A young boy points a plastic toy gun.
Photo by Addy Mae on Unsplash

I don’t regret how my life started. I was blessed to have friends who would die for me. Of course I wish they were here, but when you live like this, you can’t live forever.

My mom is a school teacher now, but she used to be a babysitter, which is how I met my bros. 

We started off playing freeze tag. This might have been when we first developed the subconscious of killers.

The game is played by tagging a player, who freezes. Another player has to tag him in order for him to move. When played for keeps, a gunner tags a player with bullets. He freezes and nobody touches him except the coroner’s officer or homicide detectives. 

We also bought pop guns and played cops and robbers. Once we saw how the police treated us, the cops always died in a hail of bullets. Everybody wanted to be the robbers. 

We had pop guns, a pocket full of Monopoly money, bubble gum cigarettes and a bubble gum pager. We would cruise our bikes through the neighborhood with one hand on the handle bar. My bike was a Huffy Mudslinger with back brakes. I could ride fast, slam the brakes and slide the bike sideways, jumping off of it before it hit the ground. 

I was the smallest of the crew, but I was the boldest. I was the one with new schemes to get money. Our first hustle was to sell our Halloween candy in elementary school. In middle school, we sold candy and frozen juice pops that would become juice pops by lunch. 

“Suicide Squad” came about when we were playing catch with a football. The ball went into the yard with a big pit bull. We called him a 15-second dog, because that’s how long it took him to kill other dogs. I went to go get the ball anyway, but when I jumped the fence, the dog broke his chain and came after me. 

I tried to take out my pellet gun, but he was coming too fast. One of my bros got his attention, and the dog chased him as I chased the dog while I tried to shoot him with my pellet gun. When the dog came back for me, I planted my feet and kept firing my pellet gun. That was the day I got the name “Gunner.”

As we got older, we began playing video games. One day, one of my friends said they joined the neighborhood gang. The other boys were excited, but I was scared. My parents said to stay away from gang members, but they were my friends. 

One day, as we were playing video games, one of my bros said he was going to the store. We heard what sounded like backfire. We heard the sirens and saw the helicopter, but we thought he was coming back. 

The story was that a car had pulled up at the store, and a guy asked what gang he was from. He was so naive, he told them. The guy climbed out of the car and shot him in the head. He was 14 years old. We all were. 

After his funeral, my bros no longer had time to play video games. They went deeper into the gang, and I got more involved with the more sophisticated aspects of the streets. They had big homies and I had elders. 

My elders considered my bros to be barbaric animals because they killed senselessly because of misplaced blind rage. I hustled, made money and bought guns to fund their wars because they were my bros. Under the table, I was their financial support. Although we were now part of two different crowds, I gave them any information they wanted since I was a hustler and could go anywhere. I knew where to find all of the most notorious feared rivals, and they were “suiciders.” 

We grew up preparing for the life we joined. We looked up to our community’s hitmen. Practiced doing hits with pop guns. Argued about kill shots. Pretended to walk up to each other and shoot each other with pop guns. When my bros became killers at the age of 15, their craft was perfected. 

They learned about self-defense rounds and set out to annihilate all their rivals. My elders started to keep me busy so I would stay away from them, but I would sneak out to hang out with them. Everybody else saw monsters, but they were my best friends. 

Murders cause wars. When they killed rivals, other rival members drove through our community looking for them. People in our community got killed bringing a strong police presence, which leads to harassment and a slow cash flow. 

My elders always made sure they knew my whereabouts because my choices worried them. The last straw was when one of my bros pointed an empty gun at the police and was shot and killed. The elders were upset with the increased police attention.

The next thing I knew, my bros were popping up dead. I remember standing at one of my bros’ caskets, and a voice said, “Be thankful that you are the smart one.” 

When the last bro entered the ground, I no longer had strong bonds with the neighborhood gang and fell in line.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Carnell Wingfield Jr.

Carnell Wingfield Jr. is a writer and poet incarcerated in California. He is a sociology major at Feather River College and also graduated with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute's paralegal course.