By Eravid Casttro
Image via Flickr
Editor’s Note: Below you will read a raw narrative from a young man who moved to and grew up in Merced. While some of our readers may conclude his story paints a sordid picture of young people in our community, I urge you to stop yourself from trying to invalidate his experience. Casttro’s candid account alludes to many issues affecting youth in our city: gangs, crime, drugs, incarceration, youth disengagement, and most importantly, the disinvestment in youth. More needs to be done by city officials to support and empower Merced’s younger residents before they end up in a state of hopelessness.
Take a naive boy, he’s disciplined. He knows right from wrong. He was sheltered, nurtured, and overall kept away from negative influences. Sports were a part of his life to add to his character. Freedom was given, but so was responsibility. He refused drugs and planned on going to college.
Now take that same boy as a freshman in high school, and move him to an area that he has purposely avoided. Move him to what people call “ghetto” and plant a vice in his mind.
The kids of this new neighborhood only cared about his street credibility: where he was from and what drugs he took. Teachers only cared about his prior education and how his grades were above average. This boy will refuse to make friends and keep to himself, focusing strictly on education. Until mom’s too busy working to notice his 3.0 grade point average or achievements. The boy then realizes he has no support, or friends. His grades don’t bring that release of dopamine anymore. His teenage mind becomes his worst enemy.
So he finds where to buy alcohol. Local liquors stores didn’t skip a step when it comes to taxing minors. Smoking was next and the boy became more social because of it. What he thought was helping him make friends was slowly changing his attitude towards everything. Slowly his grades dropped, but he’s too busy smoking with friends and walking the streets to notice. Which neighborhoods to avoid became clear to him with the help of his new friends.
Eventually, his friends would be keen to start pushing for local gangs. He didn’t mind, he would oddly feel safer. He’d unknowingly adopt a new lifestyle. He felt he belonged for the first time since arriving here. He needed money to support his new found habit, money his mother couldn’t afford to give. False approval from his own mind would make him think it was okay to start selling weed. The only persuasion he needed was the initial thrill of looking at it in quantity in his backpack. Knowing he can go down anytime was his new way to feel alive. Staying up all night smoking with older men, only to remember he had school in a couple hours, and school was three miles away.
Then the ‘hood finished molding him with the loss of friends. Lost to incarceration and gun violence in a cycle that seems to never end. That was the first time his mind had perceived death and juvenile hall as a real consequence.
This boy went from having to be persuaded to try them, to willingly and effortlessly popping pills. It became his worst vice. The vice with the cloudy dream high he saw as perfect. The vice that made worries go away, but really they were just ignored. You forgot if you took enough. He did. He forgot his mom’s scoldings, he forgot full days at school, or how he even got to school. Waking up in darkness, sweating and scared was okay. Now he can get ready for school on time. When school became a nuisance he simply left. As simple as jumping a fence. When he would decide to go to school, he’d just hate being there. When he got home he was isolated in his room, with no socializing. He felt he didn’t belong again. A 15-year-old who knew better, spiraling downward with as much “medicine” as he needed.
Nobody ever helped in his recovery. He knew it would be something he’d do alone. This boy used ‘God’ as an excuse to halt his lifestyle in its tracks. Nobody helped him get back on track. They only suggested it, and left.
He then goes back to high school and tries just enough to graduate. His college plan shredded by himself. His transcripts aren’t impressive. Neither is he, but now he has the real world in front of him.
Now, he feels like a lost cause, attempting to stay positive while everything and everyone around him rain down negativity.
Is there hope for young people like him? He’s trying to see light at the end of the tunnel, but all he’s encountered is darkness.
This is his reality. This is his corrupted adolescence.