Home, My First Prison by Adan Caja
I was brought to this country early enough for me not to remember. As far back as memory serves, life was rough for my family. Dad worked in a clothing sweatshop and mom in a food truck. Only my older brother was around. At least around enough to tell me he is not going to be. So, I would sit in the apartment building waiting until someone came home to feed me. If we had any food.
Then it all changed when my Dad quit sewing and began cooking. Sure, he was around now, but a father, he was not. More like an employer training his employee… He taught us how to divide and measure. He taught me how to count up 100’s to 1000’s by 5’s, 10’s, 20’s and 50’s. All before I even started kindergarten. It’s a reason why I like and excelled in school, because homelife was an abusive version of it every day.
In south central, the area that I grew up. It is necessary to learn how to decipher the writings on the walls, to recognize the danger signs by reading the speed or traffic (drive by’s) and to trust no one. Most of all you’ll learn about the gangs, how they behave and what their purpose is. It’s inevitable to try to avoid this. They scared me so much that I would not walk down the street but use alleys to go to my friend’s house. One day I came home from school and Dad ordered me take what looked like teeth in these bags to the ‘bald headed guys’ down the block. He said ‘ask for Tiny’. I grabbed the bags, put them, in my spiderman backpack and off I went on my bike with training wheels. I knew Tiny was a man but before I get there, I was confronted by four teens. Not knowing what they wanted, I said I need to see Tiny as they approach me. To this day, I don’t understand why they’ve chose to bully a fat 8 year old for his bike and backpack.
I began the long walk home and pondered how I was going to explain this to Dad. He is going to kill me and before the apartment came into sight, a car cut me off and two guys drag me in. I screamed out I was robbed and beaten. Then I got out of the car I saw my bike and backpack by the steps of the closest apartment. Then I saw a man who I assumed was ‘Tiny’ who walked up and put his arm around my neck. He began, I’m sorry for the little homies… You Camaro’s son?’ I didn’t know who he was talking about but figured he was talking about my Dad because he owned a Camaro and that’s the only place I knew I seen that word. I nodded yes. Tiny shown me the bag and said ‘tell your pops they love this shit!’ I nodded yes. ‘This $2,500 is for your Dad and here’s $500 for you’. I nodded yes again. ‘Just don’t tell you pops’. I stopped nodding, but ultimately said ‘ok’. Tiny continued if he ever found out that we robbed you, it would be bad for everyone. I agreed and left for home. I was imagining what to spend the $500 on. I was 8 years old and rich.
As I crossed the threshold entering my living room, Dad put his hand out. I gave him the $2500 and turned to head back out. Since we lived in a studio apartment there was no room to count my riches. As I’m about to turn the knob he says, ‘and where’s the extra $500 for getting beat up and robbed?’ I replied ‘huh?’ and suddenly he flung me against the wall knocking the air out of my lungs and began to choke me, all the while saying ‘when I ask you something, answer me and assume I already know the answer. Always tell me the trust even if I’ll get you in trouble. If you lie, I’ll hurt you… tell the truth… I’ll hurt you less. Right there is the moment I lost my fear of gangs and developed a fear of my father.
My fear grew more as more cooking had to be done, cut, wrapped, counted and delivered. It seemed like I worked endless hours daily. No one was allowed inside our house because of all the loose money and product that’s around. Dad became more paranoid and aggressive as time went on. One day I woke to my mother screaming and bloody as dad was choking her. My brother and I pulled him off of her and we stayed awake and quiet. I actually passed out before dawn and awoke to find the place empty. Later that day I asked my brother ‘what the hell was that?’ He replied, ‘oh yes, get use to that… he does that a lot. Just be ready to jump in if it ever goes too far!’ I got my share of beatings and Dad even burned the palms of my hands over an open flame or a stove, but none of those pains was as painful as seeing the pain he inflicted on my mother. I didn’t see mom much during the week because of her job but when I did, I enjoyed every moment. One of the gang members that jumped me, ended up becoming a good friend and began protecting me when I sold what I stole from my Dad. I questioned my parents relationship and the day I choose to have a heart to heart with my mom. I told her we needed to leave him and how I can support us. She said in a calm and soothing voice ‘your father and I have been friends since I was 8. He has demons and ghosts that haunt and torment him and if I can absorb some of that pain so he can continue on, then so be it. He brought everyone he could to America. Your daddy is a good man’. Mom spoke of his childhood trauma but I didn’t care because I had it in my head that if he put hands on her again, I’m going to kill him.
I saved up money from dealing and got myself a .38 pistol for protection. By this time we moved into a one bedroom apartment where my brother and I slept. I awoke in the middle of the night when I heard crying, yelling and that familiar sounds of fist on flesh. Without thinking, I grabbed my gun and walked towards the noises in the kitchen. As soon as they came into view, I raised the gun and clocked back the hammer. ‘Stop hurting my mom’, I yelled with tears in my eyes. ‘If you don’t stop, I’ll kill you.’ I had seen lots of people get shot and even killed. Those who usually get hit in the chest don’t make it. I saimed there. Dad turned me and walked slowly towards me putting his chest to the barrel and said ‘Please do it Mijo…. It’s ok.’ Like he wanted to die. Then without saying a word, he left the apartment. Surprisingly, I managed to keep my gun. For a time, I hated myself
Then he finally got …………….. and each other he hugged me and broke into tears. In fact, it was like the first time I had seen him cry. He cried for what seemed like forever. All he could muster to say was ‘forgive me, I’m sorry’ although I didn’t tell him right away, when he asked, all my hatred towards him shed away like the tears being shed from my eyes. We talked about numerous subjects, dad brough up our past and explained what my mom briefly conveyed to me before, his childhood trauma. Have the knowledge I now have, I felt sad for the man. A once powerful towering figure that commanded respect was now a fragile old man too weak to hold back tears every time he look at me. I promised to aide in his transformation. I forgave him because I recognized his trauma and maybe one day people will recognize mine and forgive me for my sins. Hopefully, we can heal together and I can finally have a Father.