Gangs, Pain and Automobiles

I met a boy.
Another underage kid with some detailed, well done tattoos. He was sixteen, but big for his age. With his height and his tattoos he could easily pass for eighteen – or twenty, but when he smiled at me he looked like a little boy. A kid.
He was nervous so I asked him about the full sleeve of ink he had on his left arm.
He told me he did them himself.
“Get out! What?” I looked at them closer.
They were beautiful. And positive, the word grateful took up most of the space. Lots of fine, detailed lines. Crisp. And the color was nice.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. “I think you’re pulling my leg.” I made a pffft sound and playfully pushed him through the door to the room.
He laughed and said, “Then you won’t believe this either.” He pulled off his shirt for the study and showed me a horrible scar.
He was shot in a drive-by at thirteen years of age.
As I did the study, he kept talking.
His mother had custody of him, but she was never around. By the time he was thirteen years old, he was affiliated with gangs and he was living on the streets.
In my neighborhood. In EAST NASHVILLE.
I asked him to turn a certain way and realized he couldn’t do it. His neck wouldn’t twist as far as it should.
I got another surprise.
“Oh, yeah. I hurt my neck two years ago.”
Of course I asked. “What happened?”
When he was fourteen, he was picked out of the crowd at a NWA wrestling match because of his size. They asked if he wanted to make some money. Of course he wanted to make some money – he was living on the streets. Plus he had dreams of making it to the WWE.
He was accidentally pushed off a second floor balcony instead, while filming some kind of promotional video for an upcoming match. They didn’t know he was only fourteen.
The accident was a blessing in disguise, he ended up in his stepmother’s custody and his entire life has changed. He’s living with her now, is home schooled, and has plans to go to an art school when he graduates. She is behind him one hundred percent.
I hope he does. I hope he makes it. He’s an amazing artist and an incredible human being. So many lives lived, in such a short time.
And can I just add this boy was beautiful? Angelic. He looked you in the eye and bared his soul. You would never imagine that he had been through so much, until he took off his shirt and you saw the gang tattoos across his midsection. I tried to ignore those and look at the whole picture.
He was just a baby really.


  1. Some people are survivors and others count themselves as victims. The only difference is where they are looking – the victim looks back thinking there must be some way to change the past; the survivor looks forward thinking there are endless possibilities ahead.

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