When I first joined my gang, I was 12. I believed that I wanted to be from my gang. Most of my family I grew up with was from the hood; it seems that I was destined to be too.
Everybody would tell me that I was going to be from the hood when I grew up, so it seemed like the right thing to do.
I was already sneaking out at night, watching the older homies partying at the child care center, drinking, etc. When they saw me, some would say, “Boy, take your butt back in the house,” while others would offer me a sip of their beer or a hit of the weed.
I wouldn’t realize until today that the ones that tried to ruin me were actually trying to save me from that life. Like I said, I was 12 when I joined. I fought three dudes separately because it is easy for dudes to jump you. In my hood, we want to see if you could hold your own.
Anyways, I got put on and I did what was expected of me, putting in work, harming the enemy and selling drugs. While doing all of these things, I was constantly putting my life in danger and being loyal to a group of dudes who would abandon me in my darkest hours.
It’s easy to think that the homies are going to be there for you at first because you’re always around each other, getting in trouble together, messing with females and all the so-called “perks” that come along with the gang life. In actuality, none of those so-called perks will matter in the end because you’re hurting and doing people wrong to attain what you may consider riches.
Trust me when I tell you, in the process of attaining these riches, you will be incarcerated. And when that time comes, you will start to see who your true homies are. Depending on how much time you get is when the real and fake ones start to separate.
Speaking for myself. I was in and out of juvie so I did not see it at first. I thought it was cool to be praised for going to jail, “being fresh out” and telling stories of the enemies I saw and fought! Again, I didn’t see what the future had waiting for me.
So I continued living the life of a gang member. By 14 I was incarcerated several times. Most of my cases had me taking the rap for an older homie because I would get less time than him. Constantly building a rap sheet thinking I was cool.
So fast-forward three more years to the age of 17 where I was in the car riding with some homies one night when the police pulled us over and searched the car where they found a gun. Being once again the only juvenile in the car, I took the rap for the gun, not knowing that a murder was committed with this gun I claimed was mine. About two years after that, I was arrested and convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
Now at this time, I had homies in my car telling me to tell on the homie that actually did it and how they wouldn’t go down for something they didn’t do. But who was I to go against the code I took? To never tell on your homies! So as I sat in the holding tank or shall I say attorney booth, looking my mother in her eyes as she begged me to tell and not to go down for anybody; that was the most broken-hearted decision that I ever made in my life. Having to tell my mother that I would not tell and was willing to throw my life away for the gang.
Now you want to imagine having to tell the woman that gave birth to you, fed you, raised you, took care of you, that you were throwing your life away for the gang!!! And at the age of 17, my life hadn’t even started, and I was here giving it up for what? Again, some homies were telling me that I was a real homie or a stand-up guy and how they admired me for keeping it real. But at what cost?
So fast-forward what would be now 17 years later. Guess how many of your homies have written you? Or sent you pictures, money, help, or a package or even a visit? All those years you were gone and all your homies are gone. Trust me, this gang life ain’t no joke.
In the end, only a few homies are probably going to be in your life, but mainly it is going to be your family that is in your corner. And eventually you will see what I am saying. I just hope that you won’t figure this out while sitting in a cell. This is just a small testimony to my story and one of the many reasons as to why the gang life ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.
McDuffy wrote this from the California State Prison Los Angeles in Lancaster, California. He is serving a sentence of life without parole.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.