Girls Hurt by Gang Violence
Listen up, my young ladies. Did you know that there are not only males in gangs, but females as well? In some cities, female gang members even outnumber males. We decided to write about our life in a violent community, so we can all become better informed about how gang violence affects us -- and many other girls just like us -- every day. Whether it is gunshots on the street, fist fights in a hallway, or tears shed over lost loved ones, these are real struggles that people deal with every day. It is easy to believe that gangs only exist on television, but this is not true. Gang violence is a reality.
Living in the hood is crazy. Everyday there is a new problem and you can never tell what might come your way. One instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and your life could be over. In our neighborhood, we see little kids selling drugs, robbing people, and busting guns. They think it's cool. We see the slightest things blown out of proportion. People are being killed for no reason -- for looking at a person the wrong way, or for stepping on somebody's jays*. It's all too easy to live on the wrong strip* or chill with the wrong people "“ and end up going down like a fallen soldier.*
Sometimes we look up at the sky and pray for all the violence to end. We wish we could just live a life with no struggles, no pain, and no gangs. Why should families have to shed tears because their loved ones were taken?
We wish people would use the energy it takes to bust guns and sell drugs to come together as one. It only takes one person to change a life, and we can all be that person for someone else.
*Strip: A street
*Fallen soldier: Deceased gang member
Sixteen and Suffering: A Former Gang Member Speaks
Teen Voices spoke with Sarah*, a 16-year-old former gang member, about the violence she witnessed and the struggles she endured during her time in a gang. This strong and confident young woman has managed to leave the gang, and now has hopes of obtaining her G.E.D and entering politics.
Teen Voices: What made you join the gang?
Sarah: I was looking for love and a family. I needed somebody that cared about me, and I didn't get that at home. My parents really did not care.
TV: What did you get out of being in a gang?
Sarah: I got love and affection. Whenever I needed some thing, I knew they would always be there to protect me or help me.
TV: How did you get recruited* into the gang?
Sarah: I had to have sex with whoever wanted to have sex with me. I didn't think anything of it because, at the end, I knew they would always be there and take care of me. No one had ever offered that to me before.
TV: Did you get pregnant by any of them?
Sarah: Yeah, I got pregnant. I always wanted a child, but not in that way. I wanted it to be from someone who really loved me and who would always be there for the baby. I knew that I was too young to be a mother, so I couldn't have the child.
TV: Was it hard being in a gang?
Sarah: Yes, it was hard. I never knew when your life was going to be taken or when I "“ or my friends -- were in danger. I was always worried walking with someone I cared about, because if something happened to them, I knew it would be my fault. I had to watch my back.
TV: Would you want your child to grow up being in a gang?
Sarah: No, I would not. I know the struggles I went through, and still go through, and I wouldn't want that for my child.
TV: Are your parents hurt by you being in a gang?
Sarah: My parents don't care. I joined a gang because they don't show that they care about me in any way, so I don't think they feel any remorse or sadness about me being a part of a gang.
TV: How do you feel when you see kids younger than you in your gang?
Sarah: Don't get me wrong, I don't like it and I would not recommend it, but I understand the reasons that they are doing it. They just want to be loved and accepted. This is the only way for some people.
TV: Did the males in your gang respect you?
Sarah: Yes, they did respect me. I was first lady*, so I used to have to hold all the drugs and guns, and because I was the boss lady* I had a lot more respect and responsibility.
TV: Have you ever been locked up?
Sarah: Yeah, I have.
TV: Were they there for you when you got locked up?
Sarah: When I got bagged*, they weren't there for me. I wasn't expecting money or anything, but when I called I would have wanted someone to answer, or when I wrote a letter I wanted one back, or maybe some visits, but no one ever came.
TV: How do the gangs affect your community?
Sarah: Sometimes I feel like we encourage kids to be in gangs. They see the cars and the fancy clothes and they think it's good, but they don't know how much we had to suffer to get it.
TV: Living in your community, what is it like walking by a big group of people?
Sarah: I feel like a big target. When I am by myself, I feel like I stand out. Even if I am with a big group of people, I am scared for my life, but I feel a bit safer.
TV: Do you feel scared leaving your house?
Sarah: Yeah, because I have dram* and my own personal problems to deal with. So that -- combined with my hood's dram -- can make me feel like I always have to protect myself and makes it dangerous for me on the streets.
TV: What are the negative effects for girls in gangs?
Sarah: Being worried about what you may have to do to stand up for yourself; worrying about how people may look at you; worrying about whether your fam* is going to [be] harmed.
TV: Why did you leave your gang?
Sarah: I left my gang because I wanted to show everyone that I can make it somewhere, and I wanted to set an example for my gang members. I was tired of living under that pressure, and I knew that there had to be something else out there for me.
TV: What do you want to do to better yourself for your future?
Sarah: Go back to school to get my G.E.D. and then try to go to college. My biggest goal, though, is to be the first woman president!
TV: Do you think you made the right choice by leaving the gang?
Sarah: Yeah, I think I made the right choice. They looked at me different. They felt they did everything for me and I just left them, so they were mad, but they understand. I am still young. I can make something with me life.
TV: Do you miss anything about the gang?
Sarah: I miss all the little fights, hood rounds*, chillin', and parties. So yeah, there are some things about the gang life that I really do miss.
TV: Do you still have dram with people because of the gang you were in?
Sarah: Yes, I do, because if it came down to it, I would still bang* for my gang, and some people don't like me because of the gang I was in.
* Recruited: A process of initiation into the gang that generally involves either sex or violence.
* First lady: The first female to join the gang. This responsibility requires the individual to recruit other females into the gang. It is also a term of respect and admiration within the gang.
* Boss lady: similar to first lady, the boss lady is in charge of all the other females and gives the orders to the other gang members.
* Bagged: Going to jail or getting locked up.
* Dram: Social problems that often lead to violence and animosity.
* Fam: Family or loved ones
* Hood round: A series of violent boxing matches between members of the same community; intended to improve skills.
* Bang: Fight
*Names changed for teens' protection
There's Somebody Who Cares: Mayumi Brooks
Mayumi Brooks works with troubled teens at The Brookview House, a homeless shelter in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She believes that with guidance and help from the community, any teen can improve her life and escape from the perils of gang violence. Brooks' upbeat personality encourages teens to feel comfortable and open up to her, enabling them to see a positive side to their lives.
Teen Voices: Why do most teen girls join gangs?
Mayumi Brooks: I think to have a sense of belonging and to be accepted. Gangs provide that sense of family that they may never have experienced in their homes.
TV: Do most of the teens you work with have anger problems?
Mayumi: Yes, most of them demonstrate some sort of anger and attitude issues.
TV: Do you treat the teens you work with like family?
Mayumi: Yes, I do care about them. I treat them as though they were my own children. I care about their emotional well-being and their safety on the streets.
TV: What effect does gang violence have on teen girls?
Mayumi: In my experience, gang violence affects their family relationships. By being part of a gang, they may isolate themselves from people who love them. It also affects their positive decision-making and their well-being and safety.
TV: Have any of the teens you worked with been killed as a result of gang violence?
Mayumi: No, I have not lost a teen due to gang violence, but most of my teens have been affected by someone who was killed due to gang violence. It is a ripple effect, and everything that they go through has an incredible impact on my life.
TV: What advice would you give to a gang member?
Mayumi: I tell them that there are positive opportunities out there for them if they seek the right resources. They don't think that there are adults who care for them and want to help them, but there are places where they can turn for support. You have to give them hope to change their lives and everything they know.
TV: What are your hopes for the teens that you work with?
Mayumi: I hope that they with will develop the necessary skills to break the cycle. They have to learn that they are valuable members of their communities, and that they have the opportunity to change their lives.
*Transitional housing: A temporary shelter where people live as they adjust to independent living.
Make it out the hood
Everyday I wonder if I am going to be OK
Hoping that one day my life won't fade away
Walking to the convenience store straight down my one way
As I walk by a group of boys
Saying "yo" like that's my name
When I walk into the store a group of girls pass my way
Giggling and laughing as if I have no say
Next thing you know I'm walking back home and a stray bullet
Comes flying my way
Now I'm caught in a crossfire scared to death
As I run I look to my left, no one by my side
So I look to my right
Still no one in sight
No one to cry to for help, no one but people who are ready
To take my life
Lost in a cold world with no way out
So I hold my head up high and say
Someday I will be okay
I'm gonna make it out the hood one day
In the Hood
Innocent people dying
Distraught mothers crying
Because the guns on the street
They hit the wrong target again
A five-year-old boy
Sitting on his front porch playing with his toys
A brisk pain to his chest
And now he's been put to rest
Next day I'm sitting on my front porch
Acting as though everything is OK
Knowing that they just killed that little boy yesterday
I wanna speak up but it's not like I have a choice
Because if I do, it would be the last time anyone heard my voice
So I walk down the street
Feeling like I have no way out of the cruel world
I hear more gunshots, so I run up the street
Only to find out it was one of my friends with his blood on the concrete.
This vision haunts me every day of my life
When I wake up in the morning I leave the house in fear
Every time I pass that pole
I shed tears
But to me it seems like no one else cares
That in the hood everyone has to live their life in fear
But through it all
I am strong.
I will go far.
And this lifestyle will be in the fog
I will make it out the hood one day
Until then, I pray
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