Where Is This Place
"Of all the words of tongue and pen
The saddest are, 'It might have been'
More sad are these we daily see
'It is, but it hadn't ought to be'
Bret Harte, Mrs. Judge Jenkins
"I hooked up with Reggie, the drug dealer. He and I would travel
to Mexico where I'd be used to carry the drugs. He'd tape pills
inside a coat and I'd wear it across customs acting like a cool
11 years old kid. He used me too I guess, but he taught me
to sell pills and grass. Pretty soon he was busted with 10 kilos
of pot and sent away to prison."
"So, to support my heroin habit, I became a thief. For three
years I was the best. I went back to school for my G.E.D. and
trade school. I was such a screw-up nobody would have anything
to do with me. Looking back, I sure can't blame them."
"It was 1967 when Tory came into our lives. Tory was a merchant
marine who jumped ship just to be with Mom - she was a real
looker in those days. Tory became a truck driver with a something
we had never known before - a regular paycheck. With Tory's paychecks
we came to know a little about 'the good life', leastways as
good as it ever gets in the ghetto."
"My brother-in-law, Melvin, was a thief and a heroin addict, like
so many others in our neighborhood - it was just our way of life.
Melvin would rob stores, homes - you name it - it made no difference to him. He'd
bring all kinds of things, stolen things, home for us to sell all
"By now I had lived a thousand lifetimes, compared to many, and had
just turned 16 years old. One night Mel brought some
guns home for me to fence. Along the way to get rid of them,
Mel wants me to run into the convenience store to get him a
root beer and a pack of Kool. Just as the clerk is handling the
merchandise to me Melvin rushes in and demand the money from
the clerk. I yelled at him 'what the...?! Are you crazy?!'
and he pointed the gun at me, threatening me to shoot me if I didn't
grab the cash."
"When I say I was a thief, I was not the kind of thief - this was
way out of my line. Having no choice, I take the money and I run
for the car. When I got to the car I heard a shot and at that exact
moment in time a little boy became a man - a very scared young man."
"Witnesses heard me say 'Are you crazy?' and they saw Mel
point that gun at me. Being young, naive, trusting of everyone,
and a bit 'retarded' I guess, I accepted their charge of Murder
in the Second Degree. Although I was no 'Goody-Two-Shoes' I
sure wasn't any murderer. Coming from the wrong side of the tracks
sure made it easy to get into trouble."
"Like the kindly old black lady told me, 'We ain't got no rules, we ain't
got no discipline, but we got soul, baby...We got's
a lotsa soul.' A good soul kept our neighborhood bristling.
Beer drinking, shooting dice or just 'hanging out'. A high
unemployment rate meant a lot of time on everyone's hands.
Time for trouble."
"I guess I was the most introverted, most peaceful, thief in
the ghetto. I began stealing. 'cause I grew up hungry.' Between
my two scrapes with the law I proved to the world that if I wasn't
retarded, I was surely a couple of bricks short of a load. Like I
heard on the news the other day, 'I don't make many mistakes, but
when I do, it's a beaut."
"I learned a lot about law from that. The great leaders or our country
were all lawyers who fought for right and justice - I just assumed
they could be trusted."
"Where were Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln when I really
needed them? Nobody told my lawyers anything about them. There's no longer
any such thing as 'true justice', you get what you pay for. I may
be retarded but I ain't stupid."
"Sometimes the ugliness of humankind is too painful to bear."
"In our neighborhood, kids who went to the CYA - California Youth
Authority - reformatory were respected for being tough dudes.
It meant you'd been through the courts and the youth camps and you deserved
regular prison but you weren't old enough. Then you were c-o-o-o-l."
"California had CYA North (At Preston, 75% white) and CYA
South (In Southern California 75% black). They sent me to Preston.
It was funny in a way 'cause I knew a good many of the kids there.
Because I hung out with the Bernard brothers - my friend, Paul,
and his brothers Woody and Pete - I was respected there. Everybody
knew the Bernard boys wee cool."
"Whites from the South were cooler (we thought) than the Northern
withes. Chicanos and Homeboys (blacks) were there to contend with as
well. We'd settle our differences in the blindspots - the small
areas where the towers couldn't see you. I was plenty scared at first - they
force you into fights to find out who's tough enough to lead the group."
"The first fight I had I got lucky - fist fighting seemed to come natural
for me. I was yelling. 'Come on, you ain't got shit, man', things
like that to psyche them out. I was blocking punches like a pro and
the first punch I swung knocked the guy out cold."
"Word spread quickly, Bo Cook was one tough son-of-a-bitch- I was
accepted by all the cool dudes after that, even the older ones.
To be really cool you had to have tattoos and I came up with more
than my share. Muscles were important and so I worked to develop
"There were always riots. The South whites and South Chicanos stuck
together and the North Chicanos and all blacks teamed up. Clubs and
knives were common but the unwritten law was 'no deaths'. Stabbings
and beatings were ok, just no deaths, which is what made you crazy.
It was a constant battle of nerves, panic and fear - neverending. This
'get them before they get you' mentality becomes a state of mind
and you get good at it (or you get your all whipped on a regular basis)."
"With the Chicanos it was cool to carry shanks (homemade or smuggled
knives). I never carried one so I had to be expecially watchful of those
who did. One morning at breakfast we had the mother of all riots -
stabbings were going on all around me. I grabbed the only thing in
sight - a pan of super hot oatmeal - and began to sling it in
every direction. That pan was the only
thing that saved myself from a stabbing. Blood and gore was everywhere."
"Before I went in, I became good friends with the whole Bernard family.
They were the most awesome and the meanest band of half-breed Okies
you ever want to see. Ruby, the Mom was a full-blooded Cherokee
and the Dad was Irish. The three boys (Woody, Pete & Paul) and
three girls (Bonnie, Lovina & Bernadine) were all close to me. Bernadine
('Bear' we called her) was the youngest at age 11 when we became
"Now the Bernards were heavy drinkers, beer mostly, to escape their lives
in that ghetto. Bonnie married a black guy and was promptly disowned.
My buddy Paul and me knew one day we'd find the end of that rainbow - our 'Eden',
we used to call it - knowing the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.
It had to be out there somewhere - but where?"
"Lovina and my sister Glenda became friends and began dating black guys
and the Bernard brothers would have none of this - and the war began.
All the blacks in the projects assembled 'cause they knew the
reputation of the Bernard family. They made fire bombs of gasoline
and were throwing them in at the Bernard apartment - burned up the
entire living area."
"Now everyone knew that Woody (the oldest and the biggest) was nobody
to cross. He served his time in the CYA for stabbing a gangster (white)
in the neighborhood and he was 'one crazy white boy'! He went off!
He cornered four blacks at the basketball courts, whipped them bad,
and went out looking for more."
Before long everybody had a gun or a firebomb on them - black or white - and
our neighborhood was afire. People were getting shot and stabbed in a
wholesale slaughter. Woody was jumped by over 15 blacks and snapped.
He grabbed a gun and began to mow them down. He only got three of them
but he went down a fighting."
"To our surprise Woody lived and was almost cleared of wrongdoing
because of the circumstances. He was given a choice by the
court: Prison or the Military (which meant Vietnam). Woody joined
"While I was still in CYA in 1976 I got the news that Paul Bernard
and my baby brother Junior (14 at that time) had robbed a store and
was cornered by the police. Paul had an unloaded gun but he wansn't
about to go back into CYA. He waved his gun and shouted: 'Kill me
or I will kill you' - he was ready to die. Paul was shot eleven
times. Barely alive, he was eventually placed into a mental institution.
Where is this place called Eden? You don't want to know, Bro, you
really don't want to know!"
"Baby brother was sent to 'camp' it's like a milder version of
the CYA. My release came on March 25, 1978."
"Woody was relased from the Army, settled down with a wife. Pete
became a biker and began to hang out with Bear and me. I had paroled
out to Mom but I stayed with Bear and her Mom Ruby. Without Paul
there would be no Eden!"
"With our Eden now behind us, we had some serious growing up
to do. A future for 'Bear and me? Naw, i don't think so. Time!
Only time will tell!
If every man and woman and child in the world had a chance to make a decent,
fair, honest living, there would be no jails, and no lawyers and no courts,
Clarence Darrow, An Address to Prisoners
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