"A single mother raises her seed alone….  She, as a woman, can only teach her son right from wrong. She…can’t teach her son how to be a man…."

essays

Jaison Bradley

bradleyAt 19, LACCD student Jaison Bradley stands on the threshold of adulthood, and in this essay, he looks through that open door at the many paths that lie before him—and the paths that he avoided walking.

 

 


Through the Eyes

Jaison Bradley is an African American who grew up in a single-parent home for most of his life, with his two brothers, younger sister and mother. Jaison also grew up in an all-Black family. Although he had many friends of different races in school, he wouldn’t hang with them outside of school unless it was to get a game of basketball. Jaison lives in Los Angeles, South Central to be exact—popularly referred to as “the hood”—with its population mostly made up of Blacks and Hispanics. Because of areas like South Central, Los Angeles is described as “the gang capital of the nation” on the LAPD website (“Gangs”). Although gangs don’t affect his life on a daily basis, Jaison knows all too well of the struggles in “the hood,” with gangs just around the corner.

Although Jaison lives on the poorer side of town, he’s thankful for everything he has and looks at the things he can’t afford as to something to strive for. Jaison lives in the house that his grandmother raised his mother in. Since the house is owned by his grandmother, the house stays within the family, but just like most people in South Central, Jaison and his mother pay rent. Jaison, 19, is in his freshmen year of college and has been out of high school for two years now. He once hated school, and by the time he started to care, it was too late; he was a high school graduate, but not academically prepared for college. Fearful of the world and time passing him by, Jaison felt barbering would be best: fast and easy money for someone straight out of high school. But that’s always the mind of a young person, unaware of the work that goes into making money,

At first life out of high school was great. He even started hanging with his older cousin Isaiah on his father’s side of the family. He hadn’t seen them in years, because of his father’s death caused by a heart attack at the age of 46 on Mother’s Day of 2002, and after his eldest brother Jamaul’s death the year following, that side of the family completely stopped coming around. Jamaul was killed in broad daylight, a victim of gang violence; he died at 29, and left behind his daughter, 6, and his girlfriend.

After re-connecting with his cousin Isaiah from his father’s side of the family, Jaison made plans with Isaiah to hang out the Friday of the first week of community college. They would go to the local high school football game, Compton vs. Centennial. There, Jaison is introduced to a group of friends: Darnell, Daniel, Tyshawn, Darrion and others. After the game, they pile into Darnell’s new Ford Expedition and head to “The Spot” (a low-key block near the canal, with nicer houses, and ending in a cul-de-sac). Once at “The Spot,” Darnell gets out the car and gets into another car with two girls. Jaison, who tends to catch on to things quickly, learns who does what for fun. As he starts to smoke with the others, Jaison starts to think one of the guys in the group is gay, and snubs him by passing the blunt to some girls sitting behind him. After it happens for a second time, the guy makes an outburst, and Jaison simply says, “Pooty don’t get none,” causing Darnell’s Ford Expedition to get filled with “Aws” and laughter. Jaison doesn’t know that “Pooty” is a character from a movie that repeats what someone else has said unconsciously, and the name is yours until the next person says it. By saying “Pooty,” Jaison gains new friends and also the last seat in the Ford, with the girls in the back. After it starts getting late, and there is nothing else to smoke, Jaison and Isaiah are dropped back off at Isiah’s house.

Only seeing his uncles and aunts for a brief second at Isaiah’s, Jaison was ready to never see them again.  He was angry; he thought that they had abandoned him when he was little.  He did not understand the complex politics that divide families, and which have nothing to do with children.  All he knew was that they had not been a part of his childhood.  Of course, he did see his uncles and aunts again, despite his initial feeling of anger and hurt when he saw them. For the next few months, whenever he visited Isaiah’s house, his father’s side of the family looked at him with awe as if he were the chosen one, all the while driving him insane. Jaison hadn’t heard so much talk of his father and brother in his whole life; at Isaiah’s house, when his uncles and aunts talked to him, it was always, “Wayne this…” or “Jamaul that…” or “You look just like Wayne.” Every time he stepped foot inside of that house, there was always someone to meet or re-meet since most people hadn’t seen Jaison since he was “this tall.”

After a few months, the fuss over Jaison started to die down, and soon he was just another visitor at Isaiah’s house, and the feeling was mutual. Jaison and his cousins Isaiah and Omar Teriq (Isaiah’s younger brother and also the third Omar of the family) began to get close, and the feeling of family was starting to come back. Jaison even started skipping school some days to hang with his cousins. After his car broke down twice and he was in a car accident, Jaison was over the idea of barbering school, but by this time, with a couple of careers in mind, he had already started looking for trade schools, thinking about being as airplane engineer or even a movie director. By the summer of 2012, Jaison had been in barbering school for almost a year, his training there was nearly complete, and he was ready to get out and never go back. It turns out, he never did. The school had shut down for a week of summer break, and hadn’t opened back up. However, Jaison had gotten what he wanted: learned to be a barber. Luckily for Jaison, too, he had already enrolled at West Los Angeles College.

A few months into the fall semester, Jaison’s English teacher assigns the class its second paper, which is on gangs and the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). He is to write an essay, share his thoughts about “gangs” or the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)—how effective he thinks that the LAPD is in putting a stop to or bringing down gang activity. In his English class, Jaison finishes writing down his teacher’s instructions about the essay on the overhead screen, and hurries off to math. But he likes the topic of gangs, how it develops.

In the week after the gangs essay is assigned, the class discussions about gangs start. Along with the rest of the class, Jaison discusses reasons why people join gangs. Some of the reasons they come up with are: protection in their neighborhood from the rival gangs; easy money being able to sell drugs, while knowing that your gang has your back; family, or a sense of belonging, because for many gang members, a gang can be their family when they have none, or someone in their family bangs (father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, cousin is a gang member); and…sheer boredom—because some people join gangs because they have nothing going on in their lives.

While working on the gangs paper, Jaison, who hadn’t been to Compton in a few weeks, returns to find one of his friends now selling weed (marijuana), and he has an experience with LAPD officers. The week after, while in English class, they are discussing gangs and the LAPD, and Jaison raises his hand. The teacher, of course, then calls on him. He then talks about his experience with the LAPD, questioning the legality of the LAPD officers’ actions during his encounter with them. He tells his teacher and the class how he and some friends were at “The Spot,” and how two cop cars pulled up and four cops hopped out, and searched him and his friends. Darnell, who no longer had his Ford Exposition, but a white Buick (that he had to trade his uncle for because of the amount of kids his uncle has), was in the car rolling up a Jay (joint), when two of the cops reached him. They were in running shoes, jeans, and windbreakers that read “POLICE” across the back, while both drivers of the police cars were in regular police uniforms. The police asked Jaison and his friends if they had any guns. Without their permission, the police searched the car, pulling Darnell out of the car just to be safe. The police did not care about the weed Darnell was smoking, and moved on to the next car in The Spot, which belonged to Ryan (another one of the local kids), and the police again searched the car without permission or questioning who the car belonged to or if it was even the property of one of that party. The teacher listened to Jaison’s story, and then told Jaison that the area in which Jaison chose to hang is known for killings and gangs, and that “it was logical for them to search you.” Although Jaison’s question about the legality of the LAPD officers’ actions wasn’t answered, he just let it be.

The class following Jaison learned about William Diaz, a Salvadoran American who turned his life experience of his first drive by into a screenplay, and also of an African American by the name of Brandon Wilson, whose story was on the other side of the gun. According to the teacher, “A high gang member shot Brandon eight times, breaking his arms with the first two bullets.” Jaison goes home and thinks about everything in class, and begins his essay. Jaison, who enjoys writing, finds this to be an easy task. Here is his essay.

The Making of a Gang Banger

In Los Angeles, also known as “the gang capital of the nation,” gangs are built upon single-parent homes, misguided children, and poverty. In a single-parent home (most likely headed by the mother), the income is just enough to get by, causing stress, conflict and neglect for children. This situation can cause a child to look for an outside resource, which for a male child is sometimes a gang.

A single mother raises her seed alone, which is due to the father walking out, dying from gang violence or drugs, or being imprisoned, or just being unfortunate and passing from natural causes. She, as a woman, can only teach her son right from wrong. She, as a woman, can’t teach her son how to be a man because that is one thing she is not. As a mother who wants what is right for her child, she will show love as long as love was given to her. If she was not shown love as a child, for whatever reason, it can either cause her to push her child away into the streets or bring her child closer to home, so her child won’t feel what she felt.

If the mother never knew what love was, then she wouldn’t know the feeling, which can also cause her to look for the idea of love in all the wrong places. This search for love can also go along with not having a decent father figure or one at all. If the mother has a child with a man who walks out on her, she can build hatred for the child because of the father’s abandonment of her, thus pushing her child into the streets to look somewhere else for love, guidance, and closeness. The single mother who is working as hard as possible to provide for her child is losing sight of her child.

When the male child who was taught right from wrong by a single mother is in middle school (roughly the time most children join gangs), that child is hanging with friends who over the summer were “put on” (jumped into a gang, and may have taken part in criminal activities). Under peer pressure, this child joins a gang as well. To many of his friends, being part of a gang runs in the family, but to him joining a gang is fitting in, and he does not really know all the troubles that come along with the title of “gang banger.”

Once the child has made a name for himself with the other members of the gang, he may be able to sell drugs, rob or steal; this time often marks the point of no return for most children. The child, knowing times are rough, will choose to sell drugs to put money into his pockets. For some children, it may be extra money; for others it’s a meal to eat. For a child who was loved by his single mother, it’s to help his mom pay bills. He slips the money into the bill envelope. For her, her prayers have been answered, finding that extra little cash; for him it was nothing but saying “I love you” as he pulled the cash out of the shoebox stash. Though misguided in the way of the world, the mother who is helped out by her son in this way thinks that she taught her seed how to be responsible, to have his priorities in order. She never had money to take him places, such as some single moms can afford to do, but she always used gang members as an example of where you don’t want to be, along with being dead in the streets.

Now, let’s go back to Jaison’s story. Jaison finishes his paper, and goes to sleep. At school, in English class, the LAPD Gangs/Narco cops his English teacher has promised to introduce to the class finally come. Jaison and many of the other students didn’t like the idea of interacting with the police, as their only interaction with the cops is usually when they want to put them in the back seat or give them a ticket. However, by the end of class, during which an LAPD police detective named gave a lecture, Jaison didn’t mind the cop so much. The detective grew up in the hood, and Jaison feels that he understands him and his desire to keep the streets safe. Jaison, however, did notice when the teacher started drilling the detective with questions, he put his hand on his gun, probably because he is used to asking the questions and not the one being questioned. He starts to wonder if the cop started to feel threatened. After the cop’s lecture, the teacher tells the class to include information the cop told them in their papers, to rewrite their papers. Luckily for Jaison, he wouldn’t have that class until the following Monday, so he’d have the weekend to rewrite the paper.

Once at home, Jaison sits down and thinks his whole paper out. He pulls out the facts that he printed off the LAPD website. As he studies, begins to do further research, he looks up police brutality and crime rates for the areas in which he hangs. Jaison, rereading his first essay, begins to think about how he was raised in a single-parent home, but because he had a godfather who turned his life around, who began taking Jaison to church every Sunday for years, Jaison had a positive father figure. Jaison’s mind is filled with thoughts of where would he be if he never met his godfather, or if he never had older brothers. Jaison also contemplates the kind of mother he has and how being a gangbanger could never happen. Though he lives on the poorer side of town, Jaison’s mom makes sure her kids have the things they need to succeed, such as cars, cell phones, and other things of that nature. Jaison asks himself: If I didn’t have my godfather, a loving mother who gave to her children whatever she could, and if I didn’t live in a house that my grandmother owned, would I be a gangbanger? Jaison, who knows his financial situation now, knows if this situation were any worse, he would sell drugs to help with things around the house and take care of himself. Jaison begins the rewrite of his essay.

The Good, The Bad, and The INNOCENT

The Good: Cops are sworn to protect and serve, and are no different from the average person. And just like anyone else, personal life can affect their work. As humans we must understand it’s hard to leave your personal life at home when you leave with a bad note. An unclear mind can cause confusion, and misinterpreting something can be taken the wrong way, thus causing a cop to feel threatened and raise his gun.

The Bad: The County and City of Los Angeles are the “gang capital” of the nation. Because the City of Los Angeles is home to more than 450 active gangs, and which have a combined membership of more than 45,000 gang members, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) keeps a close eye on the gangs.

The Innocent: People who are neither cop nor gang member are frequently harassed either by cops or gang members. The gang members flash the gang signs (expressing which hood that member is from or disrespecting another hood), or cops pull someone over because that person “fits the description,” when in fact some cops pull someone over in order to search the car, hoping to find something illegal, such as guns and drugs. These illegal searches cause the innocent to feel uncomfortable, as onlookers look at your face as they pass by in their cars. After 30 minutes or so of this treatment, the innocent, if still innocent, may be let go. All while the time that could have been spent in their everyday lives is now wasted during a police search, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of the innocent and a reason to dislike the police.

Most cops deal as effectively as possible with the task at hand, from dealing with high-speed chases, gun shoot-outs, patrolling, and other situations that come along with the job. Cops who interact with all kinds of people know it’s hard to identify a certain kind of suspect, since no suspect physically looks the same at first glance. But cops who have done their research on gangs and common street thugs know the dress code for the most part. Though clothing is a big key when looking for someone who’s up to no good, identifying a promising suspect by his clothing can cause someone who is just blending into the environment to be harassed for dressing like a gang member. Cops also are trained to spot tattoos for the area in which they patrol, although some gang members’ tattoos aren’t visible or noticeable, a cop’s eyes are trained to see them, along with understanding gang language in the prison system. As the cop who lectured are class told us, he has read some of the most beautiful love letters, but once analyzed and decoded, they were simply telling someone on the other end to either pick up or drop off drugs or even have someone killed.

Final Thoughts About Gangs

Although gangs are bad, gangs are more than Crips and Bloods and the things in between; gangs are family. Gangs have been around for over 50 years, and if gangs were entirely bad, they wouldn’t have lasted this long. With a gang, it’s tradition that matters, too, something to be passed down to your children. Although being a member of a gang family is not a positive way to grow, it allows these individuals to be involved in something bigger than themselves. Not only is a gang a brotherhood or family, it’s a line of protection whenever needed. Although gangs reside on the poorer sides of town, in gangs there’s money from drugs to extortion. However, L.A. gangs aren’t organized like the mob. Within the mob, it’s always someone that you answer to or get orders from causing a smoother approach instead of running around like a roach when the light comes on. L.A. gangs don’t have dons; they have OGs (original gangstas), but that’s just to say that these gang members have been gangbanging for a long time, and are moving out of the gang because of old age. For mobs, the older you are, often the higher you rise, and you’re in the mob family until death. For certain gangs you can only get out through death; for some gang members, depending on the age, you might get jumped out, even have your tattoos cut off. These deaths now affect the innocent members of the families and cops.

The innocent members of the families that now lost a street solider are forced to plan funerals, as if money wasn’t tight before. The innocent are not only troubled with losing someone who’s a part of a gang, but also sometimes killed because of a gang. As the cops try their best to protect the unprotected and serve justice to the unjust, the innocent will suffer more than anybody, because that innocent person’s life is in jeopardy, and he or she has lost a mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, son, daughter, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle; the innocent will suffer forever because there is no way to put a stop to gangs.

We need good cops to fight bad gang members. The only difference between cops and gang members should not be that the cops have badges. The good cop is sworn to protect and serve, and must follow the law, not illegally harass innocent people. The good cop understands the gang member and the innocent person. The gang member lives day by day, trying to make ends meet, because in the streets it’s a struggle to stay alive while trying to stay out of prison. The innocent person endures day by day, trying to look past all the tagging [gang graffiti] on side of buildings, but ends up losing someone dear to because that person and his or family can’t afford to live in the better areas. So who wins in this game of life? The Good? The Bad? Or The Innocent?

Editor's Note:  The teacher looks out over the sea of students, their heads bent, writing, or staring at the ceiling, as if to gather inspiration there for the words that they will write in their notebooks.  She looks at Jaison, thinks about the papers he has written in her classroom about gangs and mothers and sonseach paper better than the last, each paper a sign of hope that Jaison will succeed in his program of study.  Be somebody.  (He's thinking.  Becoming self-aware.)  Thinking of Jaison's papers, she thinks about Jaison's mothercertainly the reason Jaison is sitting in a college classroom, a college student.  The woman's courage.  Her valor.  It must be immense.   The good, strong-minded, hard-working single mother in the hood who plays such a huge role in her son's salvation.  She has become legend; an archetype.  How much will her her son ever truly understand about her sacrifice, her life?  That her sacrifice is, indeed, her life?  The teacher watches as Jaison ends this latest draft of his paper about gangs and mothers, sees other students glance at their wristwatches to see how much time they have left to write, thinking hard, hurrying to write the conclusions to their papers.  She sighs.  At 19, Jaison has so much more to think about, she knows, so much more to understand, not only about gangs, the LAPD, and the hood—but also about life.  But he's well on his way to gaining that understanding.


Editor: LinckeN@WLAC.edu | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 | www.wlac.edu
Production Mngr: Michelle Long-Coffee | Web Design: Clarissa Castellanos