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A true underdog is the person that nobody has faith in and everyone thinks is a loser. I know this because I have been one since birth. 

I was destined to be an underdog from the moment my father got my mother pregnant in 1986. Before I was even born, he was in jail for murder. I’ve never met him, and to my knowledge he is still in prison. I don’t even think of him as my father, I consider him to be the sperm donor. 

My mother gave birth to me through a C-section and had to stay in the hospital even after I was sent home. Instead of bonding with her, I bonded with my auntie, who was the first person to hold me, give me a kiss, hug and love me. Neither my mother nor my father were ready to be parents. As soon as my mother got out of the hospital and healed up, she was fighting with other women in the streets instead of being at home with her newborn. 

My great grandma and aunt were the highlights of my toddler life. At four years old, my grandma taught me a lesson that I still rely on today. After she caught me drinking leftover beer out of her husband’s beer can, she made me walk with her to the corner store and buy a brand new can of beer. 

She popped it open for me and told me to drink it. Even though she told me I wouldn’t get in trouble, I told her I didn’t want to have any more because it was nasty. She told me to never drink something without knowing what it was. To this day, I don’t drink. The few times I had a little made me drunk and sick.

By the time I was five years old, I had already heard gunshots in my neighborhood, but this was when bullets were coming in my direction for the first time. 

While driving home from school with my mother’s boyfriend, he told me to duck and pushed me under the dashboard on the passenger side of the car. Five to six loud shots rang out, breaking the windows of my mother’s brand new car. I was scared, but I didn’t move an inch from under that dashboard. 

I remember getting out of the car at home with shards of glass falling out of my hair. I can still hear my mom going crazy screaming. When I got older, I found out that the gunshots came from a .44 Magnum because my mom found a slug in the headrest of my passenger seat. Since then, she kept that slug in her top dresser drawer. If I had been taller or older, my head would have been gone.

Around this time, I became aware of being a Crip. My brother and sister’s father and his family taught me how to throw up gang signs. They taught me how to fight and gave me my nickname, Lil “EE.” I guess they thought it was harmless because I was only in the first grade. 

They were unaware that I liked it. For most of my life, it has stuck with me. I loved the nice cars, jewelry, cool clothes and shoes, the hairstyles, and the money that funded that lifestyle. As I got older, I found out that what I like was called gangbanging and drug dealing. The lifestyle I loved also came with violence, guns and fast women.

At the time, I didn’t understand that jail, life in prison and death also came with it. Backstabbing, hating homies that dragged your name through the mud for their own personal reasons came along with it too as did dirty neighborhoods and prison politics. I also didn’t understand that the women we love would set us up, put us in a twist or snitch on us. These were the typical things that gang-banging had to offer. 

I used to listen to my mother gossip on the phone when I was a kid. Through her, I knew who died and who was in jail. I knew who got money, who was cheating on whom and where the party was that weekend. 

The underdog was already going through his basic training. While the average kid was playing with toys and watching cartoons at the age of six or seven, my life took a tragic turn. I lost my grandma and great grandma a year apart. This, of course, meant that my mother simultaneously lost her mother and grandma as well.

This is when my mother’s abuse, torture, neglect and belittling of me really became a problem. Now that I’ve gotten older, I realize my mother was taking out her anger and frustration over losing her mom and grandmother on me and my siblings. 

We ended up bouncing from place to place because she couldn’t pay the rent or because of overcrowded living conditions. I was getting beatings every week, sometimes for no reason at all. We were exposed to different men coming out of her bedroom and to the moans and groans that accompanied their visits. We witnessed the bruises on her face and were told it was an accident. 

She gave her boyfriends and her female friends all of her attention and loyalty, while her kids yearned for a love that they would never receive. 

My fellow underdog, have you ever been beaten while naked with an extension cord and then forced to get into a hot tub with peroxide bubbling in it at 9 years old? Did you ever have to put your hand over the flame on a hot stove? 

Did you wash dishes and vacuum the floor before your mom gets home, so you wouldn’t get in trouble? Those chores and the threat of punishment has made me the clean and neat person I am today. Underdog, have you also been forced to raise your siblings like they were your own even though you were still a child? Did you change diapers, make meals and help with potty training? 

While I loved my brother and sister when they were babies, I began to resent them because of the ongoing obligations as I got older. I was providing more for them than their own father. At the same time, I was still dealing with the trauma from the back-to-back deaths of my grandmothers. 

After I was forced at 6 and 7 years old to look at them in a casket, they haunted me in my dreams. Even now, when I get up at night to use the restroom, all I see is their caskets. 

But here’s the thing: The underdog is more aware of his or her surroundings than you are because the underdog came out of the slums and the gutter. The things you are just learning, the underdog knew about at a young age.

It’s easy to underestimate an underdog, but we are stronger than the average person because we’ve had to work 10 times harder. 

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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E.D.H.

E.D.H. is a poet who was raised in Compton in Los Angeles. He is currently incarcerated in Calipatria, California. He has asked to be published under his nickname.