Through My Pen I Speak: Words of Former Gang Members
In large loopy lines that skip across the page, a 13 year old girl bends her head and curls her hand to shield the letters on the once-pale parchment. The notebook is cracked and covered with doodles. The binding, held together with thick metal tape, is scratched with song lyrics. But inside the words are sacred.
“I’m not going to tell you how I joined and got out detail for detail, just the important facts,” she writes. “Where we lived was a city with a whole lot of Crips. My sisters were in [the gang] and I was with them every day. I liked the way they rolled as a clique.”
And this is how it starts. I read the words over and over in that dusty, desert classroom. I am 22, recently graduated from college, and a teacher in a deeply poor, under-resourced school. My students range in age from 11-15 and many have been expelled from other schools because of their behavior, including possession of drugs or weapons.
She is concentrating hard. Her pen rips the paper. “It was real dark. Nervously I got out of the car. Standing there in the alley were all these Crips. My sister looks at me and said, ‘You made your choice and this is what you wanted, so now you’ve got it.’ She snapped her fingers and they all started attacking me. It lasted about five minutes. I couldn’t get up I was so bruised…”
Over the course of several months, I learn through small revelations that several of my students are former gang members. I create a secret project in which they write anonymous letters to each other. They inscribe the stories in their journals and I transfer them to the computer, smoothing out the grammar and removing identifying details before redistributing them.
“Tears started coming down my eyes. I heard police sirens and ambulances coming, but I ignored them. I picked up the blade, blood and all, just all on me. Then, in the background, I hear ‘Put your hands up and drop the blade.’ So I do. It was all like a dream. I was riding in the back of the police car, just in shock, like what the hell happened.”
I leave the classroom after a year of teaching with a heavy heart, feeling as if I am abandoning my students. My gang notes project has been one of the few highlights of the year, the ink of their pens: an indelible seal on my heart. Through it, the students, who start the year as lone wolves, form a pack and - deciding to reveal themselves - create a community that helps them heal and move forward.
In my previous journal entry (http://worldpulse.com/node/67873), I wrote about using the web to help connect Israelis and Palestinians across borders, reaching beyond the walls of our current realities to expand our worldviews. Teaching is another chapter in my personal history that has informed my life and values, eventually leading me to WorldPulse. I am a listener and a connector, warping and wefting the stories of women’s lives.
* Please note: this is not meant to be a journalistic piece. Aspects of this story have been modified due to the word limit and to enhance storytelling.