Goin' Dumb, Goin' Stupid

Life and death on the streets according to the kids who live there.

The writings below were originally published in "The Beat Within," a weekly Bay Area publication by and for incarcerated youth. To protect the anonymity of the authors, only their first names or nicknames are used.


Fit to go dumb

‘Cause when I was little my nice days were short
While my bad days were long.
Now I proceed to live
This life I lead.
I take a look at my life
And see I have no dream.
So now I just sit back
Let my mind bleed.
‘Cause like mama said,
This ain’t for me.
What the courtroom don’t see when I get released is
That wherever I go I am surrounded by trouble.
Even though I try and try,
It seems that I am surviving to struggle.
But I also realize that this system is built
To burst your bubble.
So what can I do but
Go dumb, act hyphie and act a fool?
So I post up on the block getting drunk
With the rest of the crew!
- Yung Gumby


Enough wit’ the robberies, gang-related turf wars, and being in drive-by shootouts. I’ve been making the wrong decisions. I’ve been shot, shot at, almost killed a few times, and held hostage — and I’m only fifteen years old!

I got a three-year-old son, and I’m locked up and can’t even see him! I’m a survivor, but let’s put the shotguns, AK-15’s, MAC-10’s, and the deuce-deuces away and do the right thing. I’ve seen cousins kill cousins and too many deaths. I’ve seen enough! I’ve witnessed heads being blown off, and I just can’t take it anymore! With all that I’ve been through, I just thank God that I’m still alive.

I used to invite friends over the house to smoke weed in the room, you know, hot box. I should have been goin’ to school. I should be puttin’ knowledge in my head, instead of having bullets fly at my head. Back then it was all about runners and females, I suppose, but I was froze because of the things that I chose.
- Josh


I saw my first murder when I was around ten. I was stunned by what I saw happen that day in East Oakland.

The first guy walked up to him and said, “What the ef you’ doin’ over here?”

And the guy being asked, said, “Bustin’ m’ knocks.”

So the second guy walked up and said, “Smoke this, ninja!” After the first guy shot him in the head, the second guy shot him all over his body while he was lying dead on the concrete.

The second murder I saw, was my best friend. A couple of years ago, we were playing basketball, and all I knew is — I was running for the ball when I heard gun shots! When I looked up, I saw my best friend running towards me, and he wrapped his arms around me and tackled me. I fell to the cement. When I flipped him over, he was dying. The only thing I could think of was, “How could I have saved him?”
And it was all over trash talking.
-Big Von


Don’t people, mostly the teens, see what they are doing? Feeding that poison to their brothers and sisters. How can they participate in degrading their own people? Not only are these “drug dealers” killing their own people, they are killing themselves! Ecstasy, alcohol, powder cocaine — parties that turn into shoot-outs! Side shows, which at one time (as my older sister tells me) was a fun function, is now a deadly experience.

The drugs lead to mindlessness. And when a person is not in their right mind, there is no telling what he or she might do. Children of all ages packing firearms! Why? Because you’re scared somebody is out to get you? Why is that? Maybe it’s because the person got themselves into something they can’t change.

Do people in the ghettoes of the Bay Area, really think the streets can save them? Because, if so, I feel so sorry for those people. The only thing drugs and the streets promise is a long time in jail or a quick death. There are people in the streets who would kill their own brother over a sack of weed! It’s true. It has happened.

This past Fourth of July, one of my family’s close friends was killed (RIP) at a party. He wasn’t a bad kid, just a person who wanted to get out and celebrate the holiday. But somebody being stupid and not thinking, felt it necessary to shoot in the house — and killed an innocent person! Just like that, life was over. I won’t say his name, but to go out one night not knowing you’re about to attend your last party!

What can a person do? My brother gave me the news on Tuesday, and my friend’s wake is (or was) today. As I sit here in my cell, I can easily piece together what happened. Somebody went to a party, probably smoked some weed, had some drank and popped a pill. After being high, “feeling himself” — he started shooting in the party, not knowing that in the process he ended someone’s life.

What was dude doing with a gun in the first place? Who sold him the pill or weed? Did he even feel the slightest bit of guilt when he found out he killed an innocent kid?

You see, for some reason, people see promise in the streets. Then, after a while, all that comes to an end. Yet it is up to the person who has affiliated him/herself with the streets to pull themselves out before it is too late. And, in the streets, you’ll never know when it can be too late — at one moment everything will be smooth, and the next, all hell can break out! It’s real!

If people get angry or mad when they read this, that is good; because that person knows, deep down, that I am not lying.
So as I end this piece, I hope my words have touched somebody — because I am tired of seeing the news! I am tired of hearing people tell me,
 “Oh Vince, you remember so and so? Yeah. He/she is dead.”



I walked out of my apartment complex and I seen one of the guys from around my block, but I’ve been seeing him for like, three years, so I didn’t think down on him, and he asked me if I wanted to go get some drank and I said, “I ain’t trippin’”.

So we walked two blocks up to the liquor store and he bought some Bacardi Extra Dry gin, orange juice and Bacardi Limon Personals, and we walked back down two blocks to Frick Middle School and sat inside the school on the steps.

Keep in mind it’s 2:00 in the morning on a Friday, and he mixed the drinks. I wasn’t even trippin’, but he slipped four Ecstasy pills in my drank so we walked to 62nd and Foothill to where the sideshow was located, and I was just standin’ around watchin’ cars spin and fly and this girl walked up to me and asked if she could hit my drink. I passed it to her, not knowin’ it was poisoned and refilled. I blacked out and woke up in the hospital with tubes everywhere, and a tube going down my throat cause I couldn’t swallow any solid foods and I had a hole in my back, lip and tongue, because of the acid in the pills, my spinal cord was messed up, my kidneys were dried out, I was in the hospital for three weeks, and when I got out, it took me a whole hour to walk to the corner store.

If you think about it, too many people talk about lowering the crime rate but shit never happens. They keep sending young people to CYA when honestly they don’t need to go. All it do is increase the crime rate because when they get out some of them are a lot worse than they used to be.

The government itself is adding a lot of crime to this world. Why allow us to drink, when drinking screws up our minds so bad than any others drug out there. When you drink, sometimes the crime you did, you didn’t even know it.

Sometimes it feels like we living in a trap, because we live how we grow up. What some people teach us always involves crime, and honestly, to me crime will never stop, it will just keep getting bigger and worse. Not just in America, but everywhere on Earth, crime is a part of life.

Prisons are like being in Gladiator School to turn ninjas out to be worse. Some brighten up but most just become worse. Crime is never going to stop, honestly, it’s just going to get bigger
- Le’Jon


The streets are not changing; some things are, but not all. The street cleaners are coming by more often now, new tar is put down, and the murder rate is dropping, which is nice to hear about. Homeless are having a roof over their heads — finally! But the schools’ ratings are dropping on academics and students are leaving school as soon as it starts. Police are coming by, but they’re not protecting nothing but theirselves. Most people enjoy the corners more than the park, library, or even their own homes.

People just look at me and say, “You got bigger!” Or sometimes they say, “Look at that peach fuzz!” — my beard! But otherwise everything is the same about me when they see me. My potnas have changed a little bit, because they start going in the house when shhh get hot — but they still smoking, drinking, and popping!

I’ve changed the way I look at people, how I respond to them, and how I communicate with them. I’ve changed the way I think, ‘cause I’m not selfish anymore. I don’t get mad at certain things, but it’s still in me — which I have to fix. I don’t think about big things anymore. I’m patient about situations.

A lot has changed since I been locked up. It’s been only forty-nine days, and I’ve lost four of my potnas, including a female! I was just thinking that if I was out right now, would I probably be living? Maybe, and maybe not. It’s been hectic! But I’m trying to work these problems out.

I hope ninjas understand that the streets ain’t gon’ be the same in the next ten years. Just to give you a hint of changes in the future: Don’t you see white people living in yo’ neighborhood?
-Le ‘Jon


Every second, every minute, every day, every week, every month, every year a young soldja was born in the crack house confined within ghetto projects, barely getting by as a youngin’ tryna survive. Ghetto children tryin’ not to cry, asking God why. Raised up by cold stones, fiends, pimps, and dope dealers livin’ in the life of crime.

That’s where we get our game from to keep on pushing, ‘cause they used to tell us hustlin’, rappin’ and sport is all we got, so have you a plot. A hata play you close. Youngin’ bust them shot and watch his mark’ ass drop, and stay away, and never talk to them crooked-ass cops.

Do ya thang lil’ homie, keep ya eye on the prize, ‘cause we in a place of ruthless struggles for survival, where the young ninjas gotta be ruthless and learn to go for broke, ‘cause the weak fall while the strong survive. ‘Cause in these streets it’s an eye for an eye.

That’s what I see when I look out the ghetto window of life.
-Young Sochi


It’s a new time, but the same old shit! Man, y’all need to get your mind right, ‘cause they’re not playing man — they givin’ time out like candy! Y’all don’t even see the trap they have set.

Y’all need to wise up and go to school. Don’t let this ‘hood life fool you, man. It’s a set up! The streets is their turf, nigga, they run this shit. They bring in the drugs, we sell them. We get caught, they get paid. We get out — now we really have to hustle in a negative way; and in no time, we back in this place givin’ them money!

So who is really the pimp, and who the ho’? Don’t be a ho’ for the system! Man, make your bread in a way that they can’t mess with you, and you will see the difference. ‘Cause this system is set up for us to fail in so many ways. Don’t become a hoe, man! Step it up, and stop the killings — ‘cause you doing what they want: Kill us off!

Like I said before, if we come together, they can’t not see us. We are as good if not better than them. Get your book smarts up, ‘cause we got the streets down. Then see if they still have that smile on the face!
-Beezy Baby


It all started when I was eight years old. Me and my best friend went through his parents’ cabinet and saw a gold bottle. It was later known as Jose Cuervo Tequila. I didn’t know anything about it except that it smelled bad and when our dads drank it, it looked like they were having fun.

So I drank it until I was about to throw up. It didn’t taste good at all. I don’t know why I kept drinkin’ it. I didn’t know what drunk felt like, but I was instantly feelin’ myself! I walked home later swervin’ — couldn’t find my house, and I lived right around the block! So I went to my other friend’s house, and we stole some cigarettes from his grandma and went in the backyard and smoked a cigarette.

I loved how I felt. So, whenever I could get my hands on any kind of alcohol, it was gone! My dad also worked for a beer company, so my friends were always with beer. Sometimes there’d be more beer than food. So I got hooked on beer.

By the late eighth grade/early ninth grade, I was introduced to what is known as a forty ounce. 211 Steel Reserve, it became my best friend! It was cheap, and easier to get than any drug. All I had to do, was walk to the liquor store and have a bum buy me a forty. And eventually, I was able to buy drank from the liquor store myself.

I started drinkin’ heavily. I was averagin’ four to five forties and about two tall cans of 211, a day! Then I started drinkin’ personal bottles to the face, such as E and J, Hennessy, and any kind of vodka. I always preferred forties, ‘cause I could get more alcohol out of forties than bottles — and they were cheaper.

Pretty much my whole family is alcoholics. So it kind of caught on to me. All of my friends smoked weed and popped thizz pills, and some use’ to hit lines of that yada. The only thing I did was smoke Newports and grapes and drink. I liked drinkin’ more than anything, even though all my patnas’d rather thizz or smoke grapes.

Alcohol was cheaper, got me more messed up, and lasted just as long if not longer than weed. I use’ to drink ‘cause I thought it would solve problems. But now I realize, and I reminisce on my past as an alcoholic.

Out of the seventeen years I’ve been alive, I don’t remember half of my life! From the tenth grade until I caught my case, I was probably drunk about ninety-five per cent of everyday! So, I guess all my troubles started and ended with alcohol.
-Lil Droop


What does it mean to be hard? Hard enough for what? Hard enough to fight? Hard enough to sell dope? Or hard, literally, enough for a bullet to hit you and bounce off?

Me, I’m hard enough to be me, hard enough to challenge my peers, also hard enough to help someone in danger. But I don’t call it being hard, I call it being me. For a long time I thought I wanted to be hard. I thought being hard was cool, but all the hard people I know is dead or in jail.

I figured out I don’t want to be hard no more when my mom told me that her boyfriend’s son got shot in the back. That was messed up, ‘cause he was a good kid. He ain’t do nothing wrong. Right then I was like, “Damn! I just want to be a normal little kid.” I’m hard enough to be a little kid again


Reprinted by permission of “The Beat Within”. For more information, please contact editor-in-chief, David Inocencio, at dinocencio@newamericanmedia.org.