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Gang life sucked me in 


Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, L.A. Youth archives

1st place $50

Author’s name withheld

Many people wish to give up addictions. People tend to complain about not being able to give up chocolate, their favorite TV show, an addictive video game or texting at any hour of the day. I wish this was the case for me, but it’s not.

My addiction was perilous. My addiction contains chaos. This addiction was hard to give up because at any minute, my life could come to an end if I gave it up. It’s the gang life. I wanted to give it up, but I would be placing my life in danger.

I grew up on the streets of Los Angeles. Mom was always at work, Dad was MIA (Missing in Action) and I was left alone to deal with life on my own. I had no role models in my life. I had no guidance and there was no one to teach me values or morals. I was alone in a dangerous world. I was only 8 years old when I went to the store to buy some milk. When I arrived, I noticed gang members loitering at the entrance. One of them offered me $5. Since my mom was struggling with money, I didn’t hesitate to take it. They even called me “little homie.” I felt cool!

As I got older, I continued to admire the gang life and the respect that it gave me. I inhaled THC (marijuana) at the age of 9, meth at 11 and joined a gang at 12. I didn’t know any better; I mean these guys took me out to barbecues, the beach and even bought me what my mom couldn’t afford. I joined their gang. My mom always told me they were no good, but how bad were they if they took care of me? I was young and ignorant with no one to teach me otherwise. This was the plan, the way to pull me into their lifestyle of deception.

I was arrested on July 18, 2008 when I was only 15 years old. When I got to juvenile hall, I thought to myself, “How did I get here? How did things end up like this?” But there was no one to answer my cries, just like there wasn’t anyone to help me when I needed help to prevent me from getting into that lifestyle. When you join a gang there is only one way out: death. So I was scared to quit. I wanted to so badly, but it was a big risk.

Now I’m 19 years old and I’m on my way to state prison to serve a sentence of 23 years. This was my first time being incarcerated and being 15 at the time of the arrest didn’t mean I was going to get the benefit of the doubt. If you’re arrested for a violent crime at age 14 or older, you have to fight for your fitness. This is where the court decides if you will remain in juvenile court, where the most time you will serve is seven years, or be sent to adult court and risk spending your life in the system. Unfortunately, I was sent to adult court.

At that moment I realized that gangs were not worth dying for. None of my “homies” ever wrote to me or offered my mom money for gas to visit me. They didn’t even offer to bring her to visit me. I realized that no one was going to kill me if I gave up the gang life because no one cared what happened to me. This is how I came to the conclusion to give up the gang life. If I could go back in time, I would have joined programs, sports or anything else to keep me off the streets while my mom was at work and my dad was out of my life. But I can’t go back in time, so when I get the chance to help others, I will try to warn them not to come into this lifestyle. I won’t hesitate to be there for somebody else. So keep away from gangs because no one can help you if you don’t want to be helped.

Shopping is my addiction

2nd place $30

By Christine Matossian, Wilson MS (Glendale)

Like most girls, I can’t give up shopping. Every store I enter, I have to buy at least one thing to calm myself down whether it is small, big, cheap or expensive. I am a big shopaholic and I can’t stop myself.

I find that my shopaholic disease is worse than other girls. I have done things that I am ashamed of. No, I haven’t shoplifted, but I have done some pathetic things just to buy something I wanted. When I am going shopping with my friends, my mom gives me money. I tell my dad that my mom told me to get shopping money from him. I dig into my stash of birthday money and take some of that. Look at how much money I have to spend now, every girl’s wish. But me? Not satisfied at all. I spend all that money, holding 50 shopping bags on each arm. I spend all that money and I still want more clothes.

There are more crazy things I’ve done. One time, I went to Forever 21 with my grandma while my mom was picking up my dad’s new watch across the street. I brought $100 from my birthday money. I spent it all in less than 40 minutes. I also borrowed $50 from my grandma. I felt embarrassed borrowing money from her but I couldn’t put anything back! Don’t think I’m crazy just yet, there’s more to the story. On my way out, I found the cutest cardigan! I was dying. I had to have it! My grandma didn’t have more money with her so I conned my mom and told her I wanted the cardigan and she was on her way to buy it for me. I told my grandma to hide my shopping bags in her bag before my mom got mad at me. Thank God my grandma brought her big purse. My mom bought me my cardigan, not knowing that I bought so many clothes before she got there. I know I am pathetic.

If my shopping problem doesn’t stop sooner or later, I’ll be broke! Maybe if I won this essay contest, I would have $50 more to spend! I’m a shopaholic and I can’t stop. Shopping is my drug and I am addicted.

I can’t stop eating soft serve

3rd place $20

By Valerie Duarte, Wilmington MS

To tell you the truth, I have a big problem. No, I’m not dying of a rare infectious disease, but I do have a harmful addiction. I wish I could give it up, but I just can’t. I’ve attempted to quit numerous times but the outcome is always the same: I have to have more. What is it that always leaves me craving more you ask? It’s soft serve.

Not just the ice cream you scoop out from the pints in your freezer. It has to be the soft, creamy, deliciousness you buy from the ice cream truck. Of course, it always has to be chocolate. Not vanilla, not pineapple coconut. It starts when I hear the music from the ice cream truck. I can be concentrating doing homework but once I hear that music I throw whatever I’m doing off to the side and start searching for the nearest dollar. Once I have my money, I dash outside (while dodging the cars, of course) and order a single scoop, chocolate waffle cone. Then I sit happily on my front porch and enjoy my dollar well spent. Nothing in the world can compare to the creamy, chocolatey goodness of soft serve.

I may sound as if I would never want to quit, right? Wrong! The list of reasons why I should quit is extremely long, so I’ll just explain the most important reasons.

First of all, I don’t get an allowance. I usually get money for my birthdays, Christmas or if I get really good grades on my report cards. Or if I get really lucky, my parents give me money once they get paid. I usually try to save up for something bigger than ice cream, but over the past few months my addiction has spiraled out of control. I need to stop spending my money on ice cream or I’ll be out of money in no time.

Soft serve is not exactly the healthiest snack I could have. Especially having it three to four times a week. I don’t work out or play sports on a daily basis, except P.E., so maintaining a healthy diet is not the easiest thing. That’s another reason to quit this addiction.

As you can see, eating soft serve is tasty and filling, but over time it can leave your wallet feeling a bit empty. It can also lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. Yes, it is one of the world’s greatest food inventions, but I don’t think it’s worth all that trouble. For these reasons and many, many more, I wish I could find the strength to give up eating soft serve.



I can’t get enough of the addicting taste of Coca-Cola

Honorable Mention

Josie Medrano, Hollywood HS

Coca-Cola has to be one of the greatest inventions known to man. It goes with almost every meal. It’s so heavenly to drink on an extremely hot day and the taste is fantastic, especially when you open a can a take a sip. Ever since I was little, my mom would always give me Coca-Cola to drink. I grew up drinking Coca-Cola; it was a part of my childhood. Whenever we would go grocery shopping, Coca-Cola was always one thing we bought. It was like a necessity.  We would never go without it. My mom would usually buy 3, 2 liters of Coca-Cola or about 3, 12 packs of Coca-Cola. My mom tried to stop me and my brother from drinking so much, by buying us juice. Instead of drinking the juice, I would try to be as sneaky as possible and drink a huge glass of Coca-Cola. Or I would simply just take a can from the pack of Coca-Cola when my mom was sleeping.   At some point I refused to drink anything, unless it was Coca-Cola. When we didn’t have any I wouldn’t drink anything. It was Coca-Cola or nothing. I felt like I couldn’t live without it.  I had to drink it and have it in the house all the time. A couple of months ago I saw a nutritionist and she said it would be best for me to cut down on all the Coca-Cola.  So I did.  I went 3 days without it. The next day I thought I would reward myself by drinking a little.  Two days later, I gave in. I couldn’t help it. I had to drink it. Until this day I still drink Coca-Cola.  I’m trying to cut down little by little.

It’s too hard for me to resist dessert

Honorable mention

Karen Pino, Hollywood HS

I wish I could give up dessert. My day consisted of many meals, almost five per day, which are: breakfast, lunch, dessert, dinner and dessert. My day starts out with a school breakfast. Then a school lunch. Then when I’m home, I usually eat a cookie or a slice of cake and work on my homework. After I finish my homework, it’s dinnertime. Then after dinner it’s the official dessert time and I get a cookie, cupcake or any other type of sweet treats comes from my dad because he works at a bakery.

My dad would bring home desserts almost every day and it was always something different especially on holidays like Valentine’s Day, it would be something special for that holiday. I love desserts because they are sweet and delicious. It’s the only meal I would want and the only thing I look forward to at the end of the day. It’s these exact obsessions I want to give up because I know it’s too unhealthy and because I don’t want to become a big blob. I know it’s going to be really hard to give up my sweets and it’s going to be even harder if I have to give it up by myself, while the rest of the family continues to eat all the sweet, sugary, yummy treats in front of my face.


I need to spend less time playing video games

Honorable mention

Austin Ortega, Wilson MS

It took me some time to decide what it was that I would want to give up. After much thought and going back and forth, I have to admit that for me, video games are fun but I have a habit of playing for too long. It was hard for me to admit it because I know that my parents will probably end up reading this and remind me every time they see me play.  Xbox to me is like a get-a-way from everything. I can actually communicate online with old friends and cousins that I don’t see all the time. I enjoy playing because it is exciting and it’s a challenge.

One of the main reasons I enjoy it so much is because I enjoy getting away in my games.  Sometimes it feels like I am traveling in time or went into a warp zone. There are times I can be a sniper, a war hero, football player, and even a professional soccer player playing the World Cup. Depending what game I play, I can go anywhere. It is also nice to get away from the stress of homework, projects, studying, and even chores. I tell my parents that it is challenging to beat other players and that moving on to the next level is hard work but they don’t get it.

The main reason why I have this habit is because my parents don’t let me play on school nights.  Even when I’m done with all my responsibilities they say that video games are not allowed. They say they made this rule because they don’t want schoolwork to compete with Xbox because Xbox will always win.  I don’t think Xbox will lose to schoolwork either. So the only main time I get to play is on weekends when I don’t have soccer games. The really unfair thing is that I have soccer games every weekend on Saturday and Sunday.  But I really wouldn’t want to give up soccer to play Xbox either.  I want to give up Xbox because sometimes I don’t do my schoolwork so that I can have extra time to play. I have also gotten in trouble when I play on school nights when my mom is helping at my brother’s school. Sometimes it causes tension between my parents and I when they find out I didn’t complete an assignment. I really don’t think I can give it up but if there was ever the chance then it’s probably something that I could probably live without.

Facebook is always there tempting me

Honorable mention

Author’s name withheld

There I am; sitting at my desk minding my own business, doing my homework, but I am not alone. A mysterious force lurks in the corner of my desk, luring me in with its gravitational pull. Many people call this force a computer. It sits in the corner, staring at me, mocking me. It lays there begging me to log on to Facebook or to play games. Sometimes I succeed in retreating from this constant distraction, and sometimes I get pulled into the abyss that is the Internet. As the great Ray Bradbury once said, “The Internet is a big distraction. It’s distracting, it’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

I am constantly being urged to log on to Facebook. Since most of my friends do not have as much as homework as I do, they are usually on Facebook, chatting away. I envy their free time and wish that I too could have small amounts of homework and lounge all day. I am constantly compelled to check for any notifications or to see if my friends commented on my post or answered my messages back. I also check to see what pictures or posts my friends have put up on their walls. I stay logged on until I come to my senses (which is when I see that it is late), and get back to work. This is a complete waste of time and is a very inefficient and unproductive way to do homework.

I also get the sudden urge to take a break and play games online. There are all sorts of games there, begging me to take my mouse and play them. From adventure to action and from racing to sports, my mind gets enthralled with all these decisions. My time gets wasted just thinking about the games.

Although the computer does not really affect my grades, it takes away hours of needed sleep. I really wish I had those extra hours towards my sleep or other homework. Here’s the problem: I need the computer because we get many projects and assignments that require using a computer so I cannot get rid of it.

In the end, I finally emerge the victor of this tough battle. I successfully retreat from its pull and get to work. These battles go on for most days of the school week. The end of the war never seems near. All I know is that this is going to be my New Year’s resolution this coming year!

I’m obsessed with texting, so I can’t give up my phone

Honorable mention

Emely Zeledon, Wilmington MS

You wouldn’t think a 13-year-old girl living in the “modern era” would want to give up her phone, but sometimes I wish I could give it up. It’s just so addicting!

Just a week ago I dropped my phone in the toilet! I was so upset with myself! But I reacted so quickly, got it out of the water, dried it and put it in beans. It was as if my “phone reflexes” reacted—I didn’t even think about it! After I was done I was amazed about what I had done. But then I realized I was going to be without my phone for a whole week! That was if the beans I put in a bag with my phone inside absorbed the water from the phone.

I thought the week would be a total disaster without my phone, but surprisingly it wasn’t. I actually enjoyed a week without the vibrating of my phone. Usually right after school I would turn on my phone and I would receive a “text bomb” with at least 10 new messages, either from my mom, brother, friends or even Facebook! It would drive me crazy. But when I didn’t have it, it was so peaceful. I didn’t have my mom calling me, sending me messages or voicemails asking where I was. It was like my phone caused me stress, instead of being helpful. It was a relief! I felt like I had freedom, without my phone bugging me and telling me how many missed calls or how many unread messages I had.

That week was actually one of the best weeks I had ever had. The week went by fast. I did my usual routine: went to drill team, robotics, came home and did my homework, which was so much easier without my phone. But when I got my phone back I was glad to have it back. Even though I had liked my week, I was glad t have some technology back in my life.

So my phone is one of the things I would like to give up because of my obsession with texting. But I would like to have it once in a while. I think that if we just slowed down a bit on texting and took a look at other things, technology wouldn’t be a problem.


Next essay contest: Is it OK to lie?

When we’re young we learn that lying is wrong and to always tell the truth. But as we get older we realize that life is more complicated than that. We want to know if you think it’s ever OK to lie. Before you start writing, think about the times when you’ve lied. Were they little white lies, like telling a friend you liked their new haircut? Or maybe you’ve told big lies. Do you feel that lying saved someone’s feelings from getting hurt? Or that it wasn’t worth it because you lost someone’s trust? Or maybe you’ve been lied to. Share a time when you lied or were lied to, what happened and how it made you feel.

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone 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 November-December issue and posted  on

Mail your essay to:
L.A. Youth
5967 W. 3rd St. Suite 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
or to

DEADLINE: Friday, Dec. 16, 2011