Out Of The Gang And Into An MC—A Sixteen-year-old Boy Tells His Story
an article by our site
Number of families: 8
Total number of children: 18
Number of adults: 20
Total number of individuals: 38
a. 40m, 40f, 16f, 12f, 9m
b. 35f, 16m, 5m, 3m, 2m
c. 39f , 15f, 8m, 1f
d. 29m, 28f , 14f
e. 24f, 5f, 2f
f. 63f, 30m, 24f, 7m
g. 60f, 33m, 29f, 7m, 4f, 4 months m
h. 32m, 29f , 6f, 3m
Economic factors: lower class
My name is Andrew. I'm sixteen. I live with my mom and three younger brothers in a big city. I say I live with them, but I'm not there too much. I'm in a gang, and my gang is really my family. These are the people who I belong to.
Sure, I go home to sleep and get some food. But me and my mom don't get along, so I stay away as much as I can. She's always on me to get a job and make something of myself. That's something I just don't know how to do. My teachers are always trying to get me to do better, too. They say I've got a lot of potential, but I just don't apply myself. School is so boring and stupid. And the teachers are mostly bad. I'm going to quit pretty soon. I'm not learning anything there anyway. It's just a waste of time.
Sometimes when I go home I see my little brothers and they make me feel happy. We'll play around together and have some fun. They don't know what it's like out there yet. And then I think of what they have to look forward to and I feel sad. And then I'm mad at my mom for having a mess of kids and trying to bring us up in this garbage. I think she's just a jerk for having any of us. There is no future for us.
Mom's always been on welfare. I have no idea who my father is, or who my brothers' fathers are. She has a boyfriend who always shows up on welfare day looking for her money. When she gets on my case about getting a job and making something of myself, I ask her why she doesn't have a job. She always makes the excuse that she has to take care of the babies. I haven't believed that excuse for a long time. She doesn't have to keep having babies. She says she gets more welfare that way, though. Sometimes she tells me that I should forget about coming home, that I'm big enough to take care of myself and she needs the money for the babies. I, of course, ask her why she doesn't tell her boyfriend to take care of himself when he comes around for a handout. And why he is always over here eating our food and just about living here when he doesn't contribute anything. Believe me, I'm dying for the day when I can move out and get my own place. I want to be here a lot less than even she wants me here.
I don't really like being in a gang. Most of the time we run around getting into trouble, hurting someone, getting hurt, or just wasting time. We'll break into a vending machine for kicks, or we might break into it because we need cash. Some of the kids in the gang are pretty heavy into drugs and need money to pay for them. I've tried most all of the drugs that are on the street, but I don't do them too much. A lot of the time we just hang out. And sometimes it's fun. If anyone in this world is my family, the gang is. I guess we all accept each other for what we are. None of us has much to show for ourselves, but at least we aren't trying to make each other into something we don't want to be.
I have a girlfriend in the gang. I like her okay. At least I feel close to her sometimes. But most of the time I just feel mad. We get mad at each other a lot in the gang. But then we realize that we're really mad at some other gang. So we'll go and have a big fight with them. After a fight I feel good for a little while; then I'm just mad all over again. I wish I didn't feel mad all the time.
When we're really depressed, Rita (my girlfriend) and I talk about doing a suicide thing. A couple of kids we knew at school did that. There are a lot of things that make sense about it. Hell, school isn't giving us anything. We don't really have any families. The gang is a family, but it's mostly a bad trip into drugs and despair. And we can't seem to figure any way out of the downward spiral. So why keep living?
If we want our lives to be better, we've got to have money. How do we get money? Get a job? No, a regular job doesn't really get you any money. You hardly can earn anything at a regular job. If you want money, you sell drugs or are a drug courier. That's where the money is. But then the big pushers own you. You have more money than before, and you can buy a few things—you can even help your mom out. But then all you can do is keep pushing or being in the drug business in some form. Yeah, the money's good. But it's not good enough to really get you out of the pits here. I mean, if it was that good, everyone would have already moved out of the ghettos, right? No, I just don't see any way out of here. I really don't.
But then, maybe I'm wrong that money is the answer to everything. Maybe it isn't necessary for me to buy my way out of what I don't like.
This is what I had started thinking about before Rita and I went to see the movie two years ago. And after seeing the movie, I was glad there were some answers, some possibilities that anyone could follow up on. After the movie, I realized that I had barely cared about anything. I was always feeling sorry for myself, helpless, and determined to stay stupid. If I didn't know how to "make something of myself," I sure didn't have plans to find out how. Prior to the movie, I was resolved to a life on the street, surviving through crime, and with the gang as my family forever. I didn't really care about my mom or my brothers, and at the same time, I knew that my brothers would end up like me (or worse) before long. I believed that I didn't really know how to help them, even if I'd wanted to.
After the movie, Rita and I got to thinking. We wanted to be in an MC, but we couldn't even afford an apartment of our own. I didn't want to live with my mother and brothers any more. Rita hated her mother, too, and didn't want to keep living with her. Well, we registered at The Big Answer and answered the Questionnaire so it would be in the MC Database anyway. We did this as a couple since we wanted to be together. And we put down as much information describing our situation as the questionnaire had room for. We didn't know where it would take us, but we figured it couldn't hurt to try to get connected.
We still spent a lot of time with the gang. And I hadn't dropped out of school yet. Almost every week, Rita and I went to The Big Answer, logged into our Group account to see if anyone had contacted us, and to search for Group that might be compatible. We connected with a lot of people who wanted to be in MCs. A lot of them were grouping up, and we even chatted with several that we wanted to be in an MC with, but when we would tell them that we didn't have any money or our own place, no one could offer any suggestions. They couldn't afford to pay our way, nor should they.
Then one night I connected on line with a older guy who was looking to be in an MC and told him my sad story. He asked me if it was true that there was not ONE job in this entire city that I could do. He asked me how many hours a day (after school) I went out looking for work. And he asked how many applications I'd filled out. After I listened to his questions and embarrassed, mumbled my answers, I realized that I wasn't even trying to make my life work. Rita, in contrast, was a waitress after school and on Saturdays. And the way I dealt with that was I would put her down all the time, telling her she was too good to be a waitress, waiting on people. She would get really mad and tell me I should get a job so I wouldn't act like such a jerk. She called me a bum who spent his whole life feeling sorry for himself, who couldn't find anything better to do with his life than spend all his time putting everyone else down.
Anyway, the guy went on to tell me that I was probably smarter than I thought, but that I better start with something easy because I hadn't learned to use my brain yet. He noticed that I was pretty big and strong, and suggested three places with warehouses that could probably use my help after school and on weekends. I told him I wasn't going to work in any drug warehouses or with stolen goods. He assured me that the businesses were legitimate, and that there were many others that I could pursue if these didn't have any openings. All my life I had pooh-poohed people who were willing to work for minimum wage or even a little more per hour when they could earn a lot more (per hour) dealing drugs. But at the same time, I'd never gotten myself sucked into the drug business either. So there I sat on the fence doing neither legitimate work nor drug-related work and putting everyone down (just like Rita said).
The next week I found a job and started working. I'd work from four in the afternoon until nine every week night, and also for about 16 hours on the weekend. That was thirty-six hours a week—almost full time. It was tough at first; I got real tired the first few days. But I got used to it pretty fast. Although the pay wasn't bad, I didn't end up taking home much money from my paycheck after all the deductions. And I learned why when my boss explained about taxes going to pay for things like my mom's welfare. When I stammered about this, he looked at me like I was crazy and said: "What did you think? That your ma's money grew on a tree somewhere, and her social worker went out and picked it every week and put it in an envelope for her?" He looked at me hard and long, but then he encouraged me to learn what was really going on with the system—how when people don't work, everyone who does work has to pay for them. This was new stuff for me. I'd never thought about where Mom's money came from before.
I started feeling better about myself while I was doing that work. I can't explain it exactly—I wasn't making a whole bunch of money, and work ate up most of the free time I had outside of school, but somehow it felt good accomplishing something, even if it was just loading one truck or unloading another one. And it was easy.
I still lived with my mom, and she was being nicer to me. I guess because I was "making something of myself" finally. I was even trying to come up with schemes to get her going to work so I could stop "paying her welfare out of my payroll check"!
Rita and I started a little fund and began saving some money so we could get our own place and move into an MC. We kept the money in a box under my bed. When my mother's boyfriend found out that I had a job, at first he figured that I would be giving all my money to my mom. So he'd come around looking to get my money from her as well as her welfare. When she told him how much I gave her, he figured I was keeping the rest somewhere and so he went searching through my things, found the box and took all of the money Rita and I had been saving. Mom told me what happened. But she said he hadn't found anything. Boy, was I mad! And when I confronted him, he denied that he had found anything. But the next week he was all duded up in a new leather jacket. And I know that the only way he could have gotten that was to steal it or to steal the money for it.
Lesson number one: Put your nest egg in a bank. The next thing Rita and I did was open a bank account together. We started putting a little bit of money in every week. We kept getting on line to “meet” people that we thought we'd like to be in an MC with. Some of them still lived with their families, too, and some were trying to get their own places like we were. Getting into an MC on our own just seemed so far in the future for Rita and me. We talked with a couple of other people who were in the same boat, and tried to come up with alternatives—like sharing an apartment in an MC. But unless there were enough rooms for everyone to have their own space, it wouldn't be an MC unless we could get an apartment big enough for four, and that would cost more than we could afford.
The four of us started looking at alternatives. We made a list. (Do you realize that this was the first time in my life that I wanted anything enough to actually sit down and think about how I might get it?). The list looked like this:
1. Find an MC with rich people, and get them to pay for our place. (We laughed at that one.)
2. Find an MC with people who were mostly working and needed full-time caregivers for their kids. They could pay us to caregive. (Most people wanted to set up their MCs so that they could arrange child care without having to pay for it. And they wanted to be part of that child care, of course, as much as their schedules allowed. An MC with so many kids that the adults couldn't find enough time to caregive should be reorganized with additional adults who had time.) We set this idea aside thinking that it still had possibilities, although we didn't know what yet.
3. Beg, borrow or steal enough money to get our own place. (We laughed at this one at first, but then I considered it seriously.) I looked at what it would take to do the drug thing for a while to get enough money for our own place. At first it looked like it might be worth it, but the problem was, there was no getting out. Once you used the money you could get doing the drug thing, you'd have to keep getting that kind of money to keep living that way. I couldn't do the drug thing for a while and then go back to my warehouse job—if the warehouse would even have me. I would also be at risk of arrest and maybe jail which would wreck my plans, too. Duh!
4. Temporarily give up some of the MC ideals so we could get into one in some form, i.e., live in a crowded condition. (Who'd want to be in an MC with people if it wasn't 100 percent set up as an MC?)
5. Sell the MC idea to our present families and get them into the whole concept. My mom hadn't even seen the movie; Rita had given up on her mom, but was willing to reconsider the possibilities. After all, in an MC one of the points was how you could avoid people you were uncomfortable with, at least temporarily, and choose to be around others if you didn't like someone, or they treated you badly. Rita thought she could be around her mother under those conditions.
That last possibility seemed to offer the most promise, even though it was 180 degrees from what we'd seen as our goal. Some of the people on line helped us look at the possibilities. They told us to consider the things that we had completely ruled out as well as the outrageous. They were confident we'd come up with something. So we kept working on it.
Rita and I talked to our moms. And the other couple talked to their families. When I talked to Mom, I realized that she would have to alter her life radically, although she wouldn't have to do it right away. Theoretically she could move into an MC, keep getting her welfare, and actually have more time to herself because the babies would have others to care for them some of the time. I suggested that she could go to school or get a part-time job and "make something of herself." She laughed; and cried. She was scared, but she knew an MC would be really good for the babies (and for her). She was also scared about how it would change her relationship with her boyfriend. It would force him to be responsible in some way, or she'd probably have to kick him out of her life. After I talked to her that night, I realized that most of the problem was that she hadn't seen the movie. She'd been watching some of the TV shows and she had heard a lot, and even had friends who had moved out of our block to be in MCs. So I did a nice thing—I took my mom to the movie. Rita baby-sat the babies. And Rita took her mom the next night.
Mom was excited, but she was pessimistic. She knew it would cost to move and we needed to find the right people. But I'd saved some money that we could use. I also suggested that she stop giving her welfare to her boyfriend and save it for moving and for her education.
As for people, I told her how much fun we'd had getting on line and searching for people and how people would find us; and with Rita's mom plus the families of the couple we'd met (if their families could be persuaded to go in the MC direction), we already had four families. Four to six more would be the most we'd want in an MC anyway. So Mom Registered at The Big Answer and answered the Questionnaire; and Rita and I kept our listing as they had been so we'd continue to get contacts specifically for us. And we had our moms keep searching the database for contacts and checking to see if anyone had contacted them.
We kept chatting and emailing, and then meeting a lot of people. It took about six more months for us to meet the right people for our MC and another three to practice with the PSB-MC thing. By then we were ready to move. I had more money saved, and Mom had told her boyfriend what was what. He was enraged at first. I think he really believed that he deserved to get Mom's money, get taken care of, and never do anything to help. When Mom said he had to get some kind of job and contribute, and when we moved to the MC, he'd have to do child care too, it turns out that he liked what was going on enough to agree to change his ways. Mom told him that he would really have to change, and that in an MC he wouldn't get away with going back to his old ways. She even introduced him to several other men who had gotten into MCs the way he was about to. He ended up liking what he'd heard from the other men, and started helping at home even before we started using the PSB. He'd take care of the babies, help clean up, and generally get underfoot with helpfulness. But his intentions were good and we humored him and encouraged him.
We all moved to a new neighborhood, not too far from where we had been living. My mom, my brothers and I remodeled our new house to make enough rooms so all the kids would have their own space. I had a room at Mom's, and Rita had a room at her mom's house. So we had two places we could be together.
Our MC child-care space was also at Rita's house. Their house was big enough for Rita and her mom to each have their own room and there were a couple of other rooms for their living space. There was a family room that they didn't need, so everyone in the MC got together and remodeled it for child care. We were able to add an outside door and make it separate from their house so they wouldn't feel like day care was right in their house. The space was a little bit cramped, but was adequate for the number of kids and their ages. Since the weather was good most of the time, caregiving could happen outside easily enough, too.
Everyone was enthusiastic and also looked at the current living situation as temporary. Several of the women who had never worked were either going back to school or getting part-time jobs, or both. The same for some of the men. There was a clear intention to increase incomes in order to be able to have a better standard of living.
We couldn't afford to build special walkways, so what we did was use the fencing materials that had separated all the back yards, and fenced in the block so that the little ones couldn't wander into the street. It wasn't too beautiful at first, but after we added some paint, it was quite acceptable.
One of our first MC goals was to have a central MC structure for child care and for the whole MC, and to add some kind of walkways. Luckily the climate is mostly warm here, so protection from the elements isn't a big consideration.
Another goal for me and Rita was to have our own place together in the MC. But we weren't in that much of a hurry about it because we could be together, and we enjoyed being with the other kids in the MC, too. We both did plenty of caregiving and that dispelled our desires to hurry up and have kids. It was great to take care of kids, but it was great to leave them behind and BE kids, too.
We had several projects that we were doing with the other older kids in the MC—most of them to improve the MC. Since most of the adults were working, going to school, or both, a lot of the responsibilities for the MC itself fell to the older kids. But this was not responsibility by default or by adult decree. All of these issues were discussed thoroughly by all of us. And none of the kids did anything they really didn't want to. In fact, most of the improvements were initiated by the kids and carried out by careful agreements. We wanted a garden, so we started digging and planting vegetable seeds. We were the ones that thought the fence looked awful, so we were eager to paint it once everyone scrounged enough money to get some paint. We even started building a jungle gym outside for the little kids out of scrap lumber (knowing full well that the older kids would use it plenty too)!
One thing that was interesting to me was this: Here we kids were doing all of this constructive stuff, and almost all of us had been in gangs doing all this destructive stuff before. I kept wondering why no one had figured out MCs long ago. Think of how many lives had been trashed because no one thought of the obvious solution. It seemed so simple. Look how many lives I had seen turned around. And that was just the people I knew. Think about all the people in the world that I never heard of who were also feeling better about their lives because of MCs.
As soon as the caregiving space was remodeled at Rita's house, the caregiving schedules were set up. There were a lot of little kids and there were also plenty of teenagers, younger adults without children, and parents to take care of them. I was still working and going to school, but I liked to get up early, so I'd caregive several of the kids whose parents had to leave early to go to work. I'd usually get them breakfast and get the little ones dressed. When it was time for me to go to school, I'd gather all the kids who needed to go to school and walk them there on my way. Sometimes I felt like the pied piper. But I wasn't the only one in the neighborhood doing that. On the way we'd meet up with other groups of kids getting walked to school by teens from their own MCs.
I'd usually do some caregiving on the weekend, depending on my work schedule. During those times I would sometimes take my group to interesting places around the city. The kids always liked to do that. In fact, I was often sought out by the kids when they were adventuring in the MC and wanted more adventures with me. This surprised me at first. I didn't think I had any special talent with kids. Maybe they liked me because I was a little closer to their age (than most of the adults in the MC) and I could treat them like friends.
Some of the adults who were often struggling with their new habits of P.E.T. communication would tell me that I was a natural at it. In fact, sometimes an adult would come to me for help with P.E.T. and I'd just naturally active listen; then they'd really laugh because I couldn't tell them how to do it, or advise them. I'd just do it.
The PSBs worked great for us, too. Many people in the MC became very good friends as they discovered they had common interests. The women who had never worked and were going to school or starting new jobs would get encouragement and help from others who had already made the transition, after entering a status that signified that they needed such help. We had a PSB code that meant "need help/support about my job/work/school." Many of the adults who hadn't finished high school were getting their equivalency diplomas, and there were many study sessions that include them and the teenagers! It helped everyone. And everyone did well.
Everyone in our MC also liked encouraging others to start an MC like we'd done, and we also liked to get help with problems that we couldn't solve ourselves from other MCers.
Rita and I had completely dropped out of the gang. We were in a different neighborhood, so it made no sense to go back there. With work and my caregiving responsibilities and fixing up the MC, I didn't have much time for the gang. And I didn't have much desire for it either. I started seeing those kids as just wasting their lives. Several others had dropped out, or were in the process of dropping out because their families were joining MCs. I was glad that was happening.
Some of the gangs around the city where the kids had joined MCs had remained gangs, but changed their purpose. Instead of trashing property and causing violence, they actually had set out to improve their neighborhoods by cleaning them up, painting over fences and fixing up buildings they had vandalized, taking care of the parks on their turf, as well as taking care of their MCs. In some neighborhoods, the gangs were pushing the drug pushers out, telling them no one needed drugs.
The city is still a mess. There are still a lot of drugs, drug pushers, and drug users. And there's still a lot of violence. But now, instead of everyone succumbing to the horrible downward tailspin, people have found something to live for. They've found a way to care for their children that's much better than before. And many of the people who were leeching off the system because they knew of no alternatives are now getting educated and joining the work force.
There's a long way to go yet. But I like to look at it like this: For a long time the politicians talked about waging a war on drugs, a war on the pushers, a war on the suppliers, and a war on the people that had succumbed to the drug culture and were using drugs. They thought if they could stop drugs from coming into the country that somehow people would stop wanting drugs. I finally realized why I had never understood politics when I started learning about what was really going on here. I realized that because politicians are politicians, they were unwilling to admit that the deprived, hopeless, useless lifestyles of their constituents were creating the huge demand for drugs. They were unwilling to and incapable of addressing the real cause of the problem. It was much too easy to blame the drug lords. They were unable to look at the simple laws of supply and demand. If there is no demand for a product, the suppliers have to find different markets or, in the case of drugs, preferably different products. The drug problem isn't changing "because someone's winning a war against someone else;" people are changing because they have been made aware that they can have something positive to choose for their lives, a lifestyle enhancement that helps make their lives and their family's lives work. The drugs drop away in the process.