Addicted to the Street Life

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I was born on April 5, 1977 in Harbor City, California. I am 35 and I have been incarcerated since the age of 16. I was tried as an adult and sentenced to 15 years to life for second-degree murder and two attempted murders.

Here is my story with no glory. I grew up a light-skinned, biracial only child in Inglewood and Hawthorne, California. My mother is white and 32 years older than me, so it was hard for her to relate to the street life. I never met my black father because he raped my mother, which gave me life.

The turning point for me was age 12. My mother got a good job and we were off welfare. I became a latchkey kid. I had no babysitter or supervision from 2:30 to 11:30 at night.

I was spoiled, selfish, and I thought I was grown. I began to feel lonely, angry, abandoned and emotionally deprived. I stuffed all my feelings and let them build up, because I did not know how to express what I was feeling. I did not love myself or respect myself, so I did not love or respect others.

My mother drank a lot of Olde English and she sometimes looked at me with despise and hate in her eyes. I began to run the streets to get love and attention from my peers.

I lacked an identity and I wanted to fit in. So, I started drinking alcohol and smoking weed, ditching school, breaking the law, being a class clown at school and hanging around negative influences. I was a follower and easily influenced.

At age 13, I started to feel peer pressure to choose a crowd to run with. I played both sides of the fence. I had the positive crowd, who played sports, did well in school and liked outdoor activities. I also had the negative crowd, who were gang members, drug dealers, drug and alcohol users, and older than me.

I was addicted to the street life. The more bad choices I made, the more I craved. I was arrested for shoplifting at 14, and at 15 I became a gang member. I stood by on drive-bys and saw people lose their lives, I robbed people and sold drugs to people I knew, did snatch and grab beer runs, got into fights at school, got suspended from middle school, high school, continuation school and probation school for ditching and acting a fool.

I even missed my eighth-grade graduation because I got suspended so many times. I thought it was cool to act a fool, but inside I felt like a fool because I could not go to graduation.

I began spinning out of control to feed my need for attention. I numbed my pain with harder party drugs like acid, cocaine, speed, and primos — a mix of weed and crack. I followed the crowd to be accepted and did not care about the consequences.

I did many crimes I did not get caught for, but it was the little ones in my mind that cost me. At age 16 my vandalism arrest and my prior shoplifting arrest, plus my mother telling the court I was uncontrollable, landed me in Central Juvenile Hall, Sylmar, Camp Challenger and Camp Scott for about four months.

[Related: California Gov. Jerry Brown Backs No More Automatic Adult Charges for Teens in New Initiative]

I was angry at my moms and I feared the unexpected. I adjusted quickly [to camp]. My beliefs and values were so twisted I thought camp was cool.

When I got out [of camp] my anger was worse. I thought I was invincible. My lifestyle addiction was off the hook. I disrespected my moms, my neighbors, my teachers at continuation school and probation school. I escaped near-death situations, and five months after camp I got high, went looking to someone to jack and ended up shooting people at a party.

On Christmas Eve of 1993, I was in solitary confinement in LP [Los Padrinos] sober, crying like a baby and stressed out. Thinking: I am sorry can I go home now?

Growing up from a boy to a man, from juvenile hall to prison for this crime has been a tough rollercoaster ride. It taught me many lessons filled with shame and regret.

I wish I could do it all over again. My mother loved me, sacrificed for me and worked hard to provide for me. I did not appreciate or understand the struggles she faced.

In 2004, I got a letter saying a stranger raped my mother and she became pregnant [with me]. She thought about an abortion or giving me away, but she decided to keep me. That’s why when I was younger she looked at me with hate and anger in her eyes. Her family was racist so she separated herself from them to raise me.

Guess what? My mother has been there for me standing tall through it all. So-called homies, friends and girlfriends are out of sight and out of mind, living their life. My childhood friend, a friend I would die for, snitched on me on this case and he gave me the gun.

My mother told me years ago he is no good. I was too hard-headed to listen … Those who love you will encourage you to do the right thing, not the wrong thing!

I learned crime traumatizes people for many years. When you hurt people it causes a ripple effect of pain. I deeply regret hurting people because I know they will never be the same. I wish I would have made better choices and expressed my feelings before it went all bad.

I am tired of prison life, showering with three other men, police telling you what to do, cats snitching like it is the thing to do, backbiting and hating spreading like the flu. Living in a bathroom-size cell with another man, locked down with showers every three days, three rolls of toilet paper for a week, two toilet flushes in five minutes and one flush every 2½ minutes or your toilet locks up for a whole hour. When getting mail it is two to three to four weeks late, nasty food, sometimes hours with no power, no water, or no toilet flushing while they do maintenance work, moving out of your cell or job to another one, because they can.

Being forced to work or go to school. Seeing guys get sick and die because of bad medical care. Sitting in a dog cage for four to seven hours waiting to see a doctor for five minutes, who doesn’t care about you because you’re in blue!!!!

Prison is not a joke on any level, so please think about your choices before you act and don’t end your life before you begin your life like I did …

Mathew is serving 15 years to life for second-degree murder and two attempted murders at San Quentin State Prison.

This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within 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 dinocencio@thebeatwithin.org.

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