Dear Mr. Kreeper,
I am glad to hear my story touched you;
and I appreciate your kind words to me - more often the e-mail I
receive from gangsters is threatening in nature. Even from your short
e-mail, I can see the struggle taking place inside you. But, I swear
to you Mr. Kreeper, you are free to pursue any path you want in life.
It certainly is not written in the stars that you must live and die
a gangmember, despised by society.
You mention that you just did time in
state prison for your "hood" and are in your gang "for life" - even
as you have nightmares and have wanted to get out ever since the
day you properly recognized what you had done. I will simply put
the question to you then: Why don't you get out? I suspect you would
answer that joining is "for life" and it is about commitment - the
good of "La Mara Salvatrucha" being more important than any one person.
I would beg you to take a step back and think about to what it is
you are devoting your life. What precisely are your fellow homies
asking from you? Do they ultimately have your well-being in mind?
Do they love you enough to let go of you?
As I have gotten older, I have seen many
of my best childhood friends start careers, get married, move away
to better jobs, building families with their spouses separate from
me. We used to see each other everyday and share nearly everything,
but our friendships have changed over the years as we have matured
and pursued our disparate paths. Not that we are any less friends
- to the contrary! But we have given each other the freedom to say "good-bye" at
least temporarily. This, of course, involves some degree of pain
and loss. This is adult life.
I say this to you because I can tell
you are not some wannabe trying to make a reputation for himself
in haughty adolescence. If you have been in prison, you know what
that is like. You know the streets. You have learned a thing or two
about life. But we live in a wide and wonderful world well worth
knowing and in a rich country which rewards hard work. I challenge
you to do something to improve your life and make yourself worthy
of happiness as opposed to nightmares. "When you cannot be just
because of your nature," advised the Puerto Rican sociologist
Eugenio Maria de Hostos, "be so through your pride." This
life is what you make of it.
Few are the gangmembers I have met that
deep down are happy in their lives. More often, they seem trapped
and resigned to their fates. Yet if we humans feel ourselves trapped,
it is often because of limitations and restrictions we place on ourselves.
I am no different, and have made a list of behaviors I want to change
in this new year of 1998. And if your homeboys really love you for
who you are and desire the best for you, they will let you go if
you ask them for permission. But ultimately you and nobody else makes
the decisions as to how you will spend your days.
As one who has taken the time to empathize
with the life of a cholo, I wish you all the luck in the world as
you strive to survive. And I challenge you to e-mail me in one year
and tell me you have taken concrete steps to avoid a future possibly
spent rotting in some prison cell for decades or lying on a piece
of sidewalk nobody owns as you watch your life's blood run out of
you. It is up to you.
Very Truly Yours,