When I was thirteen years old I was arrested for distribution of a simulated controlled substance or in laymen’s terms; fake dope. I had attempted to manufacture speed using a recipe I had found online. I of course lacked many of the items needed but my thirteen year old mind convinced me that I could substitute ingredients that were similar. I did not test my final product so I was completely ignorant of any effects that might occur upon ingestion. It turned out that my creation led to small seizures after snorting a line or two.
A girl I sold some to decided to do a line during class and after waking from her fit promptly informed those in position of authority of what she snorted and who she purchased it from. I was shortly thereafter arrested and transported to the County Juvenile Detention Center. In an ironic twist, the girl who told on me would, due to a zero tolerance policy, later join me in that same detention center for the crime of possessing a simulated controlled substance.
During this time period, in this detention center, young men and women went to the day room together. Out of around thirty to forty kids there were nine girls. Five were Black, three were Hispanic, and the girl who snitched on me was the only white one. As far as the boys went it was a pretty even mix of black and Hispanic with just me and two other guys making up the white population. All of the guards were black or Hispanic.
Most of the time there was only one guard present in the dayroom. There should have been at least four but few tended to actually show up. Mainly because they didn’t care and there was no one to make them. Since there was only one guard a lot of stuff went on that wasn’t supposed to. The majority of it was physical contact between boys and girls. There was a lot of making out, groping, and under the table hand-jobs. A lot of the groping was not consensual which led to fights between boys over the girls. It especially led to fights between the white guys and the other groups over the lone white girl. I use the term “fight” loosely since it mainly consisted of us white kids getting the piss kicked out of us by a superior number of Black kids.
The Hispanic kids were mostly way smaller than us so they didn’t prove much of a threat even with superior numbers. It was these fights that led to all the white kids landing in segregation; i.e.: the hole.
While in the hole you’re not supposed to have any contact with anyone else. You’re also not supposed to talk to each other but we all did. That is what this brief history has led up to. What follows is a conversation I had with a fifteen year old Mexican kid in the shower room. This conversation had an extreme influence on me then.
In juvie the guards would take you to shower two at a time. They would lead you to the shower, which consisted of a small room containing two open shower stalls and a bench. The stalls were side by side and separated only by a dingy off-white tile wall that was about three and a half feet tall.
The guards would take you in then lock the door as they left. A lot of the time you got stuck in there waiting for the guards to come back, but on average you were in there for about twenty minutes. This Mexican kids who we’ll call H was in segregation not only due to his gang affiliation but also because he was the only kid in juvie accused of murder. H had allegedly killed three people in a drive-by shooting.
The first time H and I were escorted to the shower room, clothed only in our County issue brown boxer shorts and shower slides, I noticed how much bigger H was than most of the other kids. Though only about five foot six he must have weighed close to two hundred pounds, damn near all of it muscle.
As I mentioned before, most of the Hispanic kids were small; topping out at around one hundred and ten. H also had tattoos covering a good portion of his torso. His arms carried a lot of thick scars that I would soon find out were the results of knife fights. He wore his hair slicked back in a black hairnet, which I never thought to ask him where he got, as it was contraband. We didn’t say a word until we were locked in the shower room. He was the one to break the silence.
“Whas up guero (sounds like where-oh)?” he asked.
I noticed he spoke with a thick accent but I was mainly focused on what he had just called me.
“What did you call me?” I asked as I puffed up my bony chest.
He looked at me and grinned and I saw that he had a few gold and silver teeth. “He man. Relax.`” He said. “It just means white guy. Just chill.”
I relaxed a little and stepped into the stall furthest from the door while he stepped into the other one.
“Why you so beat up guero?” he asked.
“What do you care?”
“You pretty aggressive man. I just no get to talk much with other people. I just wanna talk guero.”
I figured there wasn’t any harm in telling him why I looked like the elephant man.
“Some Black guys were hollerin’ at this white girl so me and the other two white guys told ’em to stop and they jumped us.” I said.
“Yeah guero, I get that. You gringos are on some serious racist stuff up here. But everybody got to protect their women.”
“Up here?” I asked. “Where you from?”
“I’m from Mexico.”
“You speak pretty good English.”
He laughed again.
“Yeah mi padre y mi tios (father and my uncles) told me it was important to learn since you gringos got all the money.”
Now it was my turn to laugh.
We both finished showering and put our clean boxers on. H walked over to the door and peered through the tiny Plexiglas window looking for the guard.
“Looks like we stuck wed guero. The pinche pig went to smoke.”
I sat down on the rusted metal bench in front of the showers. H stood by the door staring at my bruised face.
“What1re you staring at?” I asked.
He laughed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You don’t know how to fight do you guero?”
I stood up.
“I know how to fight.”
“Chill guero.” He said. “It’s cool. Just sit ‘back down. I wanna tell you a story. Just chill.”
I sat back down.
“See I was like you when I was a little kid. All huevos (balls) and no brains.
I was always fighting everybody. All the other kids, we were all like eight or ten. I was smaller than the others and because I was pale they call me guero. When they said it they meant it as an insult. You know how they see it. White equals weak. So I fight them. Many times they jump me. They always take my food and my money. Not much I could do. One day mi tio sees me all beat up and he tell me “H why are you so beat up all the time?” So I tell him. He says to me I’m estupido and gives me a small knife. He tell me next time just cut one of those fuckers. I take the knife and the first time I cut one of those wannabe malons I no have any more problems.”
He uncrossed his arms and made that ‘I wash my hands’ gesture.
See guero / that’s what I say to you. Get — a—knife.
I sat there for a moment processing what I just heard. I then hesitantly
asked a question
“Is that how you got those scars on your arms? Knife fighting?”
He looked down at his arms then back up at me.
“Si guero. When I got around two years older the other kids, they have knives too. Mainly we cut at each other. No stabbing. Then one day the same uncle sees me bleeding one day at my mom’s house and he say. “Estupido! You don’t fight with a knife when the other guy also has a knife. No sobrino. You then fight with a gun.
I stared at him backed with all an ignorant Southern white kid’s notion of honor.
“H only cowards use guns.” I said.
H broke out into a long and deep belly laughed,.
“That’s bullshit guero. People who say that are just scared to use one or they scared of jail. Look at your own country. America is only the powerfullest country because it uses guns to solve problems. It has the most and biggest guns so it wins. When two countries can’t talk it out they send armies to kill each other. They use bombs and guns. They don’t stand out there and fist fight. Look at me. I’m a good example. Mi familia (my family) comes up here and these chicanos (Hispanic Americans) think they’re gonna tell me and mi hermanos (my brothers) how it’s gonna be? No guero. Mi hermano and me get in the car and go over to those cobardes’ house and shoot it up. These guys I guess thought we were just gonna drive off. We don’t. I get out guero. I walk up and shoot two of them. I shoot both in the head while they were on the ground just trying to hide. Another one gets up and tries to run and I shoot him four times in the back.”
He could be telling me about a football game he saw last week for all the emotion he displayed.
“Anyways that’s the point guero. Knife beats fist and gun beats knife. I’m only in jail ‘cause the pigs have more guns and bodies that mi y mi familia.”
He sucked at his upper teeth.
“But I don’t regret it guero. Not one bit. See guero, I’m a soldado.”
He pointed to a tattoo above his heart that said. “Soldado” in large neat black letters.
“That’s what I am. A soldier. That’s what you need to be. You tired of getting beat up? Start working out and get a knife. Be a soldado.”
I just sat there like a lump. What do you say after a story like that? Before I could think of anything the guard came back and opened the door to escort us back to our cells. H told me many more stories along the same ilk during my frequent visits to segregation. I started working out and convinced the other two white guys to do the same. We still got the shit beat out of us but we felt a little better about it.
The first thing I did when I got out of juvie was get a knife. It was a little dual edge butterfly knife with a five inch blade. About two months later-when a twenty-two year old goth guy with blue dreadlocks came to pick up a fourteen year old female friend of mine, I stabbed him in the thigh.
He ran, as best as he could, back to his car.
I kept track of H’s case in the newspaper. His lawyer was able to convince a jury that due to his age and that his older brothers influenced him so much that he should be shown mercy. H was found guilty but as a juvenile instead of an adult. He was sentenced to the Youth Commisson until he was twenty-one.
Seven years ago I ran into a Hispanic guy from around my hometown that knew H. H is currently serving one hundred and thirty years in federal prison for a whole array of charges including two more murders.
If you’d like to contact Johnathan directly, please write to:
Johnathan Byrd #1236923
899 FM 632
Kenedy, TX 78119