Somebody’s Lil’ Homie
I represent my Varrio since I was young. Now that I’m up in my thirties I ask myself why I joined a gang. Honestly, in 5th grade I wanted to sign up for football but that probably wouldn’t have changed anything. Besides that, the equipment alone cost like three hundred dollars and my Mom had enough burdens. I made a better cholo than a jock anyway. My school’s teachers, DARE cops, and principal gave me the gang member label before I was one and it was easier to roll with it than to try and prove them wrong. By eleven years old I was steady smoking yeska, heavily drinking, and getting spooked out (huffing spray paint). I was throwing residentials (burglaries) and up to no good so perhaps it was inevitable I would find a place to belong. When I met with other traviesos at school we immediately clicked up. We became some down ass lil’ homies, then came respect from our peers (plus big homies got the beer). One day my juvenile parole officer forced a group of us lil’ parolees on a field trip to the local prison. We sat down while convicts scolded us for being thugs. One of the prisoners confronted me asking, “A’ lil’ homie, why are you in a gang?” I remember thinking about that question, then I told him, “‘Cause fuck it homes.”
My Varrio started in the 1980s. Continuing my last train of thought, I wonder why there was a gang. When I asked about the Varrio’s beginnings my big homies sometimes had different answers. In the most common story the police had beaten one of the homies which led to a riot in a small apartment complex. Everyone who rioted just kind of stuck together afterwards and then the lil’ homies piled up in the ranfla. Part of gang banging is feuding with rivals but I never asked about that part because it was obvious. Sometimes “why?” doesn’t occur to people. That was one of those things we only understand in the moment anyways.
One day my big homie stopped what he thought was about to be a drive-by shooting. A carload full of rivals pulled up in front of the homie’s house bumping, throwing bottles, and trying to lure us outside. There were kids in the house so my homie snuck out the back and approached their car from another direction. He shot over their roof in an attempt to get them gone (this was before Cypress Hill) but the stray bullet traveled into a bar, killing an innocent man. Albuquerque is about twenty miles away from where I grew up and my small town never got much attention from the city news, but after that we were on every channel, with reporters calling the shooting tragic and senseless. The homies were on the map now and there was a wave of sensationalism. My big homie got sent to the New Mexico Boy’s School for that, and a year later at the age of thirteen, I arrived for stealing a car, stupid kid shit. Twelve of us were there at the time and we weren’t bad kids, we were just dumb and poor so it was frustrating, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. We grew up around too much violence without much guidance and while we were up to no good, we weren’t trying to do bad. In my homie’s case the family of the victim understandably wanted justice and answers, and though I understand my homies and I were responsible for our actions, I also notice how the news parlayed those people’s grief into portraying us as “dangerous organized criminals.” More attention was directed to the sentiment of the question “why?” than to finding the answer, which was because my big homie tried to stop a drive-by. But only we know that.
Welfare families in my neighborhood are in constant need of outreach programs. It seems to me that a little money from the government with no other help can be almost as bad as nothing at all. We need outreach for single working mothers, young fathers, and especially for the kids raising themselves. The specifics are too complicated for me to work
out from a thousand miles away but basically my community needs to start loving herself and that’s hard to do when there’s no funds available for the programs poor people need.
Journalism and community activism should not be mutually exclusive pursuits. I know of many gangs that started during or resulting from an oppression, but few people know that. There needs to be more respectful journalism attempting to preserve all complexions of history. Many big stories have official versions that are inaccurate and at least incomplete, and demonizing people is tragic and senseless. My belief is that gangs are a symptom of the frustration that occurs when groups of people are denied meaningful access to the systems which govern their lives. But only we know that.
If you talk to someone like they already are the person who they have the potential to be, you help make that person. Knowing and remembering where you come from will lead you where you need to go.
Don’t worry about the crowd. Never gamble in a game that you can’t play.
Apparently the prison field trip didn’t work because I was a savage by the age of seventeen. Crack made its major debut in my Barrio about five years earlier and had changed life as we knew it. It could be said that my homies and I got away with a lot but it was more like we lived oblivious to the law. We did what we had to do because, chalk it up to the game, when the police hit us, they made examples out of anyone that didn’t get away. For instance, a house I was at got shot up and I was arrested. I had nothing to do with the shooting but I kept my mouth shut. The system made an example out of me because I didn’t snitch, so at seventeen my morals got me sent to the penitentiary back when prison was prison. In those times we had to fight for everything and be willing to die over bullshit. The previous owner of the cell I was housed in had been murdered a few days earlier. The vato had been a youngster like me and (from what I heard) he just didn’t keep his word, which is a common mistake amongst the d-home homies. One day a veterano overheard me giving my word over something small that I assumed was a done deal. Later on the O.G. caught me by myself and surprised me with some wise words, saying “Lil’ homie never obligate yourself, learn how to say ‘We’ll see what happens.’” Technically he should’ve been minding his own business but I’m glad he was ear hustling, because I took those words to heart and I’m sure they have saved my life several times. For all my good clecha I made other bad choices. Running around with the crowd, I did my first shot of heroin to celebrate my eighteenth birthday.
When juveniles get tried as adults I am aware of five possible outcomes:
- They get scared straight and turn their lives around.
- They take their own lives or get murdered.
- They get punked, turned out, and abused.
- They pick up more time, committing themselves to prison.
- They get released with PTSD and totally inappropriate ways and skills for the free world
One of those eventualities will happen and I have seen all of them take place many times (except the first one, I don’t think I’ve seen that happen once). I only hope judges believe they’re doing right by sending kids to prison. Either that or those judges just don’t care about the accused or the communities those people will be released to.
When it was my time to go home the state provided my customary fifty dollar gate money. My children needed supporting and I had absolutely no job skills. Back with my existing homies I was a little bit meaner, a demeanor which helped me jump right back into the dope game. Heroin was a jail thing which I left at the prison gates but the streets wanted yeyo and for me that was no sweat. I can’t tell you about cutting open a brick with a switchblade or being handcuffed to a briefcase. I can only tell you about flipping dubs to ounces, quarters, and halveses, pregnant teenagers selling their asses. Smokers rolling up in motorized wheelchairs on the first and fifteenth, type of shit that I’ve seen, how baking soda and baking powder ain’t the same thing. In my fleeting glimpse of the free world these are the dope game’s disgusting mid-level politics and I observed them.
Because I was moving up the food chain I could finally support my family. Combining my income, baby mama’s job, and welfare we weren’t actually living the American Dream but we were comfortable. Within my Varrio my generation was known as the Pee Wees, but the new homies called themselves Youngsters. Sometimes my lil’ homies would come by and kick it at my house. One time two Youngsters were playing around pointing their cuetes at each other so I kicked everybody out. Being that there was already tension in my neighborhood due to other things I paused to consider how easily that situation might’ve led to a misunderstanding. Either way I didn’t have or want to get a gun. Fortunately, I had the advantage that nobody knew what I had or didn’t have.
Being a down homie doesn’t automatically make you a career criminal. But for those of you who have really lived the crazy life, changing your ways can be a dangerous process. The transition requires awareness, still, that shouldn’t become an excuse to continue doing wrong. At twenty-three I had been rapping here and there for twelve years; it was the closest thing I had to a work skill and what I wanted to try and do with my life. It seemed to me like a better idea to try and get paid for looking like a gangster than to risk everything actually being one. With that determination I got rid of everything and just got off the food chain altogether.
Many homies want to change for the better but don’t know how. The not knowing part can be frustrating enough to stop your progress one way or the other. I had a reputation for doing wrong but that was a very long time ago. Since I’ve been away many elements of the game have changed but these are fundamental Xs and Os. I’m not preaching–this is just real talk:
- When you have to stop selling dope: If you’re the sole provider for your household this matter can be complicated. People with safety nets tend to criticize those with hunger pains. I’m just a penitentiary vato but you still ought to listen to this: You don’t want to mix your life-life with your hustle (if this is even a possibility for you) but network and make connections. While you’re still in the game don’t spend much money on things that can’t be sold later. Buy things with which you can at least get most of your money back if it comes to that (not sneakers or car accessories). Be your own worker, never owe, and don’t fall into the habit of getting fronted. Many homies can’t afford to listen to their own instincts because of debt. They can’t quit slanging when they know they need to and that’s how most jail stories start.
- When you can’t be strapped: There’s too much insanity for advice to help much but use your common sense. Try to reach a point in your life where you’re not in direct conflict with anybody. Don’t let people know your business but remember that because of what people assume, you’re a target now. Make a serious effort to be aware of your surroundings and don’t be hanging out or going places you don’t need to be. When you’re going spot to spot for casual sex or looking for the party that’s when you’ll get got. Watch your mouth, don’t be gossiping, even if you think you’re just “calling it how you see it.” Watch your temper. Don’t be politicking or trying to force homies to do your thing. If you’re truchas, this way of life won’t be much of an adjustment. There are a lot of little problems that could escalate but if you’re in the right you should weather the storm. These were reasons people got blasted when they could’ve avoided the problem. Don’t psych yourself out that something’s gonna happen; it doesn’t, and then you shoot your cousin.
When I grew up, the crazy life and the hustle didn’t feel like much of a decision. Most of the real lokos I’ve known grew into their ways and identities as a reaction to preexisting conditions. For example, we didn’t bring the guns, substance abuse, or the poverty—we just dealt with it. We suffered together and shared what we had but after we started equating our self-worth with our hustle skills we thought we were too chingón. The Varrio went from a sanctuary for lost souls to an association of common interests. Homie love is love albeit conditional. Now that the big homies had SUVs dragging jet skis, being down wasn’t all that mattered. Now the homies were exclusive in our own way and not every homie was included. I’ve spent much of my own life vividly aware of everything I couldn’t be but this twist of fate felt wrong. Some people didn’t like our new standing and wanted to change us—but they had a battle, because it wasn’t what we did, it was who we were. So there was no choice.
My homies made this fatal mistake: We elevated ourselves in the dope game by oppressing our people. Not just our people but homies and many times family. Yeah, they chose to get high but we went past survival and got greedy. As a people, homies need to seek out the “get down first” mentality (in all its manifestations) and cut it off at the root. I said “get down first,” and although selling dope is in no way snitch related, I fed poison to my own people.
Voting is not a requirement for welfare, so most homies can’t vote and the rest don’t. Nevertheless, many homies see themselves as Second Amendment advocates (gun people). Homies need to recognize that the gun rights conversation has nothing to do with us because we lost our Constitutional rights before we knew what to do with them. Too bad homies don’t talk about Constitutional rights until we’re in prison, ¿qué no?
Being broke is dangerous. All of the homies need to understand the importance of financial literacy. Our lives would be so much better if we weren’t often desperate to make ends meet. We rarely stumble upon good fortune and sometimes we mismanage that which comes our way, just because we don’t know what to do with it.
Don’t play with guns.
El hambre está cábron.
At twenty four years old I was a full-time college student with a 3.5 GPA. I’ve never spent a day in high school so those grades were hard work for me. My music career was starting out well; I was recording in several studios back when people didn’t have Protools or Frootloops. The relatively cheap technology that lets everyone be a rapper hadn’t been invented yet. I had also just recorded a video with Baby Bash and Chingo Bling. It was on their DVD but it was my song. I separated with the mother of my children because we grew apart but I was still very much in our kids lives and our daughter was about to turn one in sixteen days. All things considered my life was approaching stability.
It’s important to practice what you preach and I try but everybody slips. One night I went somewhere I didn’t need to be and was unaware of my surroundings. My new girlfriend and I had gone out with two other couples. At the beginning of the night one of my homeboys left so we were a group of five (two guys and three girls). We went to this packed bar where unbeknownst to us was a group of drunk off-duty police and corrections officers. My homeboy and I were all tacked down with cuffs and creases so that other group easily identified us but we didn’t know who they were. Before long one of the COs disrespected my homegirl. From what I learned later the vato got in her face talking vulgar shit so my homeboy dropped that fool. The whole other group then attacked my homeboy as the bouncers threw him outside.
From the other end of the bar I noticed what was going on and I headed outside with the homegirls behind me. We left the building and I pulled my homie out of a fight that he wasn’t trying to back out of. Reluctantly he went with the homegirls and me to the isolated spot (about eight car lengths away from the exit) where we had parked. We got in the car, shut the doors, and were trying to find the keys (I had a ’91 Lincoln Towncar with keyless entry). We all felt the car shake as some fool attacked us. My homeboy got out and rushed him because that dude was fucking up my car. My homeboy could get ‘em up too, but this vato wasn’t just a street fighter. In a few moments he had the best of my homeboy while the others helped. I had no idea who these people were but they were jumping my friend while another guarded the fight.
Now I know that two police officers were beating my homie while a prison guard kept point. It became an emergency situation because my homie was pinned while this big vato put his weight on my homie’s throat. I could see the signs that my friend was getting strangled in his eyes and his legs stopped kicking. This big vato (the one who attacked my car earlier) was about to crush my homie’s throat. I wasn’t just watching, I was trying to get around or through the guy guarding the fight (come to find out, he was the head of cell extraction at a local prison) but he body slammed me to the concrete. He tried to get me in a hold but I ran away and around to get in from another angle. One of my homegirls ran up beside me and passed me this little gun. Everyone there could see my homeboy’s life was in jeopardy so that was not an odd or malicious thing for her to do. No one was going to take that gun from me.
Cuete in hand, I got everyone off of my homeboy without busting a shot. My homie came to his senses and I helped him up. As we backed away, them vatos kept following us. I cocked the gun and even asked them to let us go, which must have seemed like
weakness based on what happened next. The big vato asked me if I knew who I was fucking with and drug his foot against the ground mockingly, like to imitate a bull or something. Then he charged me. The expression “my mind went blank” is exactly what happened, but from security video footage I know his hand was inches from the barrel before the first shot landed. That drunk man died in the commission of a violent felony which he was given every opportunity to walk away from. He was awarded an inscription on a Washington D.C. wall that commemorates police officers who died in the line of duty.
The next day I found out a lot of things. Because of the circumstances I wanted to turn myself in, but as I’m sure you can imagine, I had a lot on my mind. After all that pedo had jumped off I fled the scene. Someone called me later that day and told me to turn on the TV. An APD spokesperson went on to say I was the “gang member suspect to be considered armed and extremely dangerous, and we just don’t know how this is gonna end.” Those words hung in the air and I honestly expected to be killed soon. The cops knew me and my homies so every house we were associated with (except the house I was at) got raided. There were like thirty houses that got hit, but only two or three search warrants were issued. If probation/parole has an address on file (for anybody) they can raid with law enforcement at any time, looking for any suspect without a warrant. I was arrested several days later because someone turned me in for the reward.
Back in the county jail I tried to read every boring law book available. The local news ran my name through the mud and they were talking about the death penalty. Taking my studies very seriously, I soon learned that the facts of my case did not support first or second degree murder and were a perfect self-defense/defense-of-others situation. There was a shit load of evidence to show great bodily harm against my homie. The whole thing was caught on video, and we were retreating from the attack. The facts of my case were all there and most of the laws I broke were incidental to me being the victim of a crime. My court appointed attorney started talking about plea bargains de voladas or “anything to avoid the death penalty.” He ignored every urgent request and piece of information I told him about in my letters. The same thing happened with the two phone calls I had with him and messages I passed along through my mother during my first six months or so (fighting a capital murder case!). He allowed the prosecution to destroy, disregard, or tamper with all of my exculpatory evidence. Plea bargaining wasn’t an option in my mind. The truth was totally on my side so I wanted to go to trial. My poor mom tried to retain a private attorney for my case but the ones who would talk to us wanted six digits to start’ she couldn’t do that. Even if that had been within her means, this was my fight. I didn’t know the law but after my studies I knew my case had merit even if my lawyer didn’t (have merit).
Finally I spoke to my attorney in person. I tried to explain what I felt were the determinable elements of my case. He got a kick out of my incorrect use of the word “detrimental” (to his credit, I won’t do that again) and went on to advise me that he didn’t need a “lowrider mustache” explaining the law to him. I asked him if he was fucking serious and he responded, “yeah, and try not to look at the jury like that.” When I got back to my cell, I wrote to my judge asking for permission to fire my attorney which the court denied. When my trial came to pass, it took a few hours for the jury to find me guilty of first degree murder, willful and deliberate intent with malice aforethought.
Looking back, I probably should’ve stood up and loudly fired my lawyer in court. The fact would be reflected on record even if I couldn’t fire him. That can be important if you lose in trial and have to appeal.
If you ever need to fight a legal battle and the whole system is throwing fouls, don’t get mad or take things personally. Being upset is a good way to get blind to the facts and hurt yourself.
During my stay in county I eventually put down the law books and picked up old habits. Doing my time like a dopefiend wasn’t the plan but I was depressed and getting high was a way of being free. Post-conviction I went to a level six supermax for two years then I was released to a level three medium security prison. Most of my old friends from within the system were either dead by now or still doing time. The pinta culture I grew up around was fading fast, solidarity was gone, and most of the principles I respect had fallen out of favor. The big homies had their flaws but the alternative wasn’t my style at all. Keeping to myself, I concentrated on becoming a degenerate tecato. Sometimes I did fairly well, drug-wise, other times I was standing in the ay te llevo line or beating the hepatitis out of dirty cottons. My reality check came in the form of a near death experience that was unrelated to my drug problem. In just a couple weeks I did the better half of a quarter ounce (which was a lot for me). Another homie and I got caught slipping, my boy got twenty seven staples in his head and I was airlifted to the hospital where I flat-lined twice. Almost, nuh! When I got up five days later the smell of heroin was still coming out of my pores. Sleeping through my lil’ malias wasn’t the only blessing because it was at that moment I stopped taking life for granted.
My homie (the codefendant in that bar fight) picked up eleven years with some time suspended. He was the first vato I knew to pick up time for attempting to get murdered. After about three years my homie was released but never forgot about me or left me flojas. With nowhere near enough money to hire a lawyer, I was basically panhandling for legal services. Limited help from three law offices, a couple jail house lawyers, and my mom got me to where I was able to file my state appeal as my own attorney (pro-se). During this time my homie and I were trying to scrape together some money for a real lawyer. Barrio people are ghetto too so our first undertaking was a small record label. We knew a bunch of aspiring rapper homies and one of them made beats with his own studio equipment. They would even record me over the phone so I could get on there. We pooled our resources and got CDs and T-shirts pressed up to sell. We weren’t burning anybody but we didn’t really spend any of our own money to start with. Albuquerque’s main R&B station used to play a song for us. The song belongs to another homie, who had his people re-do it to include my story. That was firm. Real
recognize real. The song is called “Close My Eyes” by Juan Gambino (featuring O.G. Kid Frost, David Wade, and Don Cisco). My homie and I were making some progress but it was chopped & screwed up with much opposition.
One night I talked to my homeboy and for once it wasn’t about music, t-shirts, or legal stuff. We just threw some firme royo which we hadn’t done in a long time. The next day he relapsed, overdosed and died. Not long after that I found my underground notoriety (limited as it was) had one true fan. There was this girl who had been supporting everything the homie and I had done from her town up north. She bought all our music and hadn’t hooked up with my boys although she had been to all their shows. She found my address on myspace and after writing for a while we did the distant lovers thing. Although she really wanted to support my music, my record label had evaporated since my homie died. We got engaged to be married and she was encouraging me to resurrect that dead little record label. That funny, beautiful, amazing girl I met under terrible circumstances had her own problems too. Before our big day, she overdosed, her prima couldn’t bring her back, and so my girlfriend died also.
Que agüite about my people, right? I understood that the choices they made took their own lives and that I am ultimately responsible for my own decisions and reactions. But tragedies like the ones I shared with you happened in such a way that illustrated my point. Just counting ODs I’ve personally lost over twenty close friends since I’ve been locked up. All over New Mexico it’s the same song.
One more thing: Naloxone is called narcan and it’s a little nose spray that’s prescription but isn’t hard to get. New Mexico has the most lenient Naloxene laws in this country. The government can work. Hopefully you already know about that and keep it around, but I always see parole violators who don’t know enough about that stuff. When a person overdoses on heroin or other opiates and they get a quick snort of narcan, it brings them back most of the time. I’m sure it would be suspicious to carry it on you and would get your car torn apart in a traffic stop, but narcan isn’t a controlled substance. It won’t help you if you’re a culón who wants to go fix all alone. My generation of homies is practically gone and heroin is largely responsible. Heroin isn’t even that good and it breaks people down. The lil’ homies shouldn’t have to go through that.
Don’t ever try to quit anything, tie up your nuts (or fallopians) and just quit. Don’t flip your last re-up, do your last wake up, or go on your last drunk, etc. Your survival instincts are talking to you for a reason so listen, because sometimes tomorrow never comes.
Someone once told me to stop feeling guilty because there wasn’t anything I could’ve said or done to stop my people from using. I could encourage them to get there. I could be down for them when they get there, but all of us need to get there on our own.
For the most part, these stories were not tales of woe to elicit sympathy or war stories to claim bragging rights. I’m the big homie now so it’s not about saving face, it’s just owning the wreckage of my fucked-up life out of respect to the greater good. I called attention to problems bigger than my own. These are civil rights issues worth staying out of prison to get right and keeping your head right to see through. Too many vatos do TV interviews to glorify their criminal pasts and “American Me” aspirations to the detriment of an impressionable mind. My past only has value in relation to how it helps somebody’s lil’ homie.
There was never rehabilitation but there is always redemption.
No hay mal que por bien no venga.
Don’t be the agents of your own oppression!