09/02/13 — Missed Direction: Boys from the 'hood

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Missed Direction: Boys from the 'hood

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 2, 2013 1:46 PM

He might have thrown himself onto the floor had the bullet that passed through his thigh not already knocked him off his feet.

He might have cradled his head in his arms to protect himself from the debris exploding across his living room were his hands not reaching for the pistol tucked in his jeans.

He might have noticed that he was hit in the abdomen if the adrenaline rush had subsided.

He might have seen the blood if his eyes weren't focused on the holes created by what the now-13-year-old characterizes as a "random" barrage of gunfire.

Isaac is just barely a teenager -- a young man who, in another life, might have been focused on school, athletics and pursuing girls.

But his story is a far cry from what most would consider typical -- even if he would tell you he's not much different than most of the kids in his neighborhood.

Life in the projects isn't about grades, promotions or anniversaries, he said.

It's about survival.

So he steals and sells drugs when he runs out of money.

"We all be hustlin'," Isaac said. "You got to eat to live."

And he carries a gun -- always.

"You got no choice," he said. "I ain't gonna go down. Gotta believe that."

His father died before he was old enough to remember the night six bullets claimed his life.

He only sees his mother a few minutes at a time.

"She ain't right," Issac said. "She don't tell me nothin'. She can't."

So he clings to his "crew" -- the only family he knows or cares to.

"They my boys," he said. "They got me, you know?"

And he remains confident that one day, somehow, he will find a way into a new set of circumstances.

"I ain't gonna be out here too long. I'm gonna play ball -- somethin'," Issac said. "I ain't gonna be an old man on the block. I'm gonna be rollin'. Just watch."

Jaden started carrying a gun at 10 years old.

"The first one, I found it behind this house," he said.

But the 16-year-old claims he only keeps it to protect himself -- and his four younger brothers.

"I ain't tryin' to kill nobody man, but I ain't trying to get killed neither. I ain't goin' out like that," he said. "Mom can't chase (my brothers). She ain't be knowin' what they do -- where they roll off to -- so I got to look out. I got to protect those little boys.

"The cops ain't gonna do (anything) against these (gangbangers) on the block. Trust that. They afraid of them, too."

Jaden knows something about fear.

His best friend was gunned down a few years ago.

"This kid wasn't into all that. He ain't no banger. He didn't roll like that," he said. "But he dead now. Dead, son. How many people you know get killed right on your block? White people round here don't see that shit."

But surviving isn't just about dodging bullets.

It's about making sure -- with a father in prison and a mother suffering from unspecified health problems -- that he and his brothers don't go hungry.

"Sometimes you gotta hustle a little bit to get them some chips and soda. You do what you have to do sometimes, you know?" Jaden said. "But I don't cut no grass or nothin' like that. Shit son, we ain't even got no grass out there. So, yeah, I do what I got to sometimes. I ain't sayin' I'm proud of it, but it is what it is."

The truth is, he feels a responsibility to do whatever he can to be a father-figure for the four who look up to him -- so much so that he dismisses school and the hope of something better.

"Man, they try to tell you ... you can be something big. Something big? Really? You can't be something big where I come from. A big dealer maybe. A hustler maybe. Here, you just try to survive -- to stay out (of jail) and away from the (police)," Jaden said. "When you was as old as me, you maybe have seen a Mercedes Benz driving down your block, right? You see it and you say, 'Damn, son. That's what I'm gonna drive one day.' Turns out that guy is a doctor or somethin', right? So how you gonna get a ride like that? Be a doctor. Well on my block, you don't see to many rides like that, you know? And the guy whose ride it is ain't no doctor. He's the biggest, baddest dude in here. So how am I gonna get that ride one day? That's it right there."

Davonte wasn't at Wayne Memorial Hospital when his girlfriend gave birth to the couple's first child.

He was incarcerated -- wrapping up an eight-month sentence for charges he would only say were a result of him trying to make money to support his unborn son.

But the 20-year-old is not ashamed of going to prison, of the prospect of one day going back.

"We just tryin' to make it," he said. "You got your way, I got mine."

And he doesn't feel bad about the fact that since his release, he has yet to meet his "little man."

"His mama didn't see me when I was locked up," he said. "So I ain't even tryin to mess with her no more."

Most days, for Davonte, begin after lunch and end well after midnight.

He makes "a living," but declined to detail how -- saying only that he deals with people and provides "a service" to "customers on the block."

"I do alright," he said, smiling and looking down at his wrist. "See this watch?"

Having a record doesn't seem to matter in his line of work.

In fact, he sees it as a badge of honor.

"How many (blacks) you think out there who ain't done time?" Davonte said. "If the cops ain't on you, you ain't ridin' high."

He learned "the game" at a young age, from his now-deceased father.

"If you ain't on the block, you ain't pullin' in the stacks," he said.

And if you don't carry a gun, you are perceived as weak.

"That's a good way to become a mark," Davonte said. "If you that ignorant, you ain't gonna last long."

But his father also taught him that money isn't everything -- that the key to achieving status -- and protection -- in the projects was gaining the respect of those around you by staying loyal to your "crew" and not getting "punked."

"I'd rather get (arrested) than go out like some (weakling)," he said. "If you got to beat a man down, beat him down. Do what you got to do, ya heard?"

He started "straight hustlin'" when he was "8 or 9" -- stealing food and candy from convenience stores; beating up other kids and robbing them of everything from their earrings to, in one case, their shoes.

And after his father died and his cousin took him under his wing, he gave up on any thoughts of a legitimate future.

"Out? There ain't no out. And (my cousin) kept it real with me and told me that and he was right," Davonte said. "Why I'm gonna go to school and get some job and be straight and kill myself to get that green when I can roll in it out here on the block? One day, I be tellin' my boy the same thing. Don't go breakin' yo back for some boss man when you can live large right out there. If you smart, ain't no one gonna pop you. All that can go down is you get locked up. And believe this, (it) ain't all that bad."