A sad, sanguinary, and clumsy account of life and death among Chicago’s Puerto Rican street gangs.
Sanchez uses a pen name in this horrifying memoir to protect others, he claims, but since he admits to multiple felonies, including murder (no statute of limitations), it’s obviously for self-protection as well. Sanchez wishes to “provide some explanations for why kids join gangs” and hopes his efforts “can save the life of at least one kid.” He was born in Puerto Rico into an abusive home; his 74-year-old father did not last long, and his 16-year-old mother lived with a succession of monstrous men. Raped as a child by a male relative, Sanchez found life only worse after the “family” moved to Chicago when he was seven. His mother married Pedro (“fat, toothless, stinky, and loud”), and soon the boy was receiving regular beatings from both parents. As he grew older, he drifted into street life, had his initial sexual experience at 13 with a 35-year-old, began using drugs, and before long adopted the street code: “You have to learn to hurt people before they have a chance to hurt you.” Throughout, Sanchez relates events in remarkable detail, recalling names, dates, locations, and dialogue with a felicity that belies his repeated statements that he was high most of the time. (Was he keeping a diary?) The artless prose is rife with clichés (things hit him “like a ton of bricks”), usage errors (“between him and I” is a favorite locution), and inaccurate allusions (he thinks Frankenstein is the creature, not the creator). Far more serious than these stylistic flaws is the author’s failure to substantively reflect on his experience. His observations range from patent to ludicrous—after raping a girl, he concludes, “It seemed as if I was becoming coldhearted”—and he closes with the perfunctory advice that we must “take responsibility for our own neighborhoods.”
A crude cautionary tale that lacks redemptive power.