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*The names of the winners and the people involved have been removed or changed to protect their privacy.

Sucked into the wrong crowd

1st place $50

Author’s name withheld, Birmingham HS (Van Nuys)

I’m not close to most people. If you know me well, looking at the person I am now and always have been, you would’ve never expected the way I might’ve turned out! I could’ve never imagined this was possible—hanging out on Whitnall Highway, running from the cops, ducking from the bullets and watching them all get high and drunk. Was this all a dream?

Her name was Gabby. She was my closest friend. It was she who introduced me to the gang scene. Before I entered this unknown neighborhood, I never thought such negativity and cruelty could be in one place.

Me and Gabby met in the sixth grade. We were never really close then though. Two years later, in eighth grade, I found myself claiming her as my best friend. We hung out every day all day. Anywhere I was, she was. Anyone she knew, I knew. We were pretty much inseparable you could say.

As days went on we got closer and I was pretty much at her house every day having a blast, meeting new people, until one day I noticed I was meeting the wrong people. As I was sitting in her living room on the couch, three different guys were asking me where am I from? What the heck does that mean? Chillin’ with them more and more, I soon found out.

As months went by I began hanging around on Whitnall Highway. To me or you this is just a street, but to them it was an everyday lifestyle. Everyone that had no type of love at home, or was just under the influence, would be there. Gang members, graffiti artists, potheads, etc … I think you get the point.

Although this was the most dangerous place I could be at the time, it felt like home! I felt safe, was accepted and found love. Wow, I guess you can see I was trapped just as much as they were—physically, mentally and emotionally.

So here I am on Whitnall Highway with my best friend caught up in a few different problems. Getting in trouble with the cops all the time, eager to start smoking and drinking and having this “I just don’t give a s—” attitude when I notice I’m sucked in as deep as possible, and I’m not even sure there’s a way out. I’d been with people who could be charged with grand theft auto, murder, vandalism and much more. How could I possibly leave my second family and homies?

One day we were all cruisin’ and saw someone from our rival gang. Before I could close and open my eyes I hear two thumps, six bullets and one siren. “Book it!” Those were the last words I wanted to hear.
I soon realized that hanging out with the wrong crowd wasn’t worth it. Losing all my friends—close friends at that—failing all my classes and being illiterate, and talking like an idiot was now over. I wasn’t raised this way, so why live like this?

Sure, looking back I miss them, but I don’t miss the violence at all. Cluelessly approaching this sanctuary-like area, never in my dreams could I have imagined seeing such foul energy all at once.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what occurred during the two thumps, six bullets and sirens? Let’s just say, rest in peace, Gabby.

‘Scared for my life’

2nd place $30

Author’s name withheld, Washington Prep HS

Violence has affected me since the day I was born. I grew up in South Central and most of my family is involved with gangs. It was so hard for me to survive because I was kidnapped, raped, abused; anything you can name probably happened to me. Where I’m living now, it’s hard for me to even walk up and down the street because I get scared that somebody is going to try to harm me. All they do is fight and I can’t even take out my trash without somebody fighting or shooting. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I live near a gang. They are so disrespectful. When we moved into the area, they were already trying to fight us. They tagged their hood on my house, trying to tell us who they are and trying to scare us, and I am scared because who knows what they are up to. My family was threatened by one of them when a friend came over. They said if our friend came back they were going to kill all of us. I don’t even feel comfortable walking to the store because I know it’s not safe. Nowhere is safe with violence.

When I lived in San Bernardino I experienced a lot too. We had riots all the time involving whites and blacks, whites and Mexicans, blacks and Mexicans. It got so out of hand that races were turning against each other. I had to go through that almost every day. I got suspended every week because of all the fights that were going on. I was a victim in a crime. Because of what I had on, some man put a gun to my head and told me if I wore those colors again, he would kill me. Do you know how that makes me feel having to hide in my room, having to cry myself to sleep, having to wake up in the middle of the night to check on my family to see if they are all alive? It hurts to know what this world has turned out to be.

I am so scared for my life right now. I pray to God every night hoping that someday the violence will come to an end. I’m just so tired of fighting my life every day and I’m tired of losing somebody who’s close to me over violence. I want to make this world a better place for everybody. Then they won’t have to be scared of leaving the house or just walking down the street because they will be safe. It just hurts me so bad to see all the violence that’s happening to me and to you.

My uncle was shot

3rd place $20

Author’s name withheld, Birmingham HS (Van Nuys)

“I’ll make five grand a night! You don’t even make that in a month!” These were my uncle’s words to my mom. I saw my mom laugh with disgust and disappointment in her face. “I know … but can you go to bed at night with the peace that I have? Knowing that people are after you, and they want you dead!” she responded. I noticed tears were flowing down her cheek. She had finally decided to realize her baby brother was selling drugs on the streets of Los Angeles. She accepted that her brother was no longer safe with the life he was living and the violence he was already involved in. There are only two ways out of that job—in a coffin or in handcuffs.

Seven years passed and we never heard anything from him. On May 7, 2004, the phone was ringing at about one in the morning. My mom chose not to pick up because she knew whoever was calling was gonna tell her bad news. “Ringgg … Ringgg …” was all I heard until she picked up the phone. It was the hospital informing us that my uncle had been stabbed and shot multiple times. They said he was in critical condition and they didn’t know if he was gonna make it.

I had never seen my mom drive like this, she was going about 80 mph on the streets! I felt like I was going to die that night, either because I was so scared my uncle was gonna die, or because of how my mom was driving. I looked at her and noticed that her tears were coming down again. I asked her, “Mom, are you OK?” She looked at me and responded, “No! I am not OK!” I felt bad because of how she yelled at me, but I understood because her little brother was dying.

We pulled up to the hospital and parked the car. We ran inside with such desperation. We waited until he got out of surgery. The doctor came out and told us, “We’re lucky he’s alive, but there is some damage.” I remember my mom saying, “Thank you, God.” She said it with such relief.

My uncle was lucky, he lived to see another day. Violence affected me so much in that situation that sometimes I’m even scared to just sit outside my house because I’m related to him. It’s been almost five years. We haven’t heard anything from him or seen him. Because he lives a violent life, who knows if he’ll be alive tomorrow.

Next essay contest—What’s your favorite sound?

Do you love waking up to the sound of bacon sizzling in the skillet? Are you relieved when the last school bell rings? How do you feel when your boyfriend’s special ringtone plays on your phone or when a crowd is cheering after your team scores a goal? Certain sounds can excite or relax us. They can remind us of good times in our lives or make us happy to be right where we are. Tell us about your favorite sound. Describe what it sounds like and how you feel you when you hear it. What about it makes it the best thing you like to hear?

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and telephone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners. Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our January-February 2009 issue and put on our website at


L.A. Youth 
5967 W. 3rd St. Ste. 301
Los Angeles CA 90036

DEADLINE: Friday, Dec. 12, 2008