By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I remember one time I stole a big ol’ color TV from a neighbor’s house and carried it on home. Me and my brother got in a beef and he kicked in the screen, bam! So I shot him in the back with a .22 Remington automatic. My grandmom took him to the hospital, and I think that’s when she really knew how involved I was in gang life.”
Involved is perhaps not quite the word; obsessed seems nearer the mark. “We didn’t care about no girls, no school, no church. Nothin’. The only thing we cared about was gangbangin’.”
Bugga Red and about 50 other kids his age — 12 through early teens, all of them looking to make their reps — formed a kind of task force. “These were the guys who was really puttin’ it down. We were the enforcers. Anything came up needed to get done, nobody had to tell us to go do it. It was already done.”
When Red was 13, he was convicted of the armed robbery of four Jack in the Box restaurants in and around South-Central L.A. Customers seated at tables were robbed as well. Twelve charges in all. The sentence handed down was 12 years at CYA. Red still claims he was set up: “They really wanted to get me off the street.”
The smoke is making him gag. Thick, black snot is running out of his nose. Everything he’s wearing under the protective gear is drenched with sweat. None of it matters; this fire is bad and getting worse.
His first three months at CYA were spent in Receiving: 24-hour confinement in a single cell, out only for classes at the on-campus school and a one-hour recreation period. There was a Bible in the cell, and, desperately bored, the kid began to read. One evening, a month or so after his arrival, he picked up the book, turned to a picture of Jesus and whispered, “Please, God, forgive me. I can’t do no 12 years.” Then he hanged himself with a bed sheet.
When he regained consciousness, he was in restraints in what he refers to as “the padded room.” When he was told that his grandmother was there, he refused to see her and turned his face to the wall. Minnie kept coming back, and Red kept refusing for the two months he had left in Receiving. “I was ashamed and, at the same time, confused. Because I was so into loving the neighborhood, which I felt was lovin’ me back. Back then, see, I was more into the neighborhood thing than family morals.” He hesitates briefly. “And, I got to admit, I knew damn well my grandmother was gonna lecture me up one side and down the other.”
Two weeks after his failed suicide attempt, Red was moved to a cell where he was in close proximity to other Eight-Tray Gangstas. “It was my homeboys kept me alive with they moral support. They knew I was young and that I had been born to [gang life]. Knew I didn’t know nothing about the system. They gave me ‘Tray Love.’ ”
Within four months, he was relocated to permanent housing at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. “Close wasn’t as bad as CYA. They was girls in there, at least — you’d see ’em in class. Couldn’t mess with ’em, though.”
Checking out the girls is not Red’s most vivid memory of the seven years he served at Close. What he remembers most clearly is that one of his fellow enforcers from Eight-Tray, “Sad Face,” was doing time there as well and that he had put it to use by enrolling in the camp’s college-prep course. Bugga Red and Sad Face were tight on the outs (homeboys, after all, and about the same age), and the years in confinement strengthened that bond. But Red took a pass on the college course.
The sound is terrible. It’s like a battalion of 18-wheelers headed straight at you going at top speed. You can almost make out the snarl of engines and the whine of downshifted gears above the crackle of burning brush.
Bugga Red was released in ’83. Nineteen years old, on parole, and straight back in the life. Two things had changed: He had forged a relationship with his mother, Antoinette, during his time at Close. And he was now considered an O.G. He lived up to the honorific: six months of freedom and he was in trouble again.
“I was slangin’ drugs and got into a confrontation with some rival gang members. I got in my car and drove ’round the corner. Then I came back and shot all four of ’em with a 12-gauge pump. Three of the blasts got the one guy who was talkin’ all the mess. The others was wounded, but they still managed to run to the cops.” He pauses. “They all survived, but the guy with the mouth was paralyzed.”
Within 30 minutes of the shooting, Bugga Red heard the police bullhorn outside his grandmother’s house: “DeShion McIntyre — Bugga Red — we know you’re in there. Come out of the house with your hands over your head.”