Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Book and Murder

I am reading the book "In My Fathers House," by Mark Arax. When Mark was 15 his father was murdered by two hit men in the bar that was the dad's business. The murder was never solved. Over the years Mark's need to find the murderer's grew until finally he took leave of his reporter job at the LA Times, and moved back to Fresno with wife and two year old child. 

Reading the book is interesting, just Mark's story alone, keeps me turning pages. But there is so much that taps into my life experience that I am totally captivated.

Many years back when I lived in Badger, Synanon, we took in a bunch of teenage boys from Fresno. The courts sent them to us. These boys were the most damaged children I had ever worked with. I had in the past worked at a home for delinquent teens in San Diego. They were mild compared to this crew. 

These boys had no sense of morality. They had almost no emotional affect, except rage which took very little to provoke. I remember daily feeling astonished, trying to figure out how kids turned into these robots? Did who ever have them decide, I am going to ruin a human life and then proceed to spend all their energy hurting these kids physically and emotionally? I have worked with many kids over the years who were abused and had very bad situations, but even then they had a survival instinct that carried their humanity forward until a better opportunity appeared, which they took full advantage of. These boys didn't seem to have the capability of pulling themselves out of the stone walls they put themselves behind. Prison was the only future I could see for them, and it depressed me to no end. 

After reading Mark's take on Fresno during those years, being run by a bunch of crooks, I could see a connection between the "lost" boys as I thought of them, and the environment they grew up in. The drug trade ruled and if you lived in poverty forget it. From the top officials, including police, to many Ag giants who used their air fields for crop dusting planes as a way to import drugs, to more than likely their parents on the bottom of the rung, these kids saw nothing but hypocrisy and grew into cynical excuses for human beings. I haven't finished the book so I don't know where all of this leads, but an ah-ha moment occurred, a possible answer came to me about how these youngsters were so ruined. Sad.

Another connection that disturbs me is that we have had two family members murdered. My husband's brother was shot and killed on the streets of Philadelphia. We never knew why, except he was a drug user and lived mostly on the streets, so probably was drug related.

My nephew was shot and killed on the street where I lived as a pre-teen. The family lore is that a policeman was behind the killing, although a 16 year old actually pulled the trigger and was jailed. 

My nephew was in gangs during his teen years. He went to jail and was released at age 21. I had worked with him a few days on my parents house, a first where he and I spent time alone. He told me that in prison he had time to read. He began to realize he had choices even back then. He didn't have to choose gangs. He had always had choices. 

And now he was deciding what to do with the rest of his life. He sees his gang friends with gold dripping off them, girls on each arm, pockets thick with cash, and fancy cars. 

He was on parole, many limit's to his life. He could drive to his $5.00 hour job helping at-risk kids at a center, and drive straight home, no stops in-between. He wasn't allowed in the old neighborhood. And many other rules. He didn't make enough to pay rent so he had to live with his friend, a girl he was dating, but if he had a choice would not be living with her. He didn't tell me she was pregnant. That we didn't find out until he died. A month later his son was born, and has been a blessing ever since.

A story he told me was about two policemen: one who stops him regularly to see how he is, to ask if he needs anything, and who warned him to stay clean, especially since there was another policeman who was out to get him, and for my nephew to watch his step. The good policeman encouraged his working at the center.

The second policeman also stopped him, roughed him up, pushed him against the car, searched him, threatened him, and in general abused his power. Why this was happening I wasn't told. He just hinted that the cop was dirty, and was trying to keep my nephew in line, under his control, not to help my nephew.

When it came out that the Los Angeles Ramparts Police station was investigated and found to have abusive, dirty, dishonest cops who had gotten away with murder even, it became the opinion of many in my family that the abusive cop had something to do with my nephew's murder. Because my sister did not want to sit in court to watch the shooter's trial, nor did she want to pursue anything about her son's murder we all backed off in attempts to push the idea that we find justice for our nephew. I believed we were helping my sister in her efforts to move on in her life. Loosing her son caused a damage she has never overcome, and I doubt ever will, but she was able to marry a wonderful man, and have some semblance of sanity most of the time, and a good life with her grandson. 

In reading Mark's story though, it occurs to me that maybe we were mistaken and that had we pursued the truth, maybe her life wouldn't be as hard as it is to keep balanced. Every now and again I feel a knot in my stomach when I think of that policeman getting a way with murder, if he in fact had anything to do with it. I read the reports of the investigation of Ramparts and it seems many policemen were held accountable to wrong actions, and I hoped he was amongst them. I felt satisfied that it didn't have to be our exact detail. They did so much harm that if any of it was brought to light, I felt satisfied justice was done. 

But as I read about Mark's compulsion to find answers I question why we had none. Why I am so willing to let it go since we cannot change the outcome even if the guilty party is found. I do believe that on some level. And yet, there is a nagging doubt that makes me feel like a coward. A lot to think about.