Monday, May 25, 2009

Gaining Perspective: My reflection on Monster

I recently finished Monster the autobiography of an LA gang member who rose to the top as a leader of the eight trey gang out of South Central and later would lead a prison contingent of Crips.

I first picked up this book in Huntsville and was immediately sucked in to the start off of violence. At age 11 Monster (as he would be called) fired 8 rounds into a crowded group of rival gang members. At that age I was at home playing Nintendo games. Monster by age 16 had already killed between 6-8 people (all gang related) and went to jail several times for minor crimes.

In another neighborhood Monster would have been a highly productive member of society:
1) He went above and beyond what was expected of him at all times
2) Created and led many projects that furthered the development and notoriety of himself and his gang
3) Took responsibility when things went wrong and gave credit to others when things went right.
4) Inspired others to be their best

In a different environment Monster is a prominent lawyer, accountant, doctor, etc. In South Central, an individual is taught to value and respect gang members. They control the neighborhood, protect it, and further it. The people with the most respect are those who have banged the hardest and the longest. So Kody did what any young person who wanted success would do. He started emulating those who were successful. He worked longer hours, harder, and went above and beyond what was required of him. And how can you blame him?

The cops don't represent a moral authority. They rarely investigate or pursue gang shootings (this is in the 80s may have changed now), they beat and abuse black citizens (book takes place before Rodney King), and all in all as long as it stays in South Central no one really cares. In fact, in the book are several examples of cops serving as informants for rival gang movements.

As I read I thought about what I would do in that situation. Given the environment and my need for control I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself on the same path. Your parents don't care about school and just going is dangerous. If you don't join a gang then you are on your own and probably attacked or molested on a daily basis. It's either eat or be eaten.

Interestingly enough he has a conversion to a militant style Muslim (think Black Panthers). Kody wants to escape the black and black violence, but can't find room for compassion or can't understand a way to solve anything without a revolution. Given his environment I can't blame him.

I did a quick google search and found out that he never escaped the gang life. With no marketable skills it seems that he found his way back into criminal activity. What is the right answer? I'm not sure. I don't know how you change whole cultures. Can you really do it one person at a time? When their environment rains down on them hate, fear, and violence? There isn't an easy answer.

It's an interesting book to say the least and I recommend it. I found it very entertaining as well as thought provoking. I definitely gained a new understanding and compassion for those who have not been as blessed as I have been.

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