quickly. When Davina came to get me she would be accompanied by her friend, Vicki, and her cousin Cheryl. They would be on bikes. I was instructed to get on the back and we rode up to the Hennigan School. We would go behind the school where it was very secluded. There, I would penetrate all three girls, one after the other.

This went on for the next two years. This was so natural to me. Sex was a normal part of my life. I would still play with the other boys, tag, ride our Big Wheels, cops and robber etc. etc. Sex, however, had its own natural place and time which was whenever Davina came for me, which was often. All the time, no one knew what was going on, or so I told myself. I never told anyone because I didn’t want to take a chance on the other boys getting what I was getting. I wanted to be the only one to feel this and be with Davina.

I remember one day, while in the fourth grade when I was nine, my little brother was with me because I had to keep him with me while we were outside. The girls came for me and I told them he had to come, too. We got to our usual place behind the school, and I told him what was going on and what to do. When the girls took off their pants and panties and lay down, my brother ran away. I didn’t care because I wanted what I came for.
Having sex at this age had a profound effect on me. I can’t honestly remember when I knew it was “sex” I was engaged in. All I knew was that it made me feel excited and it was exhilarating. I felt like I was the most important boy in the projects. I had fun with the boys, playing on the monkey bars, racing around the fenced-in yard that resembled a track, but I must admit I would have rather been with the girls. We would play house using their dolls and the boys would tease me I would be with the girls a lot playing house. I didn’t care and had no regrets because I was having fun and it always led to my getting those special feelings sensations that no one else was getting. I would always imagine sex with every girl who came into contact with me, even my teachers. I often wondered how people could not want to be doing it all the time and why I didn’t have different and more partners. I knew one reason was because Davina didn’t want me talking to other girls except Vicki and Cheryl.

By the time I was in seventh grade, I had multiple sex partners. I was in another school and moved from Jamacia Plain to Roxbery so I was in an entirely new environment. I didn’t see Davina anymore. I think she also moved. My grades were okay. I liked my new school, especially because that’s where all the girls were. I learned how to talk to unsuspecting girls and get them to let me have my way with them. I say unsuspecting because when I would bring up the subject of sex, they were either shocked or pretending to be. Either way, when I was subtly forward, they were compliant.

So many girls told me that I had the prettiest eyes that I would try to use this to my advantage. When I would talk to the girls I would gaze deeply into their eyes giving what I thought was a hypnotic gaze. It didn’t hurt that I was new to the school and I was very good in all the sports I played which included softball, volleyball and football. By then, sex was all I talked about and all I thought about. Every moment was about how I could get this one and that one to be with me. I stopped hanging out with boys and only sought the company of girls. The only “normal” thing I would do was sports, but sex and sports went hand in hand. The better I was at sports, the more popular I would be with the girls.

I almost never used condoms and knew I was taking a big chance, but condoms didn’t give me the same feeling as it did without them. At fifteen, seventeen and twenty-one, I was a father, all by three by different girls. I don’t remember when I knew sex made babies but I did know what I was doing was irresponsible and it was very possible I could get someone pregnant. I was very distant from my first baby’s mother. I had no clue what was expected of me, or anything. My second child’s mother, Kim was very different. She was loyal and devoted to me. She started to change the way I saw relationships. I was still promiscuous and felt guilty every time. That’s when I knew I had changed. I had sex with two of her cousins and got one of them pregnant. No one knew because she had a miscarriage. Kim knew I had sex with them, but not about the pregnancy and forgave me.

I felt horrible and wondered how she could forgive such an egregious act? This is when I truly came to understand what loyalty was. We were living together at the time, but we had a house fire and briefly separated. I went back to my mother’s house. Soon I began a sexual relationship with a woman in the next building and she got pregnant. Kim and I got back to living together and I was afraid to tell her about this other woman and the possibility of my fathering another child while we were still together. Months after my son was born his mother came to my job which was at the welfare office. I tried to hide. She didn’t know I worked there, but she saw me. She acquired my phone number and called my home. Kim answered the phone and by the look on her face I knew the secret was no more. Kim was crushed. She cried for weeks, yet she didn’t leave me and again to my surprise forgave me. She told me she loved me and nothing would change that. That’s when I told her about my first-born. She told me she still loved me. For the longest time I couldn’t understand how she could still love me when I betrayed her so bad. I came to have a respect for her which made me have an admiration for her that humbled me. Kim’s loyalty and devotion caused me to look at what life was really about.

Sex used to be solely a carnal act. Now I understand that sex is spiritual. From the age of twenty-five to now, at the age of forty-nine, I have come to understand the meaning of sexual relationships and all the feelings associated with them. I’ve come to respect women and their feelings and value relationships with women more than I could ever have thought possible. I understand monogamy and once I began to practice it, devoting myself to one woman, I became a deeper and more loving man, not only of my partner, but also of myself.

 

Becoming
by Michael H.

At seventeen, I was a normal teenager. I had many friends, I played sports and was socially accepted. I hoped to go to college and play football. However, the events that took place in my senior year changed and shaped my life.

The message on my house answering machine was from a classmate, but directed toward my mother. At first, I didn’t really know how to take it or what I should do about it, but seeing as where I came from a violent alcoholic father with strong beliefs, I knew this kid crossed the line. I was the only person who heard the message and I knew I recognized the voice. I listened to it twice before deleting it. It would have devastated my mother.

My father sat on the couch with a Budweiser in his hand watching Sports Center. He was zoned out, checking out the scores and highlights from the day. We sat silent for a few minutes before I said anything. My stomach felt queasy, like a knot constantly flipping around. Finally I told him. I could see the vein in his head enlarge as he took his focus off the T.V. He placed his can of beer on the coffee table and turned to me and asked me who it was that left the message. After I told him, he stood up and over me and told me that I better handle that or he was going to handle me, the kid who left the message, and the father of the kid who left the message. I had watched my father fight many times, most of the time I was in the car with him. He had a lot of road rage. I remember I used to get stomach aches when he would fight. At that time, I had only been in a few fist fights over schoolyard sports and small arguments and the kid who left the message on the answering machine was a lot bigger than me. As I watched my father’s violent gestures, his clenched fists and red face, I started to get angry and felt there was only one thing that could give me justice for the disrespect of my mother. I felt I had no other option. That night, I went to bed knowing what I had to do.

The following day was a Saturday. The annual high school hockey jamboree was that day. I woke up both excited and nervous. It was ugly outside, wet and cold. The phone rang and it was a friend of mine letting me know there was a bunch of kids form school meeting up before the hockey games and that there was going to be a keg. At that moment, I got a pit in my stomache knowing that this was where I was going to move on the kid who left the message. I got dressed, putting on sweatpants and hooded sweatshirt and clipped my three inch folding knife onto the waistband of my sweatpants. I’d had the knife for a few years. The area I grew up in, everybody had them. My father gave it to me and I carried it every day. It was more of a fear tactic. I never intended on using it unless it was absolutely necessary.

My sneakers sunk into the earth as I walked across the baseball field toward the crowd of high school kids. My heart beat faster and faster. It was a good feeling. It gave me a head rush and a burst of adrenaline. But in the back of my mind, I still struggled with the question, why? I could only speculate and think that this was done over the fact that my mother was pretty or that some of my closer friends used that as a way to break my balls. Nevertheless, this kid was not a close friend and he did not know my mother. Growing up, I remember the kid always being around, trying to fit in. He was a big kid, much bigger than me. I used to see him around, but he was acquaintance. I distinctly remember him picking on smaller kids in school. That’s how I recognized the voice.

From about thirty feet away, I noticed him holding a red keg up, talking to a group of people. As I moved closer I started to shed some clothes to give myself a better advantage. I moved my knife from the front of my sweatpants to the back, so that it wasn’t noticeable. I was three feet away and his eyes met mine as I cocked my arm and curled my fist. I swung and felt my hand cave in the left side of his face. Each heavy right I threw, he fell lower and lower. I could remember it felt like chopping down a tree. At one point, somebody in the crowd tried to intervene by pulling me off. I remember swinging wildly at that person. When their grip released, I remember not being satisfied because this kid was not out cold. He was still squirming on the ground, was trying to get up. At that point everything went silent. I pulled out my knife and snapped it open. The kid was on one knee trying to gain his balance. I lunged toward him and he could see the glimmer from the steel as I swung my arm in a slashing motion, trying to hold back from poking. The crowd was silent. After what felt like a lifetime, I stopped. It was a strange, awkward silence. I put the knife back in my waistband and turned to a friend and asked for a ride home.

I never gave any thought to what the consequences might have been, an arrest, suspension, or something else. All I wanted to do was let my father know that I took care of the situation. I was anxious, and as I pulled up to my house, I noticed all the lights were out. Nobody was home. Later, when my mother and father pulled up to the house, the police were in the driveway and I was in handcuffs being placed into the back of a cruiser. I remember my father coming up to the window and telling me not to worry and that he would be down to bail me out.

As I sat in a jail cell for the first time, I remember caring more about my dad’s reaction than the judicial reaction. It felt like I was in there for days, but six hours later I was released on bail. My father was waiting in the lobby. His face looked serious. As we walked out, he said, “I take it you won,” in a joking manner. I remember the anxiety and nervousness flushed out of me as I cracked a smile and gave him the play by play.
I can remember thinking that it wasn’t that serious and I really didn’t even care. Soon, I realized it wasn’t a joke. The consequences started to come down on me after I had my arraignment at court. I was expelled from school that week. I was told that I would get a diploma because I had enough credits, but that I couldn’t attend graduation. I was also banned from all of the high school’s remaining sporting events and functions, such as the prom and all other senior activities.

My attitude towards life started to change. I was home from that point on and I started drinking a lot more than the occasional weekend. I also smoked more and started using painkillers that I thought were great at the time because they got me through the day without feeling depressed and that I was missing out on my senior year. As I look back now, I realize what I did definitely deserved punishment. However, back then, I was bitter toward everybody because I felt like the victim. I felt that what I had done was honorable and justified.

Months began to pass and I felt alone. Friends stopping by became few and far between. Eventually eight months later, I was sentenced to eighteen months in Billerica House of Correcton. I didn’t feel much at that point. I really didn’t care. I realized that my life took a drastic turn. I never went to the prom. I didn’t go to graduation and that dream of going to college was gone. I was surrounded by convicts who were just like me: into drugs, commiting crime and not really caring about much. I remember being taught how to carry myself in jail. What to do and what not to do. Also, a big part was earning and giving respect to people. It made me feel that what I had done was right and that my father’s outlook on life was the way everybody else grew up.
Still, to this day, I have mixed feelings on the matter. On one side I have over three years of being incarcerated. Hence, the jailhouse mentality. And then on the other side is the opportunity to live on the outside with some sobriety, to know my life now is somewhere I would not want to be or want a child to go through. When I was younger, I thought it was part of becoming a man, the kind I wanted to be in my father’s eyes, and that it gave me life lessons. But maybe there are better ways to become a man. If there are, I’m still looking for them.

 

A Breath Away
Enrique M.

I used to be normal. I drank and had fun. I ate and enjoyed food. I walked through crowds of people never looking over my shoulder. I took for granted my sense of security and how the whole world was at my fingertips. Then I went on a yearlong deployment to Iraq. During that year I missed cruising the roads that wound through the green mountains of central Vermont. I missed lounging on the benches in The Green eating soft served ice cream. I missed my family and my friends. Most of all I missed America.

In Iraq I saw people washing clothes, bathing and dumping their night soil in the same ten-foot stretch of the biblical Euphrates River. In markets freshly butchered meat hung for sale covered in flies. The crowds watched us on our patrols; we were a grim reminder of the war. The people of the villages lived a more simple life. They were closer to the earth. Death, hunger and danger were more common than cell phones, taxis and justice. Seeing a dead body in the street wasn’t rare. People barely reacted to gunfire and explosions.
To escape, my buddies and I told each other of our past adventures; we described in great detail our favorite foods, past relationships and our families. Our most common conversations were of what we planned on doing when we returned home. We talked about visiting our families and having barbecues or just relaxing. We planned on partying and finding a girl. It wasn’t until I was home for half a year that I realized how much I had changed.

I was an active duty soldier, so when I returned to the states my job wasn’t done. My unit returned to garrison life. We scrubbed our gear clean, spent hours on drill and ceremony and dusted off our old study manuals. It was as if I had just enlisted. The old soldiers left to new posts. Our ranks were filled with new recruits, green as summer grass. I was promoted to team leader that meant I was responsible for the daily supervision and training of four soldiers. These kids were eager for war; their heads were full of glory stories from their drill sergeants. It made me sick. They thought of war as a video game. The reality, I knew, was far different. With their expectations of blood, guts and glory their disappointment was palpable when they learned of their duties. They had to memorize weapon descriptions, battle drills, map reading, land navigation, and on their free time they had to clean the barracks. They would complain about every task. They hungered for battle. They yearned for a loaded machine gun and a field full of enemies. To open their eyes I would tell them that I had left friends in Iraq that would love to take the mop out of their hands and not voice a word of complaint; for dead men have no voice. I was thinking of my fallen comrades, men like Jiminez and Fouty who never made it home.

After a few years I got out of the Army. I started life over as a civilian. I moved to the city of Boston. In the city I got a job as a security guard in the financial district. My daily life changed drastically. I went from being surrounded by soldiers, weapons and war to businessmen, city crowds and coworkers. I would walk the streets of downtown Boston looking at all the buildings and street vendors. The smell the pepper and onions filled the air. At first, I was dazzled by the beautiful architecture and the historical landmarks. After a few weeks the glamour of the city wore off, but my head was still on a swivel. Someone might look at me and think that I was still admiring the scenery or looking for a friend. The truth was that I was on guard. I felt like I didn’t belong, like I was different from everyone else. I listened to the sounds of the city and the voices from all the crowds. I had an eye out for danger and a possible escape route.

At work I noticed that the other employees rarely showed up on time. They always took an extra ten minutes for their lunch break and they didn’t seem to think that anything was amiss. Whenever the boss would make a change to procedure everyone would criticize it as an unnecessary upgrade, I was thinking, Maybe you should worry about showing up on time.

I found myself judging the people around me. It was the businessman completely absorbed in his cell phone, the guy begging for change, the store clerk holding a conversation and ignoring the growing line. Everything seemed to be driving me to the boiling point. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. I wanted everyone to see that what they were doing was wrong. They should be thankful they lived in a free country where they could earn a living not begging for change to buy a little dope. They should be vigilant and guarding their lives that are so easily extinguished instead of focusing on a 4 inch screen in their hand. I wanted people to be more appreciative of what we, as Americans, have and can pursue.

But Instead of screaming from the rooftops I drowned myself in whiskey. I didn’t really understand why I was so aggravated all the time. All I knew was that alcohol made me happy. It took me a couple years of being a civilian, several shrink visits, multiple gallons of whiskey, rehab, a divorce and finally a bid in county jail to realize that the problem wasn’t in others but in me. I was unhappy. I couldn’t appreciate life like most people because I thought I didn’t deserve it. Instead of enjoying myself, I constantly judged people because they were living their life as though death wasn’t a breath away. I blamed everyone for the fact that I had lost good friends who deserved to still be here with a chance at life. I always compared my surroundings to Iraq and it made me hateful. I expected everyone to see the world through my eyes, to know that life is precious.

I see people enjoying life and I envy them. But I’m starting to realize that most of the people that I see enjoying life have their own scars and their own war stories. I will never be who I was before I went to Iraq. War has changed me. But had I remained “normal” I would have been living without growing.

 

Failure
Anthony B.

There are many ways to define success, but what can be said of failure? We are led to believe that failure does not have positive consequences. Mary Pickford has been quoted as saying “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.” Her words hit on the heart of the reason why failure is associated with a negative outcome. Society defines failure as falling short of a goal. If that were the case, many inventions would have never been made. Giving up on anything worthwhile is and always will be failure.

Our entire planet has been built on the foundations of someone else’s failure. It took Thomas Edison 2,000 attempts to create what we now call the light bulb (Overcoming Obstacles: ed. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen). If he had stopped trying we would probably still be using whale oil or kerosene for light. There is the age- old saying “nothing beats a failure except a try.” We are always judging success by unfair standards. Sports teams often feel that not winning a championship is failure. What is not understood is that being able to compete at all is a success.

There are many things in life that we want to do before death inevitably claims us. If we live life without an effort to become better people, that is not living life at all. So, Mary Pickford is really saying that failure is not defined by our falling short of our goals; failure is when we don’t try to live a good life.

 

Gangsta Flick
by K. Young

No need to watch movies. All I had to do was look out of my bedroom window. Friday nights were like a scene out of a movie with people gambling and drinking late into the night.

“Come on six. Daddy needs some new kicks,” Miz said while shaking the dice.

Miz was the neighborhood crack dealer. He used to stand outside my window and all the pot and crackheads would run to his call. “Three dimes for twenty dollars or three bumps for fifty. Get it while it’s hot.”

My dad didn’t like him cause he sold drugs and drugs had killed the relationship between my father and his brother because my uncle used to come over to our house and steal whatever he could get his hands on: clothes, jewelry, food. Even T.V.’s and DVD’s. Since he was my father’s baby brother, he tried to help him by checking him into a rehab program and finding him jobs, but my uncle just kept stealing. My father would tell me my uncle was like that because of people like Miz.

Despite what my father thought, I liked Miz, because he was always nice to me. He used to send me to the store and let me keep the change. Plus, he stayed in the newest Jordan’s and always had the flyest parts and designs in his head, not to mention the fact that he had all the ladies.
“Come on six! Daddy needs you,” said Miz as he rolled a three.

“I bet fifty cash you don’t hit that six,” said a big black dude with head like a gorilla’s and huge hands that had to be double the size of both my hands put together. There was another light skinned cat there I couldn’t see. He was bent down to a car window talking to someone, who, by the sound of the voice, seemed to be a woman. He said, “I bet twenty on that,” as he looked over his shoulder toward the game.

“Anybody else got ends on this?” said Miz to the other two guys who I also couldn’t see because the street light they were under was shot out so it would be harder for the police to see them hustling.
“Naw, we cool,” one stranger replied.
“Okay,” said Miz, still shaking the dice. “Come on six!” Click, clat, click was the sound of the dice bouncing against the wall. “Six! What I tell you, motherfuckers! Give me my money!” yelled Miz.
“Double or nothing,” the gorilla man replied.
“What about you?” Miz asked the light skinned man who was still leaning into the window of the woman’s car. “Naw. We even,” he replied, not even sticking his head outside the car window.
“Okay then. 7 or 11. Bring daddy money from heaven,” chanted Miz.
“Motherfucker, you gonna shoot or you going to sing all night?” said the gorilla.
“In a hurry to lose your money, I see,” said Miz. Crack was the sound of the dice hitting the wall. “Eleven!” yelled Miz. “Give me my money, homey,” said Miz.
“Naw. Fuck that shit. Shoot that back,” said Gorilla.
“Naw. Put your money down. I am already one-hundred up,” said Miz.
“Little homey, I got bread. I ain’t ass beatin’,’” replied the gorilla man.
“Then put up,” said Miz.
“Motherfucker. Here’s your buck plus five more.”
“Cool,” said Miz, as he shook the dice. “Come on 7 or 11.” He shook harder, squatting in position with a smile on his face, as he tossed the dice towards the wall. Both dice bounced off the wall and spun for a few seconds as Gorilla and Miz looked on eagerly to see the outcome of the roll. One at a time, the dice stopped. A pair of fives. “Ten! Okay. Ten’s the number. Come on Big Ben,” said Miz as he rolled again. “Six and four. Hell yeah!” said Miz.
“What the fuck is this shit?” Gorilla yelled as he stood up out of is squatting position and wiped his forehead and sucked his teeth, staring down at the dice.
“Shoot again!”
“You down six-hundred, so far. You sure?” said Miz.
“Yeah. What. You scared? Shoot the whole damn six.”
“Naw, never scared,” Miz shook the dice and threw them against the wall. Five and six rolled out. “Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about,” yelled Miz.
“Naw. Fuck that. You cheating,” Gorilla Man said as he pulled out a huge shiny gun that reminded me of the Joker’s gun in the Batman movie I just saw.

At that moment, everyone stopped what they were doing. I wasn’t even outside and I was terrified and my crotch began to get warm, but I was too shocked to move.

“Now all y’all get against the wall and don’t move. And get out that car, bitch, and get against the wall. Wanta cheat me, I’ll show y’all. Empty ya’ll fuckin’ pockets.”

Everyone did as they were told. Even the woman and the three men I didn’t know. Everyone except Miz. He rose slowly from his squatting position, saying, “Man, fuck that! I ain’t giving you shit!”

That was when I was sure Gorilla Man was going to shoot him. I thought to myself, Miz must be crazy. Don’t he know that’s the gun from the Batman movie? And even the Batman knows you don’t argue with a big gun.
Gorilla said, “Look. I will blow your fuckin’ head off if you don’t drop that money and empty out all the money in your pockets.”

Miz never replied. He just kept rising, slowly. He never dropped his money. If I didn’t know any better, Miz was going to die tonight, for sure.

I was still glued to my window like I was watching one of those gangsta flicks my dad wouldn’t let me watch. Out of nowhere Miz lunged at the gorilla with rage in his eyes only to be stopped dead in his tracks. BOOM! The sound of thunder rang off. BOOM! At that very moment my whole left pantleg was warm and wet, not just my crotch. The gorilla just pumped two bullets into Miz, sending him flying. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone else scattered in every direction the way the roaches do in my house when you turn on the kitchen lights.
Gorilla Man stepped over Miz’s body and reached in his pockets and pulled out his money and snatched Miz’s chain off of his neck and said, “I told you motherfucker.”

When he’d gone, I lifted my window screen, leaned over, and looked down at Miz.

What I saw next, I would never forget. I saw Miz staring up at me. His eyes were wide open, like he just saw a ghost. And behind his head, I saw what looked like spilled noodles that were smoking in a liquid the color of cranberry juice.

I saw the dice still in his hand and they read four and three.


Author, Peggy Rambach, runs creative writing workshops in community education settings for the Healing Arts in health care, correctional facilities, ESL programs and immigrant support centers as well as offering assistance with lesson plans in professional development presentations for middle and high school teachers. She teaches memoir writing in medical schools as part of the curriculum in Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. Ms. Rambach is conveniently located for teachers, students and participants from throughout New England including the Vermont (VT) cities of Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier, the Maine (ME) cities of Portland, Gardener, Kennebunkport and York, the New Hampshire (NH) cities of Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester, Dover, Nashua and Rochester, the Massachusetts (MA) cities of Boston, Newburyport, Amherst, North Hampton, Salem, Beverly, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, Gloucester, Plymouth, New Bedford, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Rockport, Hyannis, and Falmouth, the Rhode Island (RI) cities of Providence and Newport and the Connecticut (CT) cities of New Haven and Hartford.