|Photos by Ted Soqui|
Moments before she surrenders to authorities, Vanessa Scott clutches a small backpack in a dank basement hallway of Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield. She fights back tears, waiting to be taken to Lerdo Detention Facility for 30 days on a two-bit welfare-fraud charge. Her husband, Kershaun Scott, paces nearby. The two have been in a long, nasty war of attrition with Kern County justice, one that has the legendary former gangster questioning why he and his wife packed up three kids in 1996 and moved to Ridgecrest, a windy desert town of 25,000 about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles. They were happy to provide their kids with a geographic fix for the violence Scott knew all too well growing up in South-Central. They had not heard the saying Kern County: Come for vacation, leave on probation.
In a month from this mid-November morning, around the time his wife gets out, Scott will face sentencing after accepting a plea bargain on the same welfare charge. Scott took the deal under threat of a three-strikes felony jury trial that would have had him facing 50-to-life. What he did not know when he took the deal was that his lawyer was browbeaten into believing Scott was in more trouble than he really was.
Back in the day, he could have faced worse for the gang activities he excelled at. Now 38, Scott is still known in Los Angeles as Lil Monster, a name he earned by following in the footsteps of his older brother, Kody Monster Scott, an original gangster with the Eight Tray Crips. When he was 15, Kershaun Scott shot and killed one teenager and injured four others to avenge the nonfatal shooting of his brother. He was tried as a minor, convicted of murder, and served five years with the California Youth Authority. Scott quit that life more than a decade ago; his most recent crime is that his wife received cash aid and food stamps while he earned unreported income at Del Taco. After all hes seen and done, Scott never thought he would go to jail while working a straight job. Then again, he hadnt yet seen to what lengths Kern County would go to lock people up.
As Brian McNamara, Vanessas ruddy court-appointed attorney, arrives for the sendoff, the couple vent their frustration.
I wanted to do 90 days of work release, but you talked me out of it, says Vanessa, who pleaded no contest on August 7, 2003, as part of the Scotts deal with prosecutors.
We had 10 minutes to discuss the deal and you were gone, says Scott, who also pleaded no contest.
We confirmed the arrangement and you were comfortable, McNamara replies in a thick brogue, advising Vanessa to calm down and get her 30 days over with. If Kershauns past hadnt come up, it wouldnt have been a big deal, he adds.
The lawyer irks the couple. He downplays their situation with wisecracks moments before Scott watches a Kern County Sheriffs deputy slap the bracelets on Vanessa and lead her away. A burly 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds with only superficial markings of the life remaining, Scott wears creased Guess jeans, held up with a belt featuring a G buckle. Tattoos on his neck and forearm read Vanessa and Lil Monster Eight Tray Crips. A small teardrop tattoo rests just below his left eye. But flecks of gray in his braided hair and a deep, furrowed brow render him more a worried husband and father.
In addition to being an ex-gangster, Scott is a writer and a speaker who has reached out to youth all over the country. He is scarred by his past yet unapologetic. It made him who he is. By communicating with at-risk youth in the inner city, he believes he has made a difference.
I just wanted to raise my kids some place quiet, where they could go to school and learn and just be kids, Scott says as he turns to leave.
Scott admits he and his wife broke the law. They did it for their children, he says. He concedes his flaws. For instance, he has trouble controlling his emotions at times, and he tends to disregard rules that he thinks should not apply to him. Yet he is a stickler for detail when the legal system is coming down on him. And he maintains a come and get me stance when he feels threatened.
Hes felt threatened for some time now. Authorities are about to take him away from a family he and Vanessa are struggling to keep together. He sees his crime as petty something he needed to do to keep his financially strapped family afloat. Whats more, he and his wife are going to jail even though they have been paying back their welfare debt to the Department of Human Services, where the motto is: Building Healthy Families.