NB – This piece was written while I was in long-term isolation in solitary confinement in prison, circa summer 2005.
“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us”
-Jean-Paul Sartre, from the Preface to The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.”
-Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
I never knew my mother or father, I was given up for adoption as a baby. According to paperwork filed by one of my lawyers, my adoptive parents were “special education students of dull normal intelligence.” I was born in Chicago and grew up just outside of Chicago, near O’Hare International Airport. The roar of jet engines would frequently rattle the house as planes came in to land.
My adoptive father worked for the Post Office, sorting mail and such on the night shift, then later working as a clerk at a window on the day shift helping people with their mail. I remember him attending union meetings when I was a small boy. He also worked a second job, delivering newspapers in the early morning hours to homes and apartments, and on the weekends delivering big bundles of newspapers to stores. His father had come to Chicago from Tennessee and worked as a garbage-man for Waste Management. My adoptive mother initially worked as a salesperson at a small garden center owned by her parents, but later was on unemployment for a time and then worked as a waitress at a Ponderosa Steakhouse. She also worked a second job in the early morning hours, delivering newspapers to offices, businesses, hotels, and apartments around O’Hare. Her father was a small farmer in Cook County before the area became urbanized, and he later owned and ran the small garden center with his wife.
I was sent to a fundamentalist Christian school for most of my childhood, from the age of three. By all accounts I was a pretty intelligent boy. Much of my intellectual capacity and potential, though, was unfortunately hampered by the fundamentalist (mis-) educational indoctrination and environment. Many hours were wasted being forced to memorize Bible verses and sit through mythological stories, fables, and fire-and-brimstone apocalypse tales designed to frighten children into submission to self-proclaimed “authorities”. Most of the school textbooks were from the infamous Bob Jones University. One incident was particularly indicative of the situation: When I was about ten years old, I was assigned to write a report on sharks, and I dutifully researched science publications to prepare it. As I started to read the report in class, and began to describe that sharks were ancient creatures that had evolved several hundred million years ago, I was sharply interrupted by the Pastor “teaching” the class and berated with a tirade about how the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and that evolution was an evil, satanic theory made-up by “The Devil.” And so forth. Another particularly telling incident was the time that I organized a petition to remove an assistant teacher that was widely hated by the class. I was quickly summoned to the principals office and informed that we children had no voice in our own education and that such democratic challenges to “authority” would be swiftly and severely crushed and punished. God doesn’t want children to think for themselves, of course, and doing so is a “sin.” Later I would consciously choose to partake of the fruit of The Serpent…
Many days I was forced to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go work with my adoptive parents. Child labor is unfortunately still a reality in America, as well as an even more dire reality around the world. I used to try to make an adventure of it, running around in the dark in the middle of the night, through peoples yards or down the hallways of business offices, hotels, and apartments, seeing the underside of the daytime economy. The contrived “fun” usually wore off rather quickly, though. For those whose only conception of newspaper delivery is the romanticized myth of a little boy riding a bicycle along sunny streets of perfectly manicured lawns in a cookie-cutter subdivision, let me assure you that the reality of newspaper delivery in a major metropolitan center is quite a bit less sunny and romantic.
You have to wake up at around one A.M. and travel to an industrial warehouse to await the delivery of the papers. Once the papers arrive from the printers, you have to carry heavy bundles of papers over to a table and assemble the sections by hand. Then you have to roll up the completed paper and stuff it into a plastic bag. Repeat this procedure several hundred times and stack all the papers into a big cart. After you finish rolling up all of the papers, you have to then push the heavy cartload(s) outside to load all of the papers into your vehicle. This entails cramming the entire back of the vehicle totally full of papers, all the way up to the roof. And you have to do this outside in the pouring rain or blasting snow of the brutal Chicago winter. I then had to climb on top of all of the papers and ride in the back of the vehicle, in the tiny space between the papers and the roof. I usually tried to burrow down underneath some of the papers for warmth, as you have to drive around with both of the front windows open to throw the newspapers out into the yards or driveways of the subscribers. Some have to be taken out in person to the doorstep or porch, or inside apartment buildings, offices, and hotels. Watch out for the times when a newspaper flies out of the plastic bag and scatters all across the yard while its pouring rain, because then you have to run out into the storm and collect all of the damp pages.
The entire delivery process usually takes several hours. You generally start around one or two A.M. and the papers have to be delivered by about six or seven A.M. I also worked with them delivering the large, heavy bundles of newspapers to stores on weekends. This entails assembling the sections of the paper and stacking them up into a pile about 18 inches or so high. Then you have to carry them over to a machine that pulls a plastic strap around the bundle, heat-seals it, and cuts the strap. Try not to get you fingers smashed under the strap. After you make all of the bundles, you carry all of them to your vehicle and fill it up. Them you drive around to the stores and carry the big bundles inside. Anyone who has ever handled an individual Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune will have an idea of how heavy even a single one in a bag is, much less a big bundle of them. Watch out for the strap breaking while you’re carrying it, because then the papers will spill out and scatter all over the place, especially if its windy – and this is the “windy city.” So I spent many mornings as a boy working, delivering newspapers. My adoptive parents tried not to make me work with them all the time during the school week, but even school days I was greeted many nights by my adoptive father turning on my bedroom light and pulling my blankets off of me as I protested that I didn’t want to go work with him but wanted to continue sleeping in my warm bed. But work I had to, on and off, less frequently from the age of about seven, and much more frequently as I got older and became ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen years old.
We did get to go on vacations sometimes, traveling to different states. And I had toys, and books. They let me go to the library frequently to get a lot of books. And I was sent to play some sports, and to take Tae Kwon Do, and other activities at the Park District. So things were by no means all bad, and many other people have far worse experiences than I had, but the negative aspects of my life took their toll on me. I was beaten with leather belts, ofttimes daily, and verbally and emotionally berated. And my adoptive parents seldom ever talked to me or interacted with me, except when we had to work together. When I was about seven years old, they told me I was adopted, and I took this quite badly. My whole life prior to that was a lie, and I cried and cried for my “real mommy.” After that, sometimes they would tell me that they “paid a lot of money for” me, paid a lot of money to adopt me; paid a lot of money to buy me is how I interpreted it. I felt like a slave, taken from my mother, bought and paid for, forced to work, beaten with leather belts. I always wanted to leave, run away. But I suppose much of the bad treatment I received from my adoptive parents can be attributed to their educational disabilities, the fact that they had to work multiple jobs basically all of their waking hours with minimal sleep just to survive, and the nature of fundamentalist Christianity. Beyond that, and underlying all of those factors, is the foundation of capitalism-imperialism.
One of the best things that happened was that my adoptive father bought me a computer in the late 1980’s, and I loved it. I wanted to become a computer programmer, work with computers, study computer science. Then when I was about thirteen, my adoptive grandfather bought me a better IBM computer, which had a modem, that allowed me to connect to cyberspace and opened whole new worlds of possibility. But as is often the case, reality trumped possibility.
As I became a teenager, our family and financial situation grew increasingly worse. My adoptive father had health problems, had to have surgery, and had to go on disability from the Post Office. My adoptive mother, who has epilepsy, began to have seizures while she was driving and got into a couple car accidents. She wasn’t seriously injured, but due to the seizures she had her drivers license revoked. I had severe stomach pains, which the doctors always attributed to stress, and I had to drop out of school and get counseling for depression. Due to my family’s health and financial problems, the mortgage on our house was foreclosed and we ended up homeless. My adoptive parents moved in with my adoptive father’s parents, and I was sent to go live with my adoptive father’s sister and her family in the suburbs farther north of Chicago.
I started to go back to school at the public high school in the area where my adoptive aunt lived. I had a lot of problems at the school because I wore hip-hop style clothing and listened to rap, and a lot of the people in that area were racist, ignorant, and bigoted. I was called a “nigger lover” and “white nigger,” etc. simply because of their racist mind-set – and clearly it wasn’t the kids fault, because they were only children. The adults and the ruling class in that area indoctrinated them with racism, reinforced by the capitalist-imperialist superstructure. I was automatically classified as a “gang member,” simply because of my clothing and music preferences. I was sleeping on the floor at my adoptive aunt’s house and had only a few articles of clothing. I suppose I wore one particular t-shirt rather frequently, a Snoop Dogg t-shirt, and people started calling me “Snoop” because of that. I got shuffled around between living with my adoptive aunt, adoptive paternal and adoptive maternal grandparents. I had to drive over an hour commute each direction to go to school when I stayed with my adoptive grandparents. My adoptive parents had started a new job, driving a delivery van to deliver packages and flowers and such, and I worked with them doing that. I had my own car to drive to school and to work with them. I barely ate and had basically only the clothes on my back, and slept on the floors or couch at my adoptive relatives houses. I never had any money, and whatever little money I did come across had to pay for gas to drive to school and work. In addition to working with my adoptive parents doing deliveries, I also worked at a flea market on weekends with a friend of our family that was living and working in America from Ireland, selling little trinkets and things.
I did make a few friends in the area, and sometimes slept on the floor at their houses or in my car. Many times we were stopped and harassed by the police. One particular night, we had stopped at a gas station that was closed to use a pay-phone, and some police rode up and started harassing us. They made us all get out of the truck and searched us, searched the vehicle, and detained us for a while there. They tried to fabricate a story that we were trying to rob the gas station, and used the pretext of a supposedly broken video camera. But someone at the police office called the owner of the gas station and they informed the police that the video camera had been previously broken for some time, so the story they were trying to fabricate disintegrated and they had to let us go. Other times, property owners in the area would call the police to try to chase us out of their neighborhood simply because we were a small group of “lower-class” teenagers. One night we were at a park, and the property owners called the police to come harass us and chase us away, and I got arrested for possessing a handgun. I was sixteen years old. I spent a few nights in the county’s juvenile “detention facility,” and was released on house arrest and a year of probation. All of this, combined with the family and financial situation just pushed me further and further to the streets, and eventually I did get involved with a street organization (AKA “gang”) to survive financially. I got involved in some minor drug deals, stealing from stores, scams and hustles. I spent most nights sleeping on someone’s floor or in my car, sometimes in a motel. I barely ever ate. I got a job at a fast-food taco restaurant, doing dishes and cleaning up and food preparation, but I only worked there for a couple weeks because I had warrants for my arrest.
All of this culminated one evening in December 1995, when I was seventeen years old. I went with a “gang” associate to a bar/bowling alley/arcade to meet some girls we knew and get some money from them. Soon after we went inside, a group of guys from a rival gang began eying us and trying to start problems. Eventually, two of the guys from the rival group came up to me as I was standing by a small set of stairs, thew some gang signs, and tried to get me to come outside. I considered it for a moment, but one of the girls grabbed my arm and basically told me to leave it alone, so I let it go as the other group went outside. I had a sawed-off shotgun stuck down my pants, as I was used to the realities of trying to survive on the streets, so I knew if any trouble jumped off I’d be able to defend myself. We stayed inside for about 15 more minutes as someone used the phone, then we decided to leave. As we went out of the front door, we encountered the group from the rival gang, who had been waiting in ambush of me. We warily tried to walk past the group, but the main ringleader from the rival group that threatened me inside began to threaten to kill me. Some words were exchanged between him and one of the guys who was leaving at the same time as I was, telling him to stop threatening us and not to pull anything, because he had his hand in his pocket while he was making the death threats. Some of the comments were “gang-related.” But the main ringleader once again began to threaten to kill me as he also began to pull his hand out of his pocket. Prior to this, he had his hand in his pocket the entire time. I felt he was going to pull a weapon, so I shot him one time in the arm in self-defense, with a few of the pellets also hitting his chest. As he fell to the ground, everyone scattered away into the night.
About a week later, I was staying at an apartment in Zion, IL, in an area described in a police report as “Murder Alley.” All of a sudden, an armed gang of undercover police disguised as construction workers burst through the door, invading the apartment with guns pointed, screaming for everyone to get down on the floor. I was handcuffed and arrested, taken to a police station, and charged with Attempted Murder, Aggravated Battery with a Firearm, and Armed Violence – all three charges for a single shot to the arm of someone repeatedly threatening and waiting in ambush of me. The next morning I was taken to a courtroom and brought before a judge who set my bond at two million dollars. The political predators in the ruling class wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long time. Little did they know what they were really creating…
Update – 1/15/2008: I wrote this a few years back while I was in solitary confinement in prison. A few days ago while I was out doing deliveries, I had a delivery a couple blocks away from the apartment I was staying in when I was arrested. I took a photo of the building: