Home Life of a Homeboy

Mother believes prison is the best hope that her sons will survive

 A son's aspirations
11 p.m., Sunday, June 6
12th Street and Mohave

Phoenix police Lieutenant Joe Klima stops his cruiser near 12th Street and Mohave, in the heart of the Eastside Los Cuatro Milpas gang turf.

A 14-year-old we'll call David is sitting on the curb, answering questions from two Phoenix gang squad officers, who saw David riding a bicycle and detained the youth on a curfew violation.

Rose Johnson

During a search, officers found rolling papers and eye wash. The officers tell Klima they suspect David has been smoking marijuana.

David is dressed in a blue Dickies shirt and dark shorts. His hair is cropped tight. He weighs maybe 90 pounds.

The letter "E" glistens from a chrome belt buckle, possibly indicating David's affiliation with the Eastside LCM.

"I'm not in a gang," David says. "I'm telling you the truth, too. I never even talk about a gang."

No one is buying David's story. The officers keep pressing the kid. Before long, he admits his affiliation with Eastside LCM.

"They are all I've got," David says.

The youth claims he never causes any trouble, but then he backs off that position, too.

"I got locked up a couple of times before," he says, reciting a series of charges.

"Attempted burglary, a couple of criminal damage. I broke a couple of windows," he says.

One officer who knows David's record reminds him of a recent fight.

"He started talking shit, he called me a bitch," David says. "He swung at me, but I ducked and I hit him and he dropped to the ground."

David says he doesn't live in this neighborhood anymore. He now lives a couple of miles north, near McDowell Road, with his mom and brother. His father died last winter from habitual drug and alcohol abuse. Richard says he rode his bike to his old 'hood to visit his friends.

The officers lecture David, warning him of the dangers of running with a gang. Klima tells David there are things he can do to better his life.

"I don't know what you are talking about," David says.

Making money is all that counts, he says. Especially when one doesn't expect to live past his mid-20s.

"Life is all about money," David says. "Money can get you bitches, girls."

A mother's lament

4 p.m., Saturday, June 19

central Phoenix

Maria sits at the kitchen table of her neat and modest home and begins to weep as she recalls her childhood -- her mother would beat her until she wet her pants.

The 39-year-old single mother then lurches forward through time to the moment she believes she lost control of her youngest two children, David and his older brother, Michael. (Maria, David and Michael are all aliases.)

"I was really mad at him [David]. I was yelling at him. I was cussing at him. And I told you, I was very abused. It was so easy for me to follow that pattern.

"And when I was hitting him, he was starting to cuss me out. 'Fuck you, you stupid fat bitch.' And I just thought, you know, 'Fuck you, punk.'

"And I told him, 'I'm the boss here. Not you guys.'

"I was hitting him, hitting him against the door, I was kicking him. You know. I was mad.

"I'm not no punk and I'm not a badass, either. But he had to push to that point where I was going to fuck him up.

"I didn't like that feeling, because I had been at the other side of that. I've gotten that before.

"I know that trail," she says softening her voice to a whisper.

And now she sees her sons on the same perilous path.

"I was hitting him -- and that's when I seen his eyes. I could see him wetting himself. I thought, 'My God.'"

That image nearly paralyzes Maria.

"My guilt got to me," Maria says, her voice barely audible. "My God, how could you do that? After everything you went through . . . how could you do that?"

So she gave up parental discipline as she knew it. She doesn't try to control her sons anymore.

"And I know, that's where I feel that I failed them. That I didn't beat the hell out of them like my mother used to beat me," Maria says.

Maria knows she's mired in psychological quicksand.

"It's kind of sick, but growing up abused like that, it was normal for me," she says.

"My mom says, 'Beat the shit out of them little assholes. Kick their ass. Fucking punks.' You know, because that's the way my mother talks," Maria says.

"My God, Mom, I can't do that. . . ."

Maria's 18-year-old daughter, who is pregnant with her second baby, enters the kitchen with her husband.

"I used to beat the fuck out of her," Maria says, pointing at her daughter.

The young woman smiles and tells her mom that she's dilating.

David and Michael are in the living room. They're angry that their mother is talking to a reporter. They fiddle with a Nintendo game and occasionally yell profanities and insults about how Maria keeps the house.

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