Gangstas in Paradise

Galveston has beautiful beaches, the Strand and Moody Gardens. North of Broadway it has the projects, crippling poverty and big-city problems. And now the bad guys are back.

His mother used to take him everywhere she went, which sounds idyllic until he tells you that included crack houses. That's how he got raped, he says, when he was just six or seven years old. She'd left him in an upstairs room, and when he went to her, she was too messed up on crack and told him to go back upstairs. That's where a man and woman sexually abused him, he says.

His mother wasn't there for him a lot of other times in his life.

"The last time I seen my mom it was early '91; she had just got out of rehab," he says. She was straight for about six months, got a job at UTMB, but got fired when they tested her and she came out positive. He says he knew she was using again because her butt started to shrink, and that's the first thing to go when someone's heavily into crack.

Steve, top, says Galveston police harass black men. A gang sign, bottom photo: A call to unity or a fight.
Deron Neblett
Steve, top, says Galveston police harass black men. A gang sign, bottom photo: A call to unity or a fight.

"When they smoke crack, it's like that person -- the shell of them -- is there, but the person inside is not there. As long as they get a buzz they all right. My mom, she sold everything. I came home from the penitentiary, she had sold everything. I didn't even have a house to come home to, that's how bad it was."

At 15 he went to the Texas Youth Commission for petty theft, for breaking into cars. Despite the money he was supposedly making from drug dealing, he needed to do this to build respect among fellow gang members.

The money really started rolling in later. By the time he was 17, he says, he was flush with cash. He could have made more than $1,600 a day, but he was careful, not wanting to attract too much attention to himself. He saved some, and a lot of it disappeared in cars and furniture and a nice apartment. He got engaged to his future wife and things were looking up, then his wife miscarried.

Despite every precaution, at 19 he got popped and went to prison. At one point in the conversation he says it was for aggravated robbery; another time he says it was just a collection of "failures to appear" that finally caught up with him. He mentions he "did a lot of violent stuff that I never got caught for." In any event, he was jailed for about two and a half years, he says, eight months in county, a year in the state prison in Beaumont and the rest of the sentence in Childress.

Prison wasn't that bad, he says. "Everybody I knew was in there. Just had to hold my own. Mainly staying to myself, and I stayed with my homeboys."

Since getting out, he's been doing odd jobs. He was working at the Dow chemical plant, but he got sick and quit. He thinks he could make a good marine. "My skills are already honed. I can sneak up on you." But really the job he wants is to be a firefighter, and he plans to go to college next semester and take courses that would qualify him for the work. He believes God told him that's the job for him. He wants to make up for past wrongs.

Right now, though, those plans are on hold, on account of the weapons charges. "I had an AK-47, two Tec-Nines, a nine millimeter, a SIG Sauer, a nine-millimeter Glock, a Calico, one of those New Age guns. Just a lot of stuff I was collecting in the past." He just hadn't gotten around to getting rid of them, he says.

Michael joined a gang "because I thought it was like a closeness or bond," he says. "I know you've heard that a million times, but it is. When you're amongst real G's they make you feel like family, and a lot of them, they looked out for me because my mama, you know, she wasn't there, so they made sure I had shoes and clothes, and they telling me to go to school 'cause they seeing something in me."

He can't resign from the Crips but says he tries not to associate with gang members anymore. "A lot of my homeboys are dead now. A lot of them are doing time in the federal penitentiary, the state penitentiary…A lot of them are getting out. Some of them come out, they going to do good. Some of them getting out, they still got their gang vibe on them."

If he had money again, Michael says, he would build his own community center right in the hood on 28th. Not out on 61st Street.

If he has to go to prison again, he's not going to be the same person. "I have to be a person I don't like to be. I have to be mean, going to have to be on top of my game. I don't like playing fear on other people; I do have a conscience.

"I never preyed on weak people. I never preyed on tourists. I always wanted to go against someone strong, and I always won."

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