"Los Angeles has only two sides to it, the good and the bad."


William Diaz

portraitOf himself, William writes: "I have not conquered empires nor have I written sonnets, yet my name is William. I have not exploited indigenous people, nor have I stolen land in the name of a God with blue eyes and a pale complexion, yet my last name is Diaz. Although I have done none of these things, I still strive to leave my own mark on society. I joined a street gang at the age of 15, thinking that by leaving my mark on the streets I would attain great glory. I was very wrong; it only brought me pain and suffering. I saw two of my closest friends killed before my eyes and countless others stripped of their freedom. I can honestly say that out of the five high schools I attended, fewer than four of my high school friends are still around. It wasn’t long before all my actions caught up with me, and within a year and a half of being inducted into a gang, I was arrested and jailed. I was very fortunate to have the support of my parents and teachers, who helped me through my trial. Within three months, because of lack of evidence, I was released. I began a new life, taking advantage of all that was at my disposal so that I would graduate from high school on time. I graduated from South East High School in 2007, and I will be graduating in June from West Los Angeles College with an A.A. in English. I have also been accepted to Cal State Northridge and will pursue my B.S. degree in Chemistry. I cannot forget to mention my beautiful son Aaron Jacob Diaz, who has been my greatest inspiration throughout my dark journey. He alone brought me back into the light and allowed me to begin my new mark in society, not on walls, but in the perpetual existence of life.

Other Works:

Confessions of a Teenage Tagger

The first time I ever tagged on public property I was hit up by a tagger who was on the same bus as I was. It was the second semester of 7th grade at Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park, California, which was about an hour-long bus ride from where I lived. I took the bus every day before and after school and never really thought about tagging it. I had seen taggers marking their crew on the windows of the bus using markers, blades, nails, sandpaper, glass heaters, and anything else that would leave a visible mark. I clearly remember using white out to write “Crazy” on the window, a nickname I randomly chose that went with my gothic look. It wasn’t all that nice-looking, nor did it resemble what I wrote, but it did stand out. As soon as I finished the last letter and sat back down, I heard a deep, hostile voice asking me, “What chu write!?” I wasn’t sure what I should answer since I didn’t understand the question, but I sure wasn’t going to look like no fool. “Nothing,” I answered. “Six-Nine Crew, homie, Sabek!” I just replied simply with, “Koo.” I had seen him before, but I never thought he was from a crew. Los Angeles is a very segregated city that has only two sides to it, the good and the bad. Sabek, from the crew SNC, and I came from the bad side of town, but we attended schools in the good side. I was never involved in any form of gang or crew. My parents had scared the hell out of me in that aspect. I was, however, a big trouble maker. The reason why I was attending Nimitz over the school in my immediate neighborhood was because I got kicked out of my home school, Edison Middle School.

I eventually befriended Sabek and spoke to him for nearly the entire semester. I remember that on one of our bus rides we tagged the entire back of the bus with sand paper; he wrote “SNC SABEK” and I wrote “Crazy.” It was the easiest way to scratch the plastic covering off the window quickly enough to not be seen by anyone. As we sat back down and acted as if nothing had happened, Sabek began to tell me how his Six-Nine Crew started. “I wanted to start a party crew, hence the Six-Nine,” he said. At the time “flyer parties” were a big hit in the underground scene. It was like being from a tagging crew except there is no tagging, only party-hosting at random houses or warehouses. These locations would charge an entry fee of $5 to $10 at the door. Beer, drugs, and nitrous gas were available to any minor with enough lunch money to buy it. This was what Sabek had planned when he first thought of the Six-Nine Crew, but it didn’t quite become a party crew. He recruited his cousin, school friends, and a girl called Pixie. The SNC began to tag, Sabek mainly, as an attempt to familiarize the Crew. It was a desperate move to get the Crew's name around and hence more people would attend their parties. It didn’t turn out that way for the Crew; all the tagging they did made them seem more like a tagging crew than a party crew. It was then decided that SNC would be a tagging crew. Sabek continued to tell me that they kept the same name and asked if I wanted to join his crew. I told him I would think about it and let him know the next day. That night I thought about it immensely. On one side I was concerned with joining a crew, especially one I didn’t know so well, but then again the thrill of it all was calling to me. The next day I met with Sabek at the same bus stop like always. He asked me again, “So what…? You wanna join?” I really didn’t think much as I responded, “Yeah, but will I have to be jumped in?” My biggest worry was fighting three to four guys at the same time for a few seconds in order to prove myself. I didn’t want to fight; I only wanted to tag.

I was very relieved when Sabek told me I didn’t need to be jumped in. “I’ve known you for quite some time to know that you’re down and that you’re not gonna bitch out," he said. At that moment I was filled with various feelings of fear, excitement, joy, anxiety, and of course a little bit of relief that I wasn’t jumped in. He then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to keep my nickname of “Crazy.” In my mind, I didn’t give a fuck about keeping the same nickname since I pretty much made it up on the spot the day we met…but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “I’ll get another nickname, but I really don’t know what to call myself,” I said. He suggested “Happy,” “Clever," “Da Shit," and “Me,” but I felt that none of these defined who I was as opposed to many, many stupid foos out there that call themselves ‘Psycho’ and ‘Killer’ who go to church every Sunday. I wanted to be called something that defined my personality. I was a happy rocker kid who was also taking Honors classes, so I decided to use my vocabulary and call myself "Optimistic."  Surprisingly, Sabek knew what the word meant. He wasn’t a dumb individual; on the contrary, he was very bright and attended a private Christian school. “That sounds cool, but will you be able to tag all of that quickly?” Sabek asked me. “I don’t know…let me give it a try,” I said. Using a blade I had previously taken from my father’s toolbox, I started to carve "Optimistic" on the metal strip that holds the bus window in place. Everyone was watching, and I didn’t care. I had just been admitted into the Six-Nine Crew, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to look like a little bitch. Sabek was right; taggers have to bear in mind that a nickname that can easily be written in seconds is to their benefit in not getting caught. By the time I finished writing the first “I," I started to shit bricks. I was sure that the bus driver was going to catch me. I then just added a “c” and a “k,” and "Optick" became my surrogate name.

High School was a whole different story. A year had passed since I joined SNC, and by now Sabek had changed his nickname to "Lopro," and I was also attending Bell High School. It wasn’t my home school, but my sister, who worked at Nimitz, my grades, and being an Honor student had a big influence on their acceptance of my enrollment. I won’t lie and say that I felt very excited to attend high school, since middle school taggers compared to high school taggers was a whole different ball game, plus being 5’ 5” didn’t help either. It worked to my advantage that I didn’t join a well-established tagging crew. Lopro had sold it to me so well that I really thought it was well known. It all made sense when the various people at Bell told me they had never heard of SNC because I had only met five out of the 30 I was told were supposedly in the Crew. Those five weren’t active members, or in other words, didn’t tag as much as Lopro and I. Finding myself alone, at a new school, that had never heard of Optick or Six-Nine, I began to tag the school at every location that was available to me. In the bathrooms, classrooms, on tables, chairs, in the gym, the Dean’s office, attendance office and even the school police office, you would see at least a small SNC written in any medium from chalk and ink to industrial chemicals. It was very easy for me to tag the school without getting caught because I would arrive at school early in the morning, since I was coming from the hood, and was able to mark my insignia everywhere I chose. Within a month of my freshman year at Bell, I had not only changed my “gothic” look but had also made the Crew known to the extent that people thought it was more than one member. I was alone. Lopro had graduated from his Catholic school, and I didn’t really see him since he lived about a 40-minute drive from where Bell was at and a 20-minute ride from where I lived…and at this time, all I had was a bus pass, so it would take three times as long. I began to make friends since I have an outgoing personality and recruited my first two members, Duce and Needles. We quickly began making a name for ourselves, and just like Great Britain hated on the colonies for taking away their territories in the new world, other crews began to hate on us for making our presence known in their "territory." WCS was our first tagging enemy. I never found out what WCS stood for, but I do remember we dissed them as weenychokers. Duce, Needles, and I began to recruit in order to put up a fight since WCS was a larger crew with over 50 members and allies. SNC began its recruiting with "Clumsy" and "Puppet," who were seniors, and then "Epic," "Chuko," "Spooks," "Guero," "Ram," "Brick," and many more.  Till’ this day I cannot explain how we were able to recruit over 60 members. Here I was, a freshman, who not only kicked it with the seniors, juniors, and sophomores, but also led them. It was very difficult to be the leader since they all looked up to me as crazy "Optick," and often asked for my advice on how to resolve problems. I still remember Duce telling me during the beginning of lunch that the weenychokers tried to jump him when he was going home. This was the first time I ever declared war on a group of people, and had the proper means to do so.

I had always believed in the gangster philosophy of "one crazy act and you’re labeled crazy," so I told Duce to wait for me while I went to go talk to the weenychokers. I walked away as my fellow crew members looked at me valiantly and respectfully because I was walking into the proverbial lion’s den. In reality, I was shitting bricks and hoping I wasn’t going to get my ass kicked by these weenychokers. I still remember as I broke through their lines and sat right next to their leader, Champs. The look on their faces was priceless. The look on my face was eternal. I never looked down, nor did I break eye contact with anyone while restraining the fear my fast-pacing heart was showing. I didn’t go up to the weenychokers because I was crazy; I did it because a large group of people bring attention, and I wasn’t going to get caught. I didn’t want to burn myself. I didn’t want them to know that I was from a tagging crew, oh hell no! My Salvadorean father would have beat my Honors ass straight into remedial classes, so I had to keep a low profile with administration. As I sat next to Champs, as his crew all looked at me with a "what the fuck is he doing here?" look on their faces, I turned to him and asked him, “So…we beefin’ it?” All I got as a response was, “Fuck Snacks!” I looked at him and smiled and said, “Okay, that’s cool,” as I stood up and walked away. When I got back to my homies, I only told them “We beefin’ it with the weenychokers. Trucha.” They asked me what had happened, but I did not give a proper response as I walked off to class. After school, I exited through a different gate because I had a feeling the weenychokers were going to jump me. As the bus turned the corner, I stared out the bus window and watched them wait for me at my usual exit. When I got home, I called Needles and asked him to tell Puppet, Clumsy, Epic, Guero, and Kiver to meet me after school by the front gates, and to take his father’s four walkie-talkies. Our technologically advanced group split up into groups of two and walked on opposite sides of the street. If you were seen in a larger group, you brought attention to yourself and would be more likely to get caught. We followed the weenychoker’s leader Champs home that afternoon. From a safe distance, we watched as one by one, Champs' friends started breaking off from the group as they reached their homes. The moment we noticed Champs was alone, we closed in and started to jump him. I have never kicked anybody as hard as I kicked him. I kind of felt sorry for him as he was laying down on the ground with a purple eye, a bloody nose, and a busted lip, yet this did not stop me from kicking him one last time and telling him, “Here is your snack, Bitch!” My group ran our separate ways as neighbors shouted to us that they were going to call the cops. Luckily, our mission was a full success. Not a single member that went with me got caught.

The next school day was spent mostly worrying about dropping my defense and getting the same treatment Champs got from my crew. I asked my entire crew, all of them, to meet after school, because there was a possibility that shit was going to go down. I was right. Fifteen weenychokers and over 40 of their allies were waiting for me at my usual exit. They couldn’t jump me at that moment as we were on school grounds, but they started to follow me as I walked a couple of blocks down to the meeting place. Unbeknownst to them, the Six-Niners were waiting for me. I fucked up, because as I reached them I lowered my defense, and two of the weenychokers rushed me and started socking me from behind as I fell to the floor. Covering my face, I could see my homies running to my aid and the two crews colliding like Alexander the Great and his army collided with the Persian Empire. I was desperately rooting for my homies to get to me first, and they did. I was able to stand up and throw and receive a few punches; it was an all-out brawl that lasted about two minutes. Flocks of students nearby ran to view the fight, which tipped off the police. Before I realized that I had a black eye, and many bruises on my body, I was running faster than Forrest Gump when he ran from that truck of hillbillies. I was able to get away, but a few of my homies were arrested and given tickets for fighting in public – nothing serious.

The next day, during third period, I was summoned by the school police officer and questioned about my involvement in the brawl. I denied all allegations and even gave them an alibi. During lunch the officer even went around campus asking different students what crews were involved in the fight. "The Man" was onto us, and we weren’t facing misdemeanors anymore; we were looking at assault and battery felonies. I decided to cut a deal with the weenychokers. I proposed that we stop all hostile attempts for the remainder of the semester or until "The Man" got off our backs. They agreed, and a truce was called. For the last few weeks of the school year, I tried to remain under the radar, but was constantly tempted by traps that were set up by the school officer in order to charge me with something. He clearly knew that I was Optick from the Six-Nine Crew and made it his personal vendetta to get me kicked out of Bell High. On the last week of school, I called up the members to take a group photo, so that I could show Lopro what I had only spoke to him about on the phone. While we were standing on top of the bleachers, the accumulated weight and pressure from all of us broke the bleacher while the school officer watched from a distance. Before I knew it, I was called into the school police office, but this time our stalker had a big smirk on his face as he handed me a three-hundred dollar bill and paper work to begin my opportunity transfer – basically a referral to another school. This law enforcer blatantly told me to “Go snack somewhere else, bitch."  I responded with a “Fuck you, Pig,” and I walked my ass out of his office and straight into the Dean’s office. I argued to remain at Bell until the week was over, since the school year was ending that same Friday, and it was granted. I had risen and fallen only to remain alone. A new school awaited me, and a new Optick was born.  I would soon join a gang.

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