When you look me in my eyes, you see the pain. Nobody understands what I’ve been through. They want to send me away from my family. Look at me, trying to survive and keep my head up.
People say they’re by your side, but they’re never around when you need them the most. I try, I try, and I try, but it seems that I can’t stay out of these Oakland streets. Money, drugs and violence is calling my name. What am I supposed to do?
I know these dangerous sidewalks I walk will only put me 6 feet under, and I still walk. I finally realized I love the streets, and it’s crazy that I feel the love that is not there. These streets don’t love me. They don’t love anybody and never will change.
Change, I hear these voices in my head telling me to change my life.
But how do I when my mama doesn’t have any job and every time she feels she’s not doing her job she turns to the bottle to make herself feel better? My little brother is only 10, breaking into houses because he needs some shoes, stealing cars because the streets taught him that. My grandma is struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, so it all falls back on me, this 17-year-old boy fighting a case in juvenile hall.
Selling drugs, trying to pimp a female or hit a lick, all the hustles a young brother does to get rich. But you can’t blame us, look where we are. Stuck at the back of the slums where it’s rough. We have no other solution. It’s either sell drugs or prostitution. Basically, eat or be eaten. Survival.
It’s rough out there. I got demons in my soul and angels by my heart. What am I going to do? Does He hear me when I pray? Does He hear me when I ask for forgiveness? Does He hear me when I ask for my mama to get clean?
Nobody understands this beautiful thing called “struggle,” which defines my life and is why I love my life so much. If it wasn’t for the struggle, I don’t know where I would be. I know God is by my side. I know He is.
This is a cold game we’re playing, and it’s only a matter of time before reality hits us in the face.
Where will I be in 10 years? Will I still be here in 10 years?
I’m still remaining humble from the rumors, pain, and this life I’m living.
The streets chose me. I didn’t choose the streets. I love this lifestyle and whatever comes with it. Please don’t judge me because I love this way of living. Is it my fault I’m so committed? It’s crazy how I’m really with this mobbin’ shhh. I could have gone to school, played sports and gotten a scholarship. But it is what it is.
I’ve lost so many people to these streets, and I’m still in them. Smh, why don’t I just give this street life up? I know why. The streets are all I know. All I ever wanted was to make my mama proud, but I failed too many times. I want to give up so bad, but God keeps telling me not to.
I smell the snakes and see the rats. All these unloyal brothers and females in these streets. They love you when you’re doing good, but throw salt on your name like a bag of fries when they hear something bad or when you’re really stressing. Who can I trust?
My daddy dogged my mama, so why shouldn’t I dog these fakeass females? But I can’t. I’ve got two little sisters and might have a daughter one day. I have plenty of aunts, grandmas and girl cousins, and I want a guy to treat them with the most respect.
I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’m becoming a better person. I’m kind of still stuck in my old ways, but it takes time. These 10 months have been the longest 10 months of my life, but I’m grateful I’m safe in jail and not dead on the shady Oakland streets.
I just want the best for myself and family, but somebody has got to change. I feel if I change, everybody else will. I love the hood. I bleed the hood. From the roaches, spray-painted walls, bad kids, crackheads, corner stores, drug dealers, gangs and last but not least: the struggle. I don’t plan on leaving my city until it changes.
While I’m stuck in the hall, I’ve been thinking about change. We all should change. I want to change because I’ve been in the streets since I was 9. I never really had a real life as a kid. I want something different for myself because these streets don’t give a “ef” about me.
The wait is almost over. I will come home.
Damariae is 17 and facing up to nine years in adult jail, but is still fighting to remain in the juvenile courts. He is now in Alameda County Juvenile Hall.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at email@example.com.