All things start young. Whenever you describe the root or problem of any situation, you must start with the past, because the past has influence over your future.

Most children who enter a life of crime were either introduced to it by forceful circumstances or were influenced by an adult. A large percentage of children caught up in the system come from a life of poverty. They have parents who are uneducated or drug abusers, who have little or no drive to challenge their conditions of poverty, leaving their children less able to overcome, survive, and prosper in a dog eat dog world. For those who do prosper, that’s another story to tell. The truth is, the majority don’t make it. These kids are affected by an environment that pulls them into a life of crime, a life of gang activity or an early death. In many cases, these kids suffer emotional and mental problems that cause negative behavior in school and in their communities. These children are the ones who are raised in institutions so they are the ones who also get caught up in the adult prison system. By the time these children are 15 or 16, the majority are career criminals, due to knowing nothing, but the system. All their lives they have fought their way through adversity after adversity, forced to the street life due to circumstances beyond their control. This goes on through generations. This is the root of the problem.

In 1984, after my father was sent to prison and my mother went to the streets, us kids were placed in foster care. I am a supporter of foster care because the people who do care will take in a troubled child and form that child with love and understanding, giving the child purpose and a firm foundation. I was never adopted, nor were my brothers or sisters. We went through a temporary child care process for about two years, where we were split up to live with different families.

Out of the five families that I recall living with through the state of Florida, only one of them showed their love for children. Mary and Jake were their names. You could feel the love coming from them. This is the sweet thing about foster care. The bitterness of it is the child abuse and neglect. Many children are sexually abused in foster care, either by foster parents or foster brothers and sisters. I was sexually abused by foster sisters at age 5 or 6. I was forced to do things for them and to them. Many people allow these children in their homes only to collect money from the state. Kids need to be placed in loving homes to ensure they have a stable foundation and a fighting chance in a crazy world. There are far more at risk youth in these situations than loving adults who will take them in. This leaves child protective services with no other option than to place the child in emergency shelter or right back in the home of the unfit parent.

I was placed back with my mother in 1986 after being physically abused by foster parents. My mother was living on the East side of Tampa Florida in the projects. My older sister already had a child, my two other brothers were incarcerated and my mother had another child, with no job. This is the time that pulled my older brother James and I together.

With my mother living on welfare with no job and five kids, we went to bed hungry many nights. I remember my brother introducing me to a hustle at gas stations. We would ask people to let us pump their gas for 25 cents. Some people would tell us no, but most of the time we would leave those gas stations with about ten dollars in change. We had no focus on early education. No one cared that I could not read or write.

When my dad got out of prison in Michigan, he came to Florida to see his kids. My mother had married a man from Jamaica who was into criminal activity. My mother agreed to let my father take us to Texas. We left Florida in 1988 and moved into one of the most dangerous housing projects in Texas, The East Terrace. Gangs and drugs were a way of life. My father moved in with his longtime girlfriend. Their relationship was always rocky due to my father’s addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol. He was on and off welfare during the six years that I spent with him. He was poorly educated, so growing up, under his care, I still never learned to read or write.

By the time I was 11 years old, I was already running away from home with my brother. It was always the same thing. When my dad got paid, drugs would be at the top of his list. I remember one year; my dad blew his whole income tax return on drugs. My step mom was done. James and I knew we had to buy our own clothes for school so that’s how we learned about selling drugs. We were not into it like that, we just wanted school clothes that weren’t old and worn out. We just did minor crimes to survive. On the streets at 11 or 12 years old, we would steal out of stores to eat. Anytime we were faced with the problem of survival at home, we would run away and steal. We never thought of hurting anyone, but we developed a pattern of stealing. Most of the time, people choose crime out of need, not habit. We develop patterns by nature.

I became a gang member because I felt the need to have friends. My brother was older so he had older friends and he was always locked up somewhere. I started hanging with kids my age who had the same issues at home that I did. From there, we just started gang banging. Cripping was a culture in my neighborhood. The East Terrace Projects had three gangs back then, The East Terrace Gangstas (E.T.G), Altadena Block Crips (A.B.C.) and Tray Five Seven Sin Town Crips (357 ) By the age of 12 years old, the police had already made me as a gang member when I wasn’t. because I lived in the East Terrace, I was made an E.T.G. by them. I didn’t become a gang member (357 ) until 1994. I was 15 years old, months before I was incarcerated. It’s crazy, because when kids come to prison they bring the gangs to prison with them. I didn’t stop being a gang member until 2004, basically when I became a grown man… mentally. Most of us developed these friendships as kids and stuck together through it all. We all dealt with childhood issues that shaped our negative attitude and most of us never grow out of it. Most of these kids never had a family and the only family they knew were their close friends, so they tend to love the “Gang” or “set” as we called it, because a human must put love in something.

Change itself is a process. My change came from wanting a better life, wanting to show my love in a more positive light rather than a negative one. I also wanted to tell people about “my people”. I wanted to let society know why kids become “criminals” and why kids are not “criminals” just because they make childhood mistakes. Personally, the 15 short years that I spent in society were a constant struggle with challenge after challenge, but now I know that God was building me up to get me ready for my future. Prison is nothing more than a cocoon for people who are ready for their purpose. This physical captivity has born a man who is ready to save our youth. My rehabilitation was personal development. All the things that caused me to fail in my short life in society were learning experiences for the goals that I have now.

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