I met Red at a Burger King in Richmond, California across the street from the welfare office, Friday September 7th. Red is 20 years old, was born at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, but grew up all over the East Bay: Oakland, Richmond, and Antioch. He is the middle child – with a younger brother in school and an older brother hustling in the streets like him. He also has two half brothers, they have different fathers. His mother was incarcerated when he was growing up, but he doesn’t know why. Him and his brother went to visit her once, he recalls, when he was “too young to know what feelings were.” His father was out of the picture. He hasn’t seen him in years. When he did see him it was a brief encounter, Red says, he saw him in traffic, in the streets.
Red was raised mostly by his auntie, who made sure he ate and had clothes on his back, but didn’t really care if he went to school or not. As a kid, he says he didn’t have any role models or dreams for what he wanted to be when he got older. He dropped out of high school after freshman year and insists it wouldn’t have mattered if he stayed in school or not, because all he needed to make it in the streets was the ability to count his money and read. He says beyond that, the teachers don’t really teach anything – they just go to school to get their paycheck. He doesn’t regret dropping out.
They had him in and out of juvenile hall and on an ankle monitor for getting caught stealing – once it was breaking into a car. He cut off the ankle monitor to hustle some more and make money and got caught again. Red told me he got out of jail last Thursday – and that he was in for parole violation – for not reporting back to his P.O. He has to report to his P.O. for several years – occasionally take a urine test.
When he dropped out Red’s life consisted of “chasing money, females, getting’ high, that’s it.” The worst part of this life he says is that you can put your trust in somebody and they might cross you in the long run and hurt your feelings, do something scandalous, or kill you. But all his friends are doing the same thing he is – living the street life.
On a good day, Red told me he dreams of making money as a Hip-Hop artist and wants to put out an album soon. On a bad day, he told me “I don’t know what my dreams is no more. Me and my family keep getting into it so, I don’t know. I really never had my family anyway, I always had the streets as my family.” Everyone on the street seems to know Red, as he spends much of his time outside Bart stations throughout the Bay, selling half-price Bart tickets, grass, pills, and liquor. At heart, he is a sweet young man; he looks out for his family and his boys. He even asks me to text him when I get home so he knows I’m safe. And doesn’t talk about it much, but Red converted to Islam two years ago.
Maybe 3-4 nights a week he stays at his mom’s, but he tries to avoid staying there because he doesn’t always get along with her. Other nights he’ll stay up all night partying, or in the streets, sometimes he’ll sleep in a friends car, or in a hotel. He says that maybe he’ll consider going back to school to get his diploma, but he’s not sure.