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Rios_preface[1] - Preface A word of caution our stories are...

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1 Preface “A word of caution: our stories are not just for entertainment.” Leslie Mormon Silko (1992) An old rusty refrigerator had been knocked over on the side of Pelon’s garage. It was white, dented on the edges and looked like it hadn’t been used in a decade. Its metal cooling rods faced the open sky. A twenty-four pack of Corona beer filled with empty bottles sat on top of the rods. We had tagged the refrigerator at the height of our delinquent careers. Finely scrawled on the side in black marker were nicknames for sixty-eight of our “homies.” 1 I was with Pelon, a former fellow gang member; we turned the refrigerator over and read aloud to each other, each homie coming to life as we said his name. Eventually we couldn’t help but count. Out of sixty-eight members in the gang—we estimated, based on memory and after making a few phone calls—twelve were in prison serving three years to life, sixteen were in jail or prison serving sentences ranging from three months to three years, and the remaining forty had been incarcerated at one point in their lives. We knew this because we had spent years on the streets together, looking out for one another and finding out when one of us had been incarcerated. At this moment, on a cool spring evening in 2002, in front of this old refrigerator, it dawned on us, by the time we reached our early twenties, none of the homies had avoided juvenile or adult incarceration. Those of us who were currently not locked up still faired miserably: seven murdered; six permanently injured from bullet wounds—one had been blinded, two paralyzed from the waist down, and three with permanent scars and debilitating 1 In this case “homies” are fellow gang members.
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2 injuries—and about a dozen were severe drug addicts, some of whom begged for money on the streets. From our estimate, out of sixty-eight homies only two of us graduated from high school and only I had made it to college. About a dozen had managed to evade major tragedies and, by the standards of the inner city, had become successful. Pelon had started a family and worked as a laborer for a moving company making over $12 an hour. He was the most stable homeboy I kept in touch with. As we sat in front of Pelon’s old garage with splintering green paint chips scattered on the ground, we reminisced about “back in the day” when we first met Smiley. We were about fourteen years old having recently joined the gang. Smiley was a naïve kid our age who was physically abused by his parents. They often kicked him out of his house and on to the streets as a punishment for questioning them or telling them about his teachers’ treating him negatively. We called him Smiley because no matter how bad the circumstance he was in—homeless, victimized, or hungry—he always kept a radiant grin on his face. But his smile got him in trouble at school. When we gave him the nickname, he told us he thought it was appropriate because he remembered always smiling in class and the teacher always thought he was laughing at her. Smiley could not
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Rios_preface[1] - Preface A word of caution our stories are...

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