By Anonymous, 16
Vox Teen Communications, Atlanta
(Names have been changed.)
One day during ninth grade, my friend Amber and I were walking from my house to hers, when I noticed a black Chevy Caprice slowly approaching us. We were so engrossed in conversation that we hadn’t noticed that the car had been following us since we left my house about five minutes earlier.
“Don’t worry, ain’t nobody gon’ touch us,” Amber said.
My stomach knotted up because just a few hours ago, we’d gotten into a fight with some girls from around the neighborhood. As I listened to how my friend wanted to do my hair, I heard the car pick up speed.
“Amber, they’re still following us,” I whispered. The knot in my stomach tightened.
Amber pulled two flags (bandanas) out of her front pocket, tied one around her face, and instructed me to do the same. I followed her order without thinking, even though I knew Amber was a gang member and the flags were to show we were members of an opposing gang.
The car’s tires screeched as it sped through a stop sign and came to a halt in front of us. I thought my heart would pop out of my chest. The doors swung open and out came one of the girls from the earlier fight. She was wearing a different colored bandana around her face. A crowd of nosy neighbors began to gather on the corner, as three other girls got out of the car and started fighting with Amber. I ran to my friend’s rescue, and we fought until someone from the neighborhood broke us up.
Little did I know that trying to help a childhood friend would introduce me to gang life. Although I had never thought of joining a gang before, my street sense overpowered my common sense, and I gave in after smoking a few blunts. Amber told me she saw leadership potential in me and wanted me by her side to take over and start our own set.
A few days later, I received a gruesome beating from a group of girls as a part of my official initiation into Amber’s gang. The beating lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. I walked away with minor bruises because I decided to fight back, which they later told me earned me respect among them.
Amber told me she had chosen the beating as my initiation. She said there were three options to initiate me into the gang: Have sex with multiple partners, participate in a drive-by shooting, or get jumped and beaten up. I realized she’d made the better choice of the three. She made sure I knew all the rules and regulations before giving me my own flag. She also reminded me that this was my new family and there was no way I was getting away from them.
Every day that my girls and I hung out together was adventurous. We hung around the older boys in our crew. They expected us to participate in shootouts with them and to be lookouts when they participated in armed robberies. At first I was appalled, but after several incidents, I got used to it and learned to block out all thoughts and emotions until everything was over.
Within eight months of being with the gang, I realized that I no longer had control of my life. I couldn’t go places like the average teenager without having to watch my back out of fear that a rival could be lurking behind any corner. Constant paranoia can drive a person insane, especially when you just want to be normal like everyone else around you. At school, wearing the same colors made the school’s police officer notice and single us out.
As female members, we often had to prove that we were just as tough as the guys. We weren’t expected to be the cute girls from next door, but hard core, rude and obnoxious. People in our neighborhood began to talk about how out of control our behavior had gotten.
One day, I saw a police car sitting in front of Amber’s house. I watched the police carry out a non-cooperative Amber in handcuffs. She was kicking and screaming for them to let her go. An elderly man was in the crowd that had gathered.
“Sugar and spice and everything nice,” he said. “That’s what girls used to be made of. Now they’re made of pistols, pumps, and dice.” His terse remark stung me like a bee.
After seeing my close friend arrested, I realized that I didn’t want to follow in her footsteps. I tried to distance myself from my new family by not hanging around them and finding other things to do instead, but they wouldn’t let me. I moved away to live with other family members in another city that summer. I needed a fresh start in a new environment with new people, but I quickly returned after becoming homesick.
There is no official way of getting out of a gang unless it’s through death. The people in our gang have slowly begun to realize that I want out, but they constantly remind me that there is no out.
I still socialize with this group of people, simply because we were friends before I joined the gang, but I am struggling to draw the line. I’m focusing on doing better in school, improving my image, and getting involved in more positive activities in my community, while working on closing that chapter of my life for good.
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