I have no problem admitting that my gangster mentality stemmed from a false self-perception and lack of self-love to all the various gang members I’ve had as cellmates. When I discuss how I’ve refused to entertain those negative thought patterns to Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords that I’ve bunked with, most couldn’t imagine changing their lives being apart from their gang.
This was especially true for a 24-year-old Crip, from Long Island named Esco. Short, stocky, half black and half Puerto Rican with an innocent looking baby face that has fooled plenty of people when put to the test. He claimed to love the gang life. He swore he knew it all, talking me to death with his gang mentality from which he perceived the world.
Every day at 3:30 p.m. as soon as the cell door locked for the count, Esco would sit up from the top bunk, where he’d spend most of the day and start to talk.
“Eddie, these guys always come to you for advice. What they can’t think on their own?”
“Actually, for a lot of us, thinking on our own is what we’re learning to do.”
“You’re learning to think on your own? Who don’t know how to do that?”
“You’d be surprised, Esco. When you don’t know who you really are, you live according to the authority of others.” I laughed thinking about my own past identify crisis. “You of all people should know that.”
“Why should I know?”
“Because you’re a Crip and have to follow whatever your OG says,” I answered.
He climbed down the latter at the end of the bed, ready to debate. “Everybody falls under the authority of somebody. You follow the authority of these CO’s when they tell you to stand for the count,” he fired back.
“They don’t have to tell me to stand for count.”
“That’s because you’re already standing.”
“Exactly, under my own authority,” I said laying back on my bed with my hands behind my head, cradled by my pillow.
“Aren’t your followers under your authority?”
“Yeah, Twin, Paradise, O, Tone, Javi and all those guys in and out of here all day asking you what to do, how to do it, and they listen because you think you’re smart from reading all those books.”
“It’s not that I think I’m smart, they trust me to give them positive advice.”
“Why don’t they ask me?” he wondered pulling his chair up along the side of my bed.
“Probably because we view things from a different perspective.”
“Esco, you’re still relatively young, trying to prove yourself in an attempt to figure out who you are.”
“Prove myself! I know how I give it up!! Ask about me! My name rings bells out in the streets!”
“I never heard of you!” I said shaking my head flashing a grin.
“That’s because you been locked up for so long! Call out on the streets and you’ll see. I bang! It’s what I do!”
“But what does it get you?”
Squinting my eyebrows together I asked, “Banging gets you respect? What are you banging for?” sitting up from my laid back position, giving him my full attention.
“For my set, my block! It’s what I do! I wasn’t a pretty boy, getting money type like you Eddie. They call it gang banging because I bang!” he emphasized all hyped up, pounding his fist in his chest like a silverback gorilla.
“And all that banging is causing you those problems out in the streets.”
“What problems? I’m good in my hood.”
“Esco, you sit here every night and day telling me your war stories against the Latin Kings and the Bloods.”
“Cause I give it up on those mother fuckers!”
“And they give it up on you! The Bloods ran up on your girlfriend’s car and shot you in the leg. The Latin Kings, shot up your baby mother’s house, thinking you were there. Your son could have got hit.”
“That’s because they’re scared of me and know I’m a threat!” He defended, raising up out of his chair, walking over to the cell door to stare at himself in the six magnetic mirrors I have on the door.
“Who’s scared of you?”
“They’re all scared of me!” he said, looking back over his shoulder, nodding his head.
“They’re not scared of you, simply because they’re banging on you and although you’ve gotten away, they killed your cousin Russ on his 21st birthday.”
“That wasn’t my fault!”
“I’m not saying it’s your fault, Esco. It’s a consequence of the lifestyle you’re choosing to live.”
“But he wasn’t banging, he was just with me all the time.”
“And somebody banged on him, for what?? Your set? The block? Does it mean that much?” I asked, leaving him silent for a few seconds, which is a difficult thing to do.