You’ve heard of “blood in, blood out”. Spill the blood of somebody else to join a gang. And gotta do it to get out, too. I made my father bleed. He beat my mother. Pimped her out. Killed her when she got in too much trouble. I found her, hole in her head. I knowed it was him. So his life paid for my entry into the “Family”.
I never felt so safe in all my life. I wasn’t never safe, no matter what, before I wore them colors. Green and yellow. For the first time, I had somebody watchin’ my back. Makin’ sure I ate, got a place to sleep that was warm, that nobody was after me.
Here’s the messed up part. You feel safe, but you ain’t. Not even close. There’s somebody wantin’ to take you out around every corner. Sell a dime bag on the wrong turf, mess with some guy’s girl, wear your greens and yellows in a red block. It’s dangerous out here. And if things get too tough, you gotta take out a brother to save your own skin.
It’s like the jungle. Something bigger’s always ready to make your their prey. And, believe me, there are plenty big predators out there.
The only place I could go to rest was church. It used to be a doughnut shop. But some kids came in and made it a church. Bunch of hipsters wantin’ to make a difference. At first I went in to hustle them. You know, get some money for us to “protect” them.
“Sorry, man, we don’t have any money,” the hipster told me. “All we got are cookies and coffee. We could pay you that way.”
Them cookies was warm. With big chocolate chunks. One of the girls would make them every night at 10. You gotta know that was good payment for protection.
But they got to me. At first I thought them cookies was laced with somethin’. Some kind of Jesus drug. Cause whenever I went in there I ended up feelin’ safe. Started talkin’ about my childhood. Told them about my street life. Somethin’ in me started to feel calmer, smoother. They never told me I had to go to church. They never made me feel bad about who I was. They just let me talk.
And they’d hug me. Not the quick, bump hug I’d have with my brothers in the “Family”. No, these hugs were tight. Some kind of meaning in them hugs. Not even my mother hugged me like that. Really, I don’t think she never put her arms around me. Them arms of hers with tattoos and pinholes from shooting up. Her smellin’ like bud and booze.
“You gotta tell me somethin’,” I said one day.
“Yeah? What you wanna know?” The kid, Brad, was pouring soy milk into his coffee.
“What’s so different about you? Why do you think comin’ here in the hood and bakin’ cookies is a good idea? What makes you do that?”
“Well, it’s because I’m tryin’ to be like Jesus.”
And that was all he had to say. I went on the streets that night. Phoenix heat is dry. It hangs over you like a weight that you can’t push off. I strutted, puttin’ on my tough face, darin’ anybody to mess with me.
I seen a bum, curled up and sleepin’ in this doorway of a abandoned building. I didn’t know much about Jesus. But I did know that Jesus would want to help that man. All that was in my pocket was a pack of cigarettes, a gun and one of them cookies a kid wrapped up for me.
“Hey, man,” I said, squattin’ down. “You hungry?”
He looked at me, afraid. His eyes were stuck on my green and yellow hat. I took it off.
“Don’t be scared, man,” I said. “All I got is this cookie. You want it?”
“I guess so,” he said. “Why you doin’ this?”
“I’m just tryin’ somethin’ new.” I put the cookie into his hand.
It felt good. Helpin’ somebody out. The rest of that night, I kept findin’ people to be like Jesus with. It made me want to stop bein’ part of the “Family”. It made me want to be around the kids at the church.
“I wanna get out,” I told Brad the next morning.
“Get out?” he asked.
“Yeah. Out of the gang.” I looked at the kid. “I gotta try and be like Jesus. Like you guys.”
“Wow. That’s awesome.”
“Problem is, I gotta blood out. I gotta kill somebody to get out.”
Brad sat down and crossed his legs. “I’m going to need some coffee.”
We walked to a diner down the street. Brad liked it because they served organic, free-range, fair trade…whatever. Hipster food. The waitress’ eyes got big when she seen me, though. I smiled at her. It didn’t make her trust me. She just pointed to a table and we sat down.
“So, why do you have to do that to get out?” Brad asked, sipping his coffee.
“It’s either somebody else or me. And it ain’t gonna be me.”
“Somebody’s blood is the price?”
“Yup.” I shoved a forkful of eggs into my mouth. “Man, these eggs are good.”
“So, is the problem that you don’t want to kill anybody?”
“Yeah. I done enough of that.”
“No clue. Too many.”
“And none of those would count?”
“Nope. Them was for the gang.”
“Man, I’m really praying for wisdom here. I have no idea what you should do.”
“Well, I guess I just find the baddest guy on the street. You know, somebody doin’ real bad stuff. Then it’s kinda like I’m doin’ somethin’ good.”
“No. You can’t do that.” He closed his eyes.
“Are you prayin’ right now?”
“Yeah. I just don’t understand the whole payment in blood thing.”
“Some kind of atonement. That’s what one of the guys says. Whatever that word means.”
“It’s a Christian thing. Atonement for sins. Somebody else pays for your sins and makes you clean. That someone else just happens to be Jesus.”
“I remember that from church. I went a couple times when I was a kid.”
“He died, spilled His blood, to cover our sins.” He opened his eyes. “He already died in your place.”
“He’s like my blood out.”
“Yup. Kind of like that.”
“But that ain’t gonna cut it.”
I left that breakfast. I was gonna find somebody to use for my blood out. One of my brothers would have to be there to watch it. I never felt so sick in all my life. But all I could think of was Jesus. Tryin’ to be like Him. Tryin’ to let Him be my blood out.
I wasn’t gonna work.
My only option was to kill or be killed. In my pocket was a gun. It had been my weapon of choice for years.
Kill or be killed. Or be killed by me. It was a option. But it wasn’t the right option.
There wasn’t a good choice for me.
Run away and get chased down by a “brother”. Keep livin’ in the gang and never be safe again. Turn myself in. Snitch on all my “Family” and get taken out in jail.
Kill or be killed. I couldn’t think no more.
The only thing that made sense was to get rid of that gun. Bury it in the desert. Along with the green and yellow. I drove in my car till I couldn’t see no more buildings, no more people.
I dug a hole. As deep as I could. Didn’t need no sand shifting and uncoverin’ the gun for some kid to find. I took it apart. Buried it in pieces. I put murder in the ground. Hustlin’. Pimpin’. Cheatin’, lyin’, hate. All in the ground. Covered by sand and dirt and my own tears. It surprised me to know that I was cryin’.
“Jesus, I need help.” I didn’t know what else to pray. Never done it in my life.
He was gonna be my blood out.
I knew what I had to do. I called the sheriff. Told him where to find me. Sat on my car hood and waited.
Five cop cars come to get me. They patted me down. Cuffed me. Pushed my head down when I got into the back of the squad car.
“I’ll tell you everythin’. You just gotta keep me safe.”
“We’ll take care of you.” The cop drove me back to the city.
Atonement. Blood out. The swap wasn’t fair. Jesus’ goodness for my bad. But after the blood there was life. Somehow there was life. And there would be life for me, too.