*We’re all familiar with the 3-act structure of most plays. The 3 Acts I’ll illustrate here are the 3 acts (or actions) that contributed most to my landing in prison.
ACT I, Believing The Ability To Fight Well Was Necessary: I remember my first “official” fight. I was a kid, 7 years old, or 8. It was a sunny day on Rosedale Avenue. I don’t remember what led up to the incident, but there were a few kids surrounding us, and the kid across from me, another Spanish kid, wanted to fight me. The onlookers spewed things like “fight him” and “go ahead.” I raised my hands slowly, cautiously, the way I saw people do it on TV. We half-circled each other. He hopped forward an inch or two, stuck out a jab that tapped my nose, very lightly.
“You win. You got me first,” I said, then lowered my hands.
People were saying things like “What?” and “What are you doing?” and “It’s not over” and “Fight!” I was embarrassed because there was this tacit understanding of fighting rules that I wasn’t privy to. The kid I was “fighting” never let his guard down. He started inching forward, saying, “C’mon, c’mon.”
I raised my little fists again, reluctantly. We circled some more and when my back was to the building he pressed forward. He threw soft punches that landed on my arms and sides. A couple of times he even said, “Body blow, body blow.” He never aimed for my face again. I never punched back. I just wanted it to be over. It lasted about 10 or 15 seconds.
At home my sister scowled at me and immediately told mom what happened. My sister said she was “mad” at me. Mom said, “You have to stick up for yourself.”
I was embarrassed, but their reactions, and the way that kid fought me, like it was natural, mixed with the behavior of bullies at school, led me to the conclusion that, not only am I supposed to fight but, I’m supposed to fight well. And I got better, much better, after that first one, “winning” the large majority of fights I took part in from that day. But it was a faulty conclusion, faulty thinking that opened the door to other rougher behavior.
ACT II, Committing Minor Crimes: Here, when I say “Minor Crimes” I mean “Minor Crimes,” like stealing a pack of gum or a candy bar or jaywalking. I consider these acts major contributors to my 16-year sentence because they opened the door to other crimes, gradually becoming more serious with each new door that opened. It’s like a lie that naturally leads to another more serious lie, or one cigarette that leads to a pack that leads to a beer that leads to a joint…you get it. I’m thinking that had I never committed those “minor” crimes I would never have had the gall and audacity to commit the more serious ones. Parents, I suggest that if you ever find out that your kid is engaging in these “Minor” crimes, put a stop to it, an immediate stop. Don’t ignore it. Don’t laugh it off. Make sure you convey the utter seriousness of any and all illegality. You might be saving your child from a prison cell.
ACT III, Not Taking My Teenage Years Seriously: The good thing about youth is the feeling of immortality. Kids don’t ponder time. They exist in an infinite moment. But that youthful outlook is a gift and a curse. I always thought there’d be plenty of time for adulthood when I’m an adult, never once considering the fact that I’m slowly becoming one. I should have realized that, since I was slowly becoming an adult, I should have slowly changed my youthful behavior and outlook on life. I was too busy not paying attention, too busy ignoring the signs, like the gaining of weight, the growing facial hair, the changing of my physical build, the fast approaching age of college eligibility, and all of those things that are slowly placed upon, or thrust upon, the shoulders of young adults. Again, parents, I believe it is imperative you ensure that your children understand that every passing year means he/she is one year closer to adulthood, and every year you should award your children with new responsibilities. This is something that I noticed wasn’t happening, for the most part, in the places where I grew up, deep in the cities, in the projects. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).