"I found myself blaming the environment. I always used that as an excuse - that I was taught to rob, to steal, by my idol, the guy who had the Cadillac and the girlfriend and the new clothes every time you saw him, who threw money around and could beat up everybody else. I always knew in the back of my mind it was wrong - I'm very spiritual, I communicate with God. But then you come to a certain age, and you realize you are responsible for you, no matter what your circumstances are."
"...YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT MOST OF THESE KIDS HAVE NOTHING TO LOOK FORWORD TO IN LIFE AND ARE A PRODUCT OF THAIR ENVIORMENT."
actor Mark Wahlberg at 26 years of age,
reflecting upon his violent youth
"You are human beings like me, and as such you were free to commit a crime, to become guilty. Now, however, you are responsible for overcoming guilt by rising above it, by growing beyond yourselves, by changing for the better."
concentration camp prisoner Viktor Frankl,
speaking to inmates at San Quentin State Penitentiary
"I got very captivated by my children. As I look back now, I was overly absorbed by them. You don't save anybody's soul. The person has to save their own soul."
testifying in defense of her son,
convicted murderer John J. Famalaro
Date: Tue, 08 Apr 1997 12:27:18 -0700
To: Richard Geib (email@example.com)
Subject: EIGHTEEN STREET GANG
At 12:27 PM 4/8/97 -0700, you wrote:
>WHATS UP RITCHARD THIS ROACH AND SHYBOY FROM THE WEST SIDE EIGHTEEN STREET GANG TINY MALDITOS ALSAYS & SMILEY DRIVE BOYS WE ARE WRITING YOU ABOUT THE ARTICAL YOU WROTE AND I JUST WANTED TO SAY I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL BUT YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT MOST OF THESE KIDS HAVE NOTHING TO LOOK FORWORD TO IN LIFE AND ARE A PRODUCT OF THAIR ENVIORMENT I RECENTLY MOVED TO SEATTLE WA. AND HAVE SENCE SENT FOR MY HOME BOY SHYBOY WHO RECENTLY GOT RELEASED FROM PRISON AND WE ARE UP HERE TRYING TO CHANGE OUR LIVES AND BECOME USEFULL PARTS OF SECIETY. MOST OF US NEVER EXPECTED TO LIVE PAST 18 YEARS OF AGE SO IT IS LIKE STARTING OVER FOR US. WE NEVER THOUGHT OF GOING TO A UNIVERSITY OR GETTING A LONG TERM JOB BECAUSE WE DIDNT THINK WE WOULD MAKE IT BUT THANKFULLY WE DID. AND IF YOU WOULD LIKE MORE INFO E-MAIL US AT ROACH@bab.net AND WE WOULD BE GLAD TO SHOOT THE BREEZE WITH YOU.
First of all, let me congratulate you on making it out of Los Angeles and trying to make an honest go at it up in Washington State. Some of the most profoundly impressive people I have ever met were reformed gang members who got out of the life and made a good life. Their voice has authority when they speak, "...of the dust and from the dust." As it says in the Bible, the discarded stone has become the cornerstone. Those people made peace with their past and sought forgiveness for what they had done and I really respect that.
My frustration - and almost everybody's frustration - with violent street gangs I described clearly in the webpages you read. Yet I know well how you can grow up in a place like Los Angeles and face all the peer pressure, etc. to join a gang - feel like you have no choice in the matter. In such a manner, life decisions made by contumacious teenagers with respect to a gang or drugs can have lifelong repercussions almost without thinking about it. But I find it a slippery argument when people tell me they joined a gang because they didn't care ("Smile today, cry tomorrow") or think they would not live past adolescence. Everyone has decisions to make in their lives and choices available - whether they grow up in the ghetto or not. God has given us free will and the ability to choose between good and evil.
My best friend Martin Lopez (http://www.rjgeib.com/friends/martin/martin.html) grew up right down there on the corner of Pico and Vermont and he never got involved with drugs or gangs. To hear him tell it, he was too afraid of his strong-willed mother who would have "kicked his ass." Martin credits hugely his mother for beating the difference between right and wrong into his thick head. Everyone has choices in life - all they have to do is open their eyes and see them. I fully understand how gang life can suck you in and I realize how hard it is to leave. And even if you live in the middle of the boonies, one can find trouble if one goes looking for it.
Let me tell you I honestly respect you guys making a go of regular life! I wish you all the luck in the world. I do wonder, however, if you have made a clean break with that lifestyle when you refer to yourself as "RICKET AND SHYBOY FROM THE WEST SIDE EIGHTEEN STREET GANG TINY MALDITOS ALWAYS & SMILEY DRIVE BOYS." If you have momentum so far, don't allow yourselves to get sucked back in. All it takes is one bad decision and it can have lifelong repercussions - for you and maybe for other people. However, I think you guys know all that. We all make decisions and then we live with the consequences.
I, too, am trying to make it now outside of Los Angeles and am not sure which direction my life will take. I have been kind of a bum (semi-employed) for awhile and will have to make some decisions soon. I have been doing some traveling (Hong Kong last week, Chile and Argentina in two weeks) and am a little in between things.
At any rate, thank you for the e-mail - it made interesting reading and I ruminated over what I was going to say to you this whole afternoon.
Very Truly Yours,