The Middle (kind of a museum) began with a desire to reach out to others, to collect stories that were similar to my own: sourced from significant memories of objects and relationships with buildings or institutions. In exchange for these narratives, I revealed a story of my own and each of these points of empathy through conversation are contained safely in a golden suitcase that I affectionately call: The Middle.
Tell me about the object…
Two Watches and a Handful of Tunes (09.24.13, Union Station)
The Music Box (09.30.2013, driving on the 134 West, Los Angeles)
The Little Bird (09.30.2013, Figaro, Los Angeles)
The Hollywood Wax Museum And The Flawed Ashtray (09.30.2013, Next Door to the Souvenir Shop, Los Angeles)
Tell me about the institution…
1951: Everyone told my mom that my brother, Roger, would be better off at one of those state facilities because he would go to school and learn. Roger was born with Downs Syndrome and he was eleven when she finally decided folks were right—that he would be better off. The closest facility to us was in Spadra, near Pomona, and one summer day someone drove us all out there to take Roger to his new home. I was ten and it was a long, hot drive to Spadra. All I remember were acres and acres of buildings that all looked alike—two story boxes, each with a wire fence around an asphalt play yard. We drove until we found the building number that the office gave us. As we walked up to the gate Roger pointed to some boys playing and said, “Look at those boys—they look just like me!” We went in and got the tour; large cafeteria style dining room, a sort of play room, and long halls with doors every few feet that all looked the same. The play yard had a covered area with picnic tables and open areas for playing ball or whatever. Many of the boys were standing near the fence, just looking out. I don’t remember much after that probably because it was sad leaving Roger and my mom probably cried and the ride home was probably quiet.
After a couple of months we got to go visit Roger. They wouldn’t let us see him at first so that he would get used to the place. Again, I remember the extreme heat out there. Roger was overjoyed to see us and he seemed happy. He had a job, that of keeping the dining room clean and shiny, and he took his work seriously, wiping up every crumb. After we had been there awhile I asked my mom if I could walk around the grounds.
I walked up the road, staying in the shade, and peered through the fence at each little compound. I couldn’t believe that the buildings all looked alike. Why? As I walked I realized the children in each building were grouped by age group and gender. When I got to the building that housed two and three year old girls I planted myself to sit and watch them, as I was partial to little girls. They were playing in the shade because of the intense heat and some were whining. Finally a woman came out and called to the girls to come in. I had noticed a little girl lying near the fence under some equipment and crying, and when the other girls went inside she didn’t move. She continued to cry softly, sweat glistening on her forehead, her face was red. I waited for someone to come out and look for her. Was there a head count? Didn’t someone hear her crying? Didn’t someone miss her? I moved closer to her and told her it would be okay. Would it?
After what seemed an eternity I got up and walked back to Roger’s building. She was still there and still crying. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t tell anyone. I was ten.
Two years later Spadra State Hospital was closed down due to overwhelming claims of abuse and neglect. Roger was sent home. Eventually all California State facilities for the mentally ill were closed.
I never forgot the little girl and I wondered if she died out there in the heat that day. I wondered why a two or three year old was there and not with her mother. I hoped the woman came and got her after I left, but I knew in my heart her cry couldn’t be taken away by that woman or that place.
WORK: It is weird and presumptuous and wrong feeling to talk about employment, especially good employment, stemming from accident of birth and privilege and random luck, as being in any way comparable to institutionalization, to confinement, to loss of freedom, to depersonalization. There are no horrors in this. I have not been strapped to a bed for 72 hours, deprived of food and water and medication. I have not been forced into unending rounds of therapy that served only to worsen my condition. I have not been misdiagnosed and over-medicated. I have not bounced from hospital to jail to hospital to jail to funeral home. I have friends who have and this feels like an insult to them.
Since college, I have been lucky, very lucky. My brain understands computers and databases and coding and people wish to give me money in exchange for what my brain can do. I never intended to go down this path. I studied philosophy until I left school. I wrote. I was in bands. I did things that I thought added a veneer of beauty to the world, things that were in no way essential to the functioning of life, but which made life more interesting, even if only in a very small way. But I know how to manipulate 1s and 0s and make them dance and I took the easy way out. I began to build a structure about myself – a framework on which the bits and pieces of my life were hung – and the structure was a spiral that went either up or down.
To work you need clothes and to work far away you need a car and to communicate with work you need a phone and then a computer and then a nicer phone and then there are things which aren’t even remotely needed but you work hard so you shouldn’t have to come home to a one room apartment and you’re not writing so you need to do something so there’s always alcohol or a TV or the two in combination or some other array of distractions and then therapy to understand why a comfortable life where things are easier than they are for 99.9% of the world is so fucking empty.
All these things become a hard crystal structure that surrounds you and all you can think about is how brittle it is and how easily it can shatter and then what would be left? And god fucking forbid that you shatter it yourself.
Privilege and luck and inertia and here I am, sitting in a golden cage that I’ve built, whining that I can’t force myself to break the bars and do something that matters. It is a stupid institution, this thing that I’ve built. And I have lived here for a very long time.
PRISON: Incarceration really begins the moment you’re put into a police car and the door slams SHUT. The sound of losing your freedom. And even then while you’re in the back of the car handcuffed, with the door open and as they close it, their is still a slight chance that you might be let free. I mean the car is still here, we haven’t left. You see the cops checking their computer and shit, talking amongst each other and you think just maybe, just maybe by some miracle, they’ll let me go. But then both officers get in the car, one puts the car into drive, the police car begins to move, and you realize that you’re going to jail.
I won’t get into the details of what happened before I and two of my other homeboys got arrested, because at that point, I guess we are still free. I guess the true experience is once you are behind walls, in a detention vehicle, or in a place, building, where free life is continuing outside that place.
So me and my other homeboy get to the police station. 3 of us got arrested and one of my other homeboys was already there. We come in and say “What’s up” to “Boy”. The tank (tank is a term used for holding cell ) has a mesh like window and Boy is holding on to it facing us outside the tank and showing the gang members and other people inside the tattoo on the back of his head. It’s the letters that represent the gang we are from. This and the fact that two more of us get there means something to the guys inside the tank with Boy.
We are part of a gang that is considered a Green Light gang. That means that we automatically don’t get along with any other gang, no matter where you are from. So, when anybody from our gang goes to jail, we have problems. All the other gang members are supposed to try and fuck you up, kill you or just plain harm you in some way, so you better be ready to fight. Those are the rules, plain and simple.
So back to the police station. So when we said “What’s up” to my friend, that’s when one of the guys inside the tank got a little nervous. I remember seeing him. He started looking back and forth at my friend in the cell with him and at us outside. He knew he had to do something. I guess he was trying to decide whether to wait for us to be put in the cell with them which would have meant 3 against 5, cuz I think there were about 5 other guys inside, or 5 against 1, and they just beat the shit out of my friend. Well they didn’t wait for us and fucked up my friend. Those are the rules, that’s the game. We weren’t even in county jail yet.
We finally end up in County Jail. During this time, County Jail is not supposed to be that bad for us. We are not put into general population like the rest. The county doesn’t want to be responsible or deal with people fucking us up, or our problems, so they separate people from our gang and put us in one-man cells. So we are locked up with other gang members from the same gang, so many of us know each other.
Let me explain the gang network. The gang I was from is family of about 15 different gangs that have the same last name, but a different first name. The same last name kind of unites us, but the first name identifies you with a different gang. So it is possible for you not to get along with a gang from the same family. Lets say, Carlos Martinez makes up one gang and Javier Martinez makes up another gang. At one point in time, it was just the Martinez gang, but eventually the gang got big and started breaking off into smaller gangs with the same last name. This was our new problem.
Even while we were separated from all the other gangs that are supposed to give us shit, we have our own problems. When we got to county, one of my homeboys sees another guy from one of the family gangs, remember, same last name, different first name, so in essence, different gang. We don’t get along in the streets. so he just starts fucking this guy up. That’s the game, those are the rules. Now the fun begins.
We are all going to the same place, the section of the jail where the keep all the members of the gangs with the same last name together. But because of what my homeboy, did now there’s conflict. One morning, while my friend that started shit and my other homeboy that had gotten jumped at the police station were going to court, they got beat up by the other gang members that were from the same gang as the guy my friend beat up. Our row of cells occupied two rows. they pull us out from our side first then, take us to the other side, while they pull out whoever else is going to court from that side. This was the other gangs chance. Some one had given them some kind of key to unlock their chains and handcuffs.
When you are taken to court or being led anywhere in the facilities, your are strapped with hand cuffs, and a chain that goes around your waist, and your handcuffs are locked to the chain around your waist so you can’t do anything with your hands, unless you have that damn key, then you can unlock yourself, take that shit off and fuck someone up with that that chain, and that’s what those guy did to get back at my homeboys. You have time to do that because when the cops are pulling you out, they come in, shackle you up, leave you in the corridor of cells, walk back out, and lock the door, so there is some time before the cops come back in and stop everything.
The only thing we heard were chains, a lot of commotion and the cops yelling and trying to stop what was happening. When my friends came back at the end of the day, they had welts, cuts and bruises. Yeah, it was getting kind of scary. I had to fight one of my own homeboys. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten jumped into the gang properly, so I was asked to fight him one on one. We did, I wasn’t a big fighter, and so it was a pretty weak fight. He was a friend of mine, so he just shrugged it off in the end. Those are things u just have to do when your part of the gang. I didn’t want ot fight him, I was nervous, but you gotta do it. We ended up kicking his ass again. He was just young, didn’t take things too seriously, at least the gang life.
One night someone made pruno, a kind of wine. We drank it, he got kind of buzzed and was just talking a little too loud and was yelling things out from his cell.
As crazy as it is, gangs have a kind of code of conduct or a way of how you should carry yourself, I’m not going to get into it, but he was just kind of making a fool of himself which meant he was making the gang look bad. So again, I was asked along with one of my other homeboys to walk into his cell and beat his ass. They let us out for showers one day, me and my other friend walked into his cell and started to beat him up. We were in there for a few minutes and then walked out. The reason why I was being asked to do these things is because; some of my other older homeboys knew that I hadn’t been through a lot of jail warfare. So they wanted me to prove myself, and they knew that because of my charges I was probably going to prison, where there is no separation of gangs, and I should be ready to fight there. They were getting me ready.
Another time I was going to court, same thing, shackled up, with a different one of my homeboys. They are about to put us in a holding cell with some of the gang members with the same last name that we don’t get along with and as soon as they open the door, a chain comes swinging out and hits my homeboy that was in front of me on the head. They take a few more swings before the cops could close the door. All this fucken shit is happening with the cops escorting us, right by our fucken side. Man. I didn’t get hit, but I felt bad for my friend. He was bleeding. This is all happening within a 2-week period at county jail. That’s how long I was there before I got shipped off to prison.
Judgment day comes and I finally get shipped off to prison. Delano California.
Wish it would have been under different circumstances. You think of all the prison movies, American Me, Blood in, Blood out, and shit man, I was fucken scared. I thought I was going to end up being stabbed. Like I said, we don’t get along with anyone. Turns out, that all that green light bullshit is in the past… Kind of.
When I get to the prison, you get checked out, I’m being really quiet, don’t really talk to anyone, which is really not good. You start to attract attention by separating yourself. Other gang members start staring at you like “What’s up with that fool?” Cuz they start trying to talk to you, but you don’t really continue the conversation because, fuck, we’re enemy in a way, I’m not suppose to like you or any other person here that is not from my family of gangs. It’s fucken weird. So I’m nervous, cuz a lot of these gang members are true warriors, some could probably kill you with their bare hands. Fuck.
Before I get there, an older homeboy of mine tells me, “Look, that green light shit, is off, BUT, we still aren’t or claim the Southside. So you can talk to ”them” just don’t do anything for them. Like if they ask you to fuck someone up, or hold something, don’t do it. If you need anything, ask someone else from out gang. If nobody else from our family of gangs is there, then you ask a “paisa”. They are watching us.” A “paisa” is any other person of mexican, central, or southern American descent that doesn’t belong to a gang. At this point, all this shit is getting way too fucken serious for me, scary, fucken twisted, wierd and confusing.
I just want to go home. I’d rather be doing anything or be anywhere else but this fucken place. Fucken SUCKS! I’d rather be home fucken listening to my mom bitch at stupid bullshit or be working at McDonalds man, FUCK THIS SHIT! Anyplace is lmost better than this place. Then, there are no fucken girls man here! Fuck! LOL
So, now I’m in Prison, and guess what, they are playing that green light shit here.
How do I know, cuz me and a few other guys from the gang with the same last name are all in a two story dorm room with Northerners. Northerners are gang members from Northern California. Green light gang members, any kind of Southern Californian gang member does not get along with Northern gang members period! The thing about stupid prison life, is that the rules change from yard, to prison. It’s fucken whack.
But whatever, so now we are housed with Northern gang members and there is a mutual understanding here that everyone is to keep the peace. So there are no conflicts, we just don’t talk to them, they don’t talk to us. Anyways, we are only about 8, and they control the dorm. They outnumbered us by about 32. Everything in prison can be cause for a fight. You passed by someone and didn’t say excuse me. That’s it man, that dude feels disrespected and now he’s upset. If he wants to he can start a fight with you, and you better fight. If not, you’re weak. The worst thing about prison, is not getting your ass kicked, It’s being a coward. Why? Because if you’re in prison, it’s probably because you thought you were some bad ass out on the streets.
Prison is where the real hardcore criminals live, so if you come here and all of a sudden want to be nice guy, well, it doesn’t work that way. People will figure you out, test you, and let you know that you are a bitch, and that’s the worst, you knowing that you are a bitch. People will stare at you day in, day out, smirking, disrespecting you, taking your things, just driving in the fact that you’re worthless. It’s mental torture. You can’t escape it. You can’t say “Fuck this shit, I’m going home or to my cousins house, or to the park” You can go to you bunk, but you’re still in the same building with these people that are just staring at you.
It’s crazy I went to school and graduated, and was in many subjects a top or above average student. So, I could reason with people and talk things through, but in here, that shit doesn’t exist. It’s the gang mentality and that’s it. You see people in here that have been in and out of jail their whole lives, since they were kids. They don’t reason or understand anything else but the gang mentality. It’s crazy, cuz you can see those people staring at other potential victims trying to figure out how to take advantage of them or just plain fuck with them. They have nothing better to do! It’s insane. It’s pretty disgusting.
You start talking to people that have this twisted way of thinking, and I use to think to myself, “Wow, there is no hope for you. You will never be able to have a normal relationship or live a normal life. You really and truly believe in the way you think. It’s normal for you. Like damn, I hope they never let you out!” That really scared me.
Truly dangerous people.
All in all, the prison experience sucks. You meet a lot of twisted people. You have to conform to that way of life. You really have no choice, I mean I guess you do, get in line, or get hurt. So it really does a number on you. Like I said, I had to kind of get along with people, but keep my distance.
So from Delano, I got sent to small low security prison, still in Delano. The big guys call it Disneyland, because it’s supposedly not as serious as the bigger maximum security prisons, but before I got there, they had just stabbed some Northern gang members eyes out. Sounds pretty fucken serious to me. At this prison, the Southern gang members outnumbered the Northern gang members by about 8 to 1.
Whenever you come into a prison or jail as new inmate, other gang members will greet you. They will ask you if you need anything, where are you from, which gang, shit like that. What they eventually really want to know is “why” you are here. Like what kind of offense do you have? It’s important, if you are a child molester, or in for beating children or rape, they want you out of there. Any other criminal activity is pretty much acceptable, Crazy shit man.
So I was okay, all my charges were gun charges. Gang banging charges, so I’m cool. My problem was getting along with these fuckers. There’s always one guy or a few guys that are like the head honchos right. And it’s weird, cuz every now and then you’d get a new inmate, that is bigger, has more status than the guys already there, and you have to explain yourself again. By explaining myself, I mean, they want to know where I stand as a gang member, cuz I’m from a green light gang, remember. Technicalities are involved ( man this is some strange bizzaro world bullshit that is reality here within this small space, this stupid building ) So I was always explaining myself. It usually went something like this “Look, I’m from such and such gang, my gang is in the South, but I’m standing alone, I’m not holding anything for you guys, but if anything like a riot pops off, well, I’m there, I mean, my gang is in the South. I’m not a Northerner, or a paisa” Something like that. Most guys didn’t really like it, but they understood the situation. It was just weird. I wasn’t saying “FUCK YOU” but basically, don’t count on me for anything, unless someone gets into a fight, then I’ll be there, and that’s the most important thing.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I was sentenced to 18 months of incarceration, of which I only did 9. Shit, better than 18. So now I’m in stupid Delano against my will, and trying to figure this shit out, hoping I stay out of trouble, not trying not to piss the wrong people off and trying to make the best of it. I couldn’t believe where I had ended up in life. This was definitely not what I had dreamed about doing with my life. I was a good athlete, I was a good artist. Teachers gave me special treatment and went out of their way to help me, and here I was at the bottom of the barrel. I deserved it. I put myself here. I totally understood that. I did not make excuses for myself. I made my bed, I had to sleep in it. When I was going to court, my dad asked if I wanted him to bail me out. I said “No”. I wasn’t going to take his hard earned honest money. It was my fault I was here and I knew I was guilty. I knew I was going to do time.
So now I’m finally in the space where I’m supposed to do the rest of my time. There were 4 dorms on this yard, or side of the building. I think I was in Dorm 4, 1 of the bigger rooms. It was 2 tiers, about 50 beds. There was another guy from one of the gangs with the same last name. I’m glad he was there, cuz he was a big mother fucker, yoked (that means big and muscular) and strong, so I was glad he was on my team.
We didn’t really hang out though. It’s like he did it on purpose. I guess if we did hang out, we were making it obvious that we preferred each other’s company and were basically saying fuck everyone else. I don’t know, that’s what I thought, just more confusion and awkwardness in a world of madness. He would come to my dorm and check up on me though; I guess that’s all I could expect. I really felt alone. Whatever.
I ended up figuring out how to make pruno. I use to drink a lot when I was free 🙂
So I had to keep the party going. Pruno is a type of alcoholic drink made from fruit juice and rotted fruit. I had a bag of pruno every week, some times 2. One of the things that surprised me in there was how many “criminals or bad boys” didn’t want to have nothing to do with pruno. I was like “Are you serious? All of a sudden you want to like… BE GOOD?” What a joke man. There were a few guys in there that I did kind of get close to. One was my drinking buddy. They called him “CLAVO” we became kind of tight and another guy calle “Seco”. Seco was cool, he was young and really just having fun. He was alright. Clavo was more of a smoked out dude. He still had the mentality of a little kid. he was about 30 years old. Seco was about 21.
Eventually I would get tested. This one guy came in, a new inmate, and yeah, he was a hardcore gang banger, and of course wanted to know where I stood. He was cool with it at first. He would tattoo and came to me one day asked if I could hold his equipment, another bad boy that didn’t want to get in trouble. Give me a break. I said “Chale”, No. How come you don’t ask any of the other guys? It’s like, you have 4 dorms full of Southsiders you can ask, why me? He said becasue I got away with making pruno all the time, he knew that I probably wouldn’t get busted with his shit. Didn’t matter, I didn’t take care of his shit. I think that might have bothered him because some time later, we did get into a fight.
I lived my life in there for about 8 months trying to avoid eye contact, just keeping to myself and drinking, working out, writing letters and just wasting time. I started doing push ups. The most push-ups I did in one day was about 1400. Hey man, I had to do something.
Sometimes me and other guys would sit and talk about the shit we did. I had to be careful on how I explained things, cuz every person I ever shot at, or drove the car to shoot at was a Southsider, and all these guys ARE SOUTHSIDERS. i realized one things in there, a lot of these guys looked more hardcore than me, but hadn’t done as much shit as I had. I remember talking to this one guy and he told me about one story where he shot some one. Well, I had about 8 drive by stories. He was bigger than me and looked more menacing. All of a sudden he turns to me and says ‘Shit man, I see you on the streets and I’m fucken running”
Through talking with other gang members, they’ve pointed out the same thing, the fact that I have put in a lot of work. Me and Seco were talking one time and he said the same thing “Damn, you’ve done a lot of shit” About half the people that get into gangs are just what I call models. They want to look like gang members but don’t really want to or do what you’re suppose to do when being in a gang, which is fuck up try and harm other gang members. They like to party and all that other shit but don’t want to put in the work. So I learned something about myself through these conversations.
So the day came that I had to get into a fight with that guy that wanted me to hold his tattoo machine. He called me over to his bunk one night to talk about my situation. About where I stood. he got kind of angry and started raising his voice, telling me that all that green light bullshit was over and that I need to just roll with them 100% I said no. You can interpret that how ever you want, but I’m not budging. Nothing changed, I left. I tnink what really bothered them was that I was one guy against so many, and had the balls to stand my ground. I mean I’m gonna lose, that’s a fact. but like I said, the worst thing is knowing you’re a coward, and I didn’t want that to be true about myself more than anything. What can I tell you, that’s just the way it is.
But now I felt bothered. I knew that I had to do something because of the way he raised his voice to me and how he was talking to me. If I didn’t I was going to look weak. FUCK MAN! This is bullshit, but that’s the way life is in there. So I had a really hard time sleeping that night. The next morning I told him that I wanted to get down with him (fight). He said okay, went and told like 6 other guys. Went to a spot in the dorm where the cops couldn’t really see and got down. He couldn’t really fight. It was like just this wild wrestling type throwing punches to the head fight, The thing is that while we were fighting, some one else put there hand on my shoulder, which meant to me that no matter what, I was NOT going to win. We’re fighting wrestling, I kind of had an idea of where his arms were, so I’m pretty certain, that it was someone else’s hand on my shoulder. At that point I decided really quick not really to fight him, but just not let him win either. FUCK HIM.
They broke us up, I walked to the bathroom looked at my face, and was like
“COOL, nothing”. That didn’t last very long. I was lying down on my bunk when half an hour later 6 guys came up to my bunk. 4 were older type veteranos and 2 younger guys. 4 of them were pretty strong and big in size. Damn, I’m fucked.
So one of the guys starts demanding an explanation, I just told him that it was personal and really none oh his business. He asked me about 3 times and I gave him the same response. So finally he says “Well either you’re gonna walk out of here, or they’re gonna have to carry you out” I said “Well they’re gonna have to carry me out” He said, “Get up” I was about to get up on his side and he warned me “Not on my side”
One of the guys there was a gang member that I had begun to get along with. I could see in his face that he didn’t really want to be there, but he was on their side and had to do be there. When I said they would have to carry me out, he made this face and shook his head from side to side, like damn, you shouldn’t have said that.
So I got up on the other side and before, I could get up, they started fucking me up. I heard things cracking while I was getting hit on the head, which I thought were these hand made wooden crafts that people would make to pass the time. I found out later by the cops that they were hitting me with locks in socks. One of the cops said I had a round circular imprint on my head from the locks. They were those combination locks. So I got fucked up for a few minutes. They left. I sat there wondering what to do, with all this blood running down the side of my face and in fron of my face. You aren’t supposed to go snitch to the cops, but I need help, so I was like fuck this shit. I’m just going to walk into the dorm, they’ll see me and do something, so that’s what I did.
I ended up going to the hospital, and got a few staples on the back of my head and some butter fly stitches. I remember the hsopital visit was cold. I thought, finally I’ll be around some normal people for a litltle while, but the nurses were very cold. Didn’t really look you in the eye and I just felt as like I wasn’t human, worthy of compassion. I was a criminal, a piece of garbage probably in their eyes who got what I deserved. The world was cold, in shades of blue and grey and blood. Now I really felt alone and depressed.
I finally went back, but this time for my own safety, they put me in a one-man cell. Some one snitched on these guys, cuz one by one they were being placed in the same dorm with me. There were other one-man cells here. I remember when they brought in that one guy that shook his head that had kind of been my friend. While they were walking him in, he looked over at me all pissed off, made a fist and pounded his heart and said, “You got a lot of heart homie”. Despite all this bullshit, he still had some respect for me I guess. They shipped me out to another low security prison called Taft. I only had one month there. In Delano, whenever the other gang members had a group meeting, I wouldn’t attend. That was something they didn’t like. Here in Taft, I just wanted to go home already, so when they called meetings, fuck it, I would go.
At one meeting, some guy that I eventually got into another fight with said
“Look at this guy, he thinks he’s a southsider” So that just told me that everything that I had been doing before was right. They didn’t consider me one of them, but I just brushed it off. I was tired of this shit. I wanted to go home and be free and hang out with girls. This shit in here about trying to please another grown man was bullshit. It’s fucken strange if you think about. It’s kind of gay, I don’t care about pleasing another man, I like women. It’s just twisted. So I brushed that guys comment off. I had one month to go, I want to leave. Well that piece of shit wasn’t gong to make it easy. about a week before I was about to leave, he made a disrespectful comment about my gang, so it was like, fuck, now I have to do something. I made a disrespectful comment about his gang. I put it on him to decide if he was going to do something or not. I kept on watching T.V. All of a sudden he runs up behind me and grabs me in a choke like hold and starts to drag me back to where his bed is. We start fighting but they soon break us up. The next day we get into another fight. same shit, he can’t really fight, and again, I feel someone hold my elbow from behind. It’s not the guy I’m fighting, so same shit. I know they aren’t gonna let me win.
Again I kind of just wrestle with the guy and not let that piece of shit win either.
I’m not sure, if it was that same night, but I’m lying down on my bed and he runs up and starts to try and fight me again while I’m lying down, so I could only block him. At this point, I’m just trying to block, I really don’t want to fight cuz I’m not going to win, so I’m already kind of broken down.
This time I don’t walk over to where the cops can see me. I just stay in the dorm, avoiding breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other Southsiders are bringing me food and taking care of me. In their eyes, even though I lost, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do as a gangmemer. I’m not a punk. But because of my previous injuries, which were about a month ago, my face and head swell up really bad. Now, the Southsiders in charge are coming to me and telling me that it’s ok for me to go to the cops and tell them to take me to the nurse. I don’t believe any of these mother fuckers, so I just stay in my bed. That bitch that I got into a fight with comes over and with another guy and says “Hey man, you ain’t no punk, It’s okay if you have to go to the nurse man” But I just really want to kill this mother fucker, I wish we were out in the streets.
Eventually one of the head Southsiders brings a cop over and they take me to the hospital. I still had a few days left, so when I came back, they put me in a one man cell once again for my protection. The cop says, we’re putting you in here, we don’t want them to kill you, and just chuckles to himself, This shit aint funny to me. A few days later is my release date and my sister came to pick me up in her green Honda Civic.
CAR: This story or shall I say experience happened in 1999; I was living with my former mother-n-law at the time and her Sister and 2 sons in La Puente. Her youngest son Daniel, was a kid that couldn’t Find a place or where he belonged. I always tried to give him advice and encourage him to live in a positive way.
I was working in Los Angeles, and preparing my clothing for the next work day and organizing in my bedroom. I over-heard Daniel speaking that he has money and if his mom and aunt needed money. I found it strange because Daniel was 17 years old and had no job or any income. I continued in my room cleaning. So I started putting clothes away and Daniel kept bugging me to take him down the street to his friends house, I kept ignoring him but the rants became louder I finally gave in and took him to his friend’s house.
As we both got in the car, and reversed and drove down the street, I was stopped by the Shrierffs Department. At that moment, Daniel confessed that he robbed a water store and that’s where he had extra money. He apologized and gave me the rest of the money. So with flashing lights and with guns drawn, we both exit my car and with the keys on the floor and they arrest us.
This was the first experience of being arrested and riding in a police car, I was nervous and scared. As we get into the Sheriff’s Station, we both get finger-printed and taken to our own different cells.
They put me in the women’s section of the jail, which is shared by 2 other women and divided by a shower and bathroom. I was able to converse with these ladies briefly on their charges and listen to them as I spoke on my reason for my arrest. I made a phone call, and inform my former mother-n-law of what had happened. I had to give her my work number and inform my job, I wasn’t coming in tomorrow. After I got off the phone, I took a shower and tried to sleep but I scared and freighted and that I kept waking up.
Early in the morning I was awakened up by the deputy that the detective on the case wanted to question me on the crime that was committed. So I gather my things, I walk down to the office. The detective was very responsive and concerned of my status in the crime. I was so upset and not hardly speaking in this interview. He told me to not to be upset and comply with him. He gave me a deal and I was a witness to the robbery and charges dropped. They released me an hour later.
From this experience: I was emotional in all levels, I was upset at Daniel for putting me in this situation and not realizing how childish and immature he was. For the longest time, I was so upset with him. I had no control of it. In the committed structure, I was alone. There was no voice.
Ever since that night, I haven’t seen Daniel ever since, he has been a repeated offender in the Prison System.
CHOICE: I thought long and hard about not doing this.
I thought so many have been institutionalized in so many more ways than me. I should let them speak.
I thought about the clients I speak to day after day, with their scars from foster care, addictions, abuse, trauma, violence and jail. Then, I thought about my friends and family who suffer from the same scars. To varying degrees, they’re all institutionalized by a myriad number of systems, a veritable plethora, internal and external.
We come to this decision when we are allied to people who have suffered greatly to minimize our own suffering.
I don’t have it so bad. At least I *wasn’t* fill in your horrible event/trauma here. But we’re all colonized people and some of us for a lot longer than others. That isn’t a cry for pity. It is just a cry. We institutionalize those nearest to us first and women are always the nearest and dearest. Who do you hurt but those you love? Or blame?
You’re the weaker one. You didn’t protect me. You didn’t protect my mother from her father. But how could you when you couldn’t protect yourself, you bastard child? Who ever taught you to protect?
I’ve really had to look at how women have been trapped in our bodies, a mass institute of inmates removed from our power, told we’re dirty because we bleed, told how we can or cannot be in multiple spaces, based on who wants to keep us in lock down, that we are not strong or capable.
I wasn’t raped. Just nearly raped.
A few times. I’ve dealt with the looks, the gropes, the beyond fucking inappropriate comments of strangers trying to get into my head, often way too easily. The men telling me I should bear their children. Not be their wife or partner, just the bearer of children. I’ve been shamed when I’ve been wanton and told I’m not wild enough, judged for my amount of partners by men with a lot more notches in their belts.
I thought about how I have retreated into self-medication: food, sex, addictive substances, drama. Now, I’ve decided only I can shape my prison’s walls. I believe I could be at peace behind stone because I know that my heart and body are slightly freer now than I have ever let them be.
and so young women here’s the dilemma
itself the solution
I have always been at the same time woman enough to be moved to tears and man enough to drive my car in any direction
couldn’t stand sadness
even hated sunlight
because of the way it magnified sadness.
the steel clink of dishes in the sink.
the dinner table: windexed glass and round.
pass the salt please. the awkward silence.
their eyes on him; his eyes on the plate.
no longer could he make them laugh or love him.
no longer his father’s son
his mother’s little boy.
the clenched fist of the father
reaching across the table
garnishing the son
the father’s words lashing knives
castrating the boy’s soul.
his mother’s exit as dressing.
he brought this upon himself
and for what?
so he could hold
and for a few brief moments
push his darkness into the corner
and believe in the sunshine
that was this other man?
the closet was his womb.
but he has been birthed now
a piece of bruised and bloodied origami
on the dining room floor
surrounded by a pool of torn paper
and cosmo cut-out hunks
like filthy placenta.
all discovered, all ripped
from his journal’s pages…
BODY: It is all the “almost things” The “just quite events” And their lingering Dragging sticky sickliness. Like a ring of moisture (sweated down a glass) damaging a much beloved table, Going unnoticed
because its the glass of tart sweet lemonade I’ve been thirsting for that I’m focussed on. Institutionalization is this miasma for me. The understanding that I am not loved, accepted, honored, or desired for exactly who I am. That I am prepared for, grudgingly, haphazardly, with superficial smiles. A desperate angry wish for me to be satisfied with my society’s glancing interest in me, not as a soul, but a band aid for their guilt, shame, and fear. Something to quickly peel off- the sting doesn’t last so long that way.
Yes all you who wish to put me in a box, yes, voyers come. Come play a dice game of power with me, my life. One roll for being white, I get privilege that has saved my life. My eating disorder would have killed me otherwise. One roll for middle class parents and education. I am in school without taking up student loans. Another for being in romantic relationships with men. Those have been ordained by society. Give me a roll for every piece of power I’m given. And subtract some too. A womyn and a fat one at that. A cis womyn who finds attraction in womyn and men. A womyn who wishes to walk alongside another being regardless of gender and sexual orientation and never fear. A womyn who benefits from each privilege of looking full white and harbors a pain that her Hawai’ian heritage was lost to her. A womyn who has been raped repeatedly by a fiancé, and molested by many more who thought nothing of it. A womyn with PTSD, generalized anxiety, major depression, and a binge eating disorder with 18 years experience. Play the dice game of power and while you, we, I, build the glass of lemonade with all those questions, forget conveniently the ring damaging that beloved table. I know I do it. Even as I am damaged I play along when I am weary and when its comfortable compared to what I believe I can stand. I know there are souls in bodies much more hated than me in mine. I know it. I feel a taste of the hate they get thrown at them and my taste is unbearable. I cannot know what it is in my flesh the way they do. With all of my empathy I still choose to be passive sometimes. Its easier to look at the glass. Its easier to take what honey is offered to me. That is institutionalization manifest in my life.
My fallible, guilt ridden, often cowardly and fearful negotiation of the rules. The rules of the dice game that say because my roles out-way my penalties I can choose to remain numb over all my pain and numb underneath my joy.
THE CONDITION: My conditioner was soaking in for 24 years. The destruction of the closet was a long process…
When you grow up like I did, there are lots of things you question. There are lots of people you put your faith and trust in. Grown-ups know everything, we think. What they say is right and if one deviates from what they tell us, we are made to feel guilty, wrong, inadequate, and any other descriptive word you’d want to include that represents a kid that always has questions… questions that are never answered…
And after the shampoo, the conditioner….
When you’re raised in a religious household, you are told that questioning faith is NEVER okay. You are told that holding onto your faith is sometimes the only thing you can do. As a child I felt that I was inundated with “God this, church that, praise this, bless that”. Everyone should go to church every Sunday, and go to Sunday school, participate in the choir, serve as an usher board member, Bible Study Tuesdays and Prayer Meeting Wednesdays, fellowshipping with other churches in and out of the area, congregating in the fellowship hall for lengthy meetings in which arguments are always seconds away from breaking out……… barbeques on the weekends, missionary meetings on the weekdays, and DO NOT forget the FISH FRY the FISH FRY the FISH FRY….. all to generate money that we never seemed to have enough of …
Of course there were moments I loved…. they usually involved music . I grew up in South Central, Los Angeles AND in the Baptist church. There was DEFINITELY good music and some of the best voices I have ever heard, and can still hear. Being drawn to the music placed me amongst the drama behind the music. Youth choir member and soloist for 6+ years I had many moments in which I allowed the music to work through me and the personal feelings/struggles that surfaced. HOWEVER, the tornado of deception, backstabbing, sex, gossip, fighting, wrapped up in the pages of the bible and church hats and shiny cars and jewelry-adorned ears, chests, wrists, fingers, ankles, CANES…….wrapped up in the ONLY leave-in conditioner… wrapped up in FAITH. Oh, and did I mention Pastor-Teen sex scandals?
[* I will say this, at 16, my mom allowed me to decide whether or not I wanted to join her for church. I thank her for that. Sometimes I went, and a lot of the time, I didn’t. But it really didn’t matter…. The conditioner had set in long before 16…..*]
*How can I wash this conditioner out?*
The last straw was:“Oh, and about those homosexuals… one of these days they’ll figure it out…….” That was it. That was the moment that I knew that I would never be a member of any church again. I was disgusted and offended by the way he badmouthed us…..
–I was about 22… mom was still an avid churchgoer and always wanting me to be there with her. Because we always try to make mom smile, I decided to join her at this new venue that she and the aunt RAVED about. The pastor was so “down-to-earth” and he always “made it plain”. I hesitantly attended and agreed. He was different. Maybe I could get into this guy, this church family, this congregation, OCCASIONALLY. The ladies in my family seemed happy and I’d never seen them enjoying themselves this much. Also, the music was good and the praise team (choir) consisted of 6 people that sounded like 30 and they moved me many times. (that, I miss…. Any time music brings me to tears, those moments are appreciated).
HOWEVER , I always kept my eyes open and was very skeptical… I started to see the manipulation.I started to notice how the hierarchy wanted to remain the same and outsiders were unwelcomed. From a distance I started to see the ladies in my life become more involved with their new church family and become more upset about how they were being treated by certain “children of God” in their new fabulous church home. That made me wonder… On a few visits I saw a change in the energy within the sanctuary and on that final visit, the down-to-earth pastor was on a rant like I’d never heard him on and I wasn’t made uncomfortable, but I did wonder how far he would go…. And then he said it, like the punch line after the punch line, “Oh, and about those homosexuals… one of these days they’ll figure it out…….” He said more, but it was inaudible for me. I went into a spiral of thought and anger that made everything around me disappear. I did stop to think about anyone and everyone that might have felt like me, taken offense like me, became disgusted like me, lost respect for him like me…. I also wondered if anyone else decided never to go back there again, like me….. I took the first opportunity to give my mom some random excuse and leave the building. And never return….. You know… one gets tired of a couple decades or so of being made to feel less-than… and being condemned to hell is not what we expect in our Christmas stockings either…
It is VERY rare to find me in a church for any type of worship… usually if I find myself there, it’s of a photographic nature or because I’m honoring a request of a close friend
Institutions Collide: My Closet was a different kind of Conditioner
I always knew
It was never a secret for me
But that religious conditioning kept me locked away in a world of fantasy and lust. So much passion and curiosity inside. Sexual energy present from as early as 3 years old. I felt it…when I was on Romper Room at 4yrs old, I totally wanted to devour Brandon, the boy that was seated next to me on set
So yeah… I KNEW. But I always had to hide it. When I hit a certain age and discovered that I had a cousin like me, I experimented and confirmed it…. (secretly, I was disgusted to be doing anything with him because as a person, I HATED HIM and his sexual personality. HOWEVER, as a body like mine (male), with an erection like (but not as good as) ☺ mine, he’d have to do. I needed to see what I was getting myself into before hitting the scene. This is maybe around 9yrs old and whenever the availability and proximity permitted thereafter. There were others throughout elementary, middle school, and MANY in high school. MANY. But there were always girlfriends in public. So many girls…. some I loved, some I liked… In a way, their purposes were to shield the truth and keep my closet out of everyone’s mouths. But I knew, I always knew. As much as I wanted to hide it, I knew because others knew and had NO problem telling me and everyone that they could. They say “kids can be so cruel” … YOU DAMN RIGHT! If only I can run into Jameelah Clark today….. she ruined my elementary school world and MANY of the scratches that were on those closet walls are due to the pain that she caused.
**JAMEELAH CLARK = The Birth of my hatred of the word faggot**
That was only the beginning… middle school was very middle school and add the 90s Los Angeles Gang Wars as the backdrop….. scary, dangerous, times… very reserved, extremely closeted, Extra Conditioner these days.
High school was a free-for-all…. I was all hormones and very “driven” in my extra-extra-curricular endeavors. But my nemesis, T. J., was definitely the one that ruined high school for me. He was the first friend in high school that I confided in and felt would be a friend… little did I know that he would use this against me and spread a rumor about me and a certain boy ….. what he failed to mention is that the boy was him, thus ruining my reputation for the duration of my high school career. I vowed to hate him forever … He wrote me many letters and made many attempts to apologize and befriend, ut I was inflexible… (*Forgiveness Alert* – After years and years of hating him and saying that I would never forgive him, I reached out to my nemesis via Facebook and got it all off my chest and forgave him for what happened in high school. I will never like him for what he did to my reputation, and I never thought he was attractive then (or now), but he gave one hell of a BJ and I regretted missing out on those for the rest of high school, but I got them elsewhere…. We could have been good friends, allies, fuck buddies, partners in crime. But he messed that up because he wanted to direct the verbal gay bashing away from him. T.J. EVERYBODY knew you were a queen. EVERYBODY).
I said all that to say…. This was a multi-leveled closet with micro stairs…. And they all had their own types of conditioning/conditioners that were wrapped in the chains of religious pressure and guilty mind games I played with myself… the Elementary closet excluded me from socializing with most boys, and it’s where I had the best grades…the Middle School closet kept me hidden and afraid of gang violence and is where I had the worst grades…. The High School closet was the most sexually explorative and “hardest working” closet… and the College Closet was the LUSTIEST closet. I was unstoppable and used to travel great distances for brief moments…… The discovery of chat rooms and what I lovingly call the “internet slutting” phase……. Yeah, Intense. Post-Collegiate “activity” was more thought-out and well-planned…..the long-term phase began. Still there
My Institutions always collided with one another because the conditioners were so saturated into my EVERYTHING. After coming out to mom at 24 years old, and a few others in the years following who had less than ideal reactions/responses/repercussions’……. I decided to begin the tearing down of my closet project. That project involved declaring myself independent and not including anyone, specifically my mother, in my decision-making processes….. her words to me when I decided to tell her the truth were, and still are, very hurtful and it was that moment that I realized that if the most important person in the world to me could hurt me as much as that, the closet was the last thing that would keep me safe……
“My conditioner was soaking in for 24 years….
The destruction of the closet was a long process…”
HOME: I must’ve been between eight and ten, it was summer. My father sister and I were walking down “The Road” (34thrd Flushing, Queens NY), returning to our building on 137th from the bodega on Union Street. My sister and I just spent the last couple of hours entertaining each other while our father drank with his neighborhood friends. There were a few squad cars, lights flashing, and a clean-up crew. They were halfway down the block, with power hoses spraying down the sidewalk. The water flowed down the hill of the street and into the gutter, foaming, with a slightly red hue. Someone from “The Road” stopped us to tell my father about the events of the night.
I remember thinking that someone was shot and it wouldn’t have been surprising, but it’s an odd thought for an 8/9 year old to have. It was worse than I thought. Two young kids fell three stories from an open window. I imagined a crawling baby and perhaps a 3 year old falling in an embrace until they smashed into the ground. I imagined my sister and I, only in reverse, she’s 3years older than I, but I’m the three year old in the fall. She’s the baby. We die.
They didn’t survive the fall either.
I’m not sure how long after, but my memory says months, a bulletin was sent out to the tenants in our 4 building ten story complex. New windows would be installed. New windows and safety bars. Within the next few weeks all four building were equipped with double-paned glass windows (that didn’t get stuck in their own rails like the old ones) and safety bars. The window men went from apartment to apartment explaining the features of the windows. My father asked him what would happen in a fire. The man explained that they could be pulled in with a decent tug but could not be pushed out. The man also explained to never take them out or there would be a fine. I don’t remember the amount, but any amount would have been too much to do so. I remember my father did at some point take one set out, though he was putting in a window air conditioner. I thought about the fine and how soon after it would come. There was no fine for putting in an air-conditioner but I didn’t know any better at the time. I was reminded of those kids again I imagined them falling as I imagined the air-conditioner falling 6 stories killing someone entering the community center bellow.
Some months later my father and I went down stairs to the lobby to get the mail. A neighbor in the building was standing alone looking out the windows of the ground floor. She had a vacant look on her face until my father engaged her in conversation. He didn’t say much to her at all but everything she was thinking pored out in an instant. It was the bars. The bars of her past. She’d been in jail before. I don’t remember what she did but she’d been in there long enough for the safety bars to have a profound effect. I thought she would cry at that moment. She may have forgotten how to do so.