Back in the early 1970s I watched my favorite TV show “Emergency!” As a child I dreamed of becoming a fireman just like the firemen on “Emergency!” Every time the bell would ring and the big red shining engine 51 would leave the station on a run, I would imitate it with my firetruck. I pictured myself going to rescue a stranded person or putting out a fire.
As I grew older, the innocence I had as a child was lost. That was when my neighborhood became heavily infested with drug dealers and violent gang members. Living in the neighborhood became an everyday struggle just to survive. The drug dealers began to fight one another over who was going to control the drugs. Then rival gang members started to do drive-by shootings and innocent people got shot or murdered.
Living in the inner city, I felt like I was in the middle of two nations at war with one another. Sadly, I watched the helicopters flying over the crime scene while the ambulances and the police arrived late as always. Then I heard a mother who had just lost a child to gang violence scream a scream that no other mother should have to scream.
The gang violence and drug dealing got so bad that I would see dead bodies lying in the middle of the street, in vacant apartments and in the alleys as well as seeing women being physically, sexually and emotionally abused by the one they loved. I started to wonder if I was really safe in my own neighborhood and do the police even care.
Dealing with the traumatic death of my grandpa, I felt like nobody gave a damn about me and what I was going through, so why should I care about them? So I became numb, heartless, desensitized to violence. I dehumanized other people, which made it easy for me to hurt them and not feel nothing about it. I exchanged pain for pain.
Today, as a 45-year-old young man, I no longer believe and feel that way. Because I’m incarcerated for taking another human being’s life and being in restorative justice, I realize the pain, grief, and suffering that a mother, father, sister, brother goes through after losing someone they love through violence.
Even though my grandpa is resting in peace, I made a vow to my grandpa not to ever harm another human being again and I mean it from the heart.
Despite me not being able to become a fireman, I’m still able to rescue others and put out fire. This time I do it by sharing my story.
Michael Webb is serving 25 years to life in San Quentin for first-degree murder, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. He was 17 when he committed the crime and started serving his time at 19.
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 email@example.com.