The violence I was exposed to at an early age shaped who I became. It desensitized my perspective on violence, numbed my cries and dumbed down violence to the point I stopped asking why.
I developed a twisted view where I viewed violence as normal, justified and should be left in silence.
I was in a baby stroller when my mother was robbed at gunpoint. At 5 years old I saw my mom’s boyfriend beat her and I was thrown into a pool, left to doggy paddle, almost drowning while grown-ups laughed, drank alcohol and got high on drugs. Soon after, a man was killed in front of our house, lying dead in the middle of the street.
At the age of 12, I began to use drugs/alcohol, ditch school, act a fool, run the streets and rebel against my mother. As I look back, it was this older cat who was a bad influence in my life. The truth is he introduced me to drugs/alcohol, gangs, violence, robbery, stealing, and a criminal lifestyle.
Every time, I got into trouble my mother exposed me to the truth that he was no good. I ignored her voice of reason. I was hard-headed, thinking I knew it all. I also looked up to this older cat because he could fight, had cars, money, and status in the hood.
Ducking down when shots were fired or running from crime scenes until you were tired became normal and made me feel tough, cool and down. Seeing people get shot, beat up, rat-packed or stabbed became part of the criminal lifestyle. Some would laugh if you got beat up or knocked out in a fight. I was sucked into the dark street life and couldn’t see the light of normal life.
As my life spiraled out of control, at age 16 I committed a second-degree murder and two attempted murders. This older cat gave me a gun, delegated someone to drive the getaway car, and he turned state’s evidence against me!
The sad truth is my mother told me over and over don’t hang around him, he’s no good, but I chose to follow him, to fit in and be accepted. What if I would have listened to my mother? What other choices or options were available? Another truth is I knew in my heart and gut he was no good.
Through Juvenile Hall and prison I experienced effects of violence and PTSD. In Juvenile Hall my neighbor was making loud noises. Staff thought it was me. I stood my ground and stuck to the truth. The 250-pound staff member grabbed my neck and lifted me toward the roof.
When I was in the “box” (the hole) in Juvenile Hall, my neighbor, who was on psych medication, made loud noises. Then I heard thumping, yelling “get down” and finally loud moaning cries, as three staff took him down with a beat down.
In prison, the security squad raided my cell at 3 a.m. All I heard was: “Put your hands up,” while flashlights blinded my eyes. Then I was snatched off my bunk in cuffs.
To this day loud noises, keys jingling, flashlights and the smell of pepper spray triggers a hypervigilant, paranoid, aggressive state of mind. I look down a lot because eye contact with power-hungry cops leads to violence or harassment. I don’t like people behind me, too close to me, and I feel anger toward authority figures who abuse their power.
I say to the young juveniles out there, listen to the ones who love you and care for you. Pay attention to the warning signs of truth. Never forget you have the power to make positive choices in your life.
You have the power to listen to your gut, be a leader and not a follower like I did. You can face these truths and do something about it. Truths, adversity, struggles or mistakes can all be teachable moments that you can grow and learn from.
If a truth in your life comes to the light and it’s too heavy for you to understand. Talk about it with a family member, teacher, preacher, guidance counselor, coach, mentor, or some responsible adult. Please don’t ignore these truths before you do something you regret later … like me regretting my choices 23 years later, still incarcerated, serving 15 years to life!!!
Mathew Edwards was sentenced to life in prison while a juvenile for second-degree murder and two attempted murders. He is now 39, in San Quentin State Prison.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.