Youth / OPINION : 'It's Too Late to Help My Friends'

At 16, I chose an unpopular plan of action that made a difference in my life. I really didn't know too much about gangs. My mom use to tell me every day before going to school, " Do not hang around the wrong crowd, because someday you will see where your friends will end up."

My friends--Chris, Russel, Shane, Fred and Craig--always went to Division Street in Oceanside to hang out with Jon. My mom asked me not to go over there because Jon's brother (who was 18 years of age) was in a gang called the Westside Crips. Two streets down was another gang called Center Street, a Mexican gang that doesn't like Crips claiming their neighborhood. So almost every night someone was getting stabbed or shot.

Jon's brother's name is Donald, but his gangster friends call him Monster. He always asked me and my friends to get "jumped in" (to join) the "set" (the gang) so that we could become "homies." One by one, all of my friends were getting jumped in but me. I guess you can say I was afraid.

I used to make excuses just so I wouldn't get jumped in. After a while, though, I stopped hanging with my friends. They would then come to my house and ask, "Why haven't you been hanging with the homies?" I told them that my mom said that a gang gets you nowhere and that's exactly where they were heading, nowhere. They just shook their heads and walked off, calling me a momma's boy. I decided that I didn't need them. I found new friends. The friends I hang with now are into sports. They don't even think about gangs. The only thing that's in their heads is basketball.

Two years have gone by and now I'm an 18-year-old attending Mira Costa College. My new friends and I are still playing basketball. But now we play for the school. I am working on my first degree in college. My old friend Chris wrote me a letter. He wrote from state prison. He's in for armed robbery. He said that Shane is on drugs and Russel is in the hospital living off a machine. He's brain-dead because of a bullet wound to the skull. Craig, who is now 17, is in Juvenile Hall in San Diego and Fred is dead.

I am glad I chose a different plan of action. I could have been like my friends, a victim of gang violence. Still, I wish I was there to help them. But it's too late.

I never got a chance to thank my mother for guiding my decision, because she passed away. But she knows I am thankful to her, and I know that she is proud of me.

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