“A Snowballs Chance” High School Dropouts – In Their Own Words. That’s the book title of real-life stories told to me by eight students I met at Pima County Adult Probation (Tucson, AZ). As an adult ed teacher I taught reading/literacy, English language acquisition, and GED preparation. I’ve decided to post one or two chapters. The stories are too long for a one-and-done post, so I will share them with you in segments. My students were amazing young men and women who derailed for many reasons and had second chances to get back on track—some did and some didn’t. Instead of jail time, a Superior Court judge might mandate that an individual with a low-level felony charge and no high school diploma attend classes for at least four hours each week.
I’m thirty years old. People mistake me as looking like I’m still in my early twenties. I didn’t mess up my body too much. I’m about 5 feet 9 inches, 185 pounds. I was born in Nogales, Arizona. I have twenty-five to thirty tattoos. Most of them are concealed. I don’t want to give a bad impression about myself. I like to represent myself as being neat, clean-cut. I feel a person’s physical appearance has a lot to do with the way we perceive that person.
I love clothes. Clothes and jewelry are my passion. I’ve got a barber I’ve known for more than fifteen years, maybe twenty years. I started going to him when I was ten years old. As fads come in and out, he has always taken care of my hair. There is a fad now that has intricate designs. He likes to use me as a piece of advertisement.
I don’t know too much about my ancestors. I know a little bit about my father’s side of the family. They were Puerto Rican but not that close as a family. My father was born in San Juan. I know that his mom, my grandmother, was involved in witchcraft and voodoo. She was an evil woman—a really evil woman.
My mother’s side of the family is from Sonora, Mexico. My grandfather was in the United States. He fell in love with my grandmother and brought her to Nogales, Arizona. Then he took off for the war—World War II. When he came back after the war, he was a totally different man.
In the Beginning
When I was in the fourth grade my mother went back to school. She was a high school dropout and went back and got her GED. My father . . . I never had a relationship with my father. He was an abusive dad. My mother and father broke up when I was a year and a half. I didn’t grow up with a father. I have one older brother, two younger sisters, and a younger brother. There are five of us altogether. My parents never married. It’s funny because my mother had bad luck with men. All of my brothers and sisters and I, we all got different dads. Every single one of them turned out to be a woman beater. Every one of them beat my mom.
When I was in third grade we took a family vacation in Mexico. We went to Acapulco, Mazatlán, Guaymas, and other places. That trip was beautiful. It was the first time I actually remember that we were a real family. We were all together at one time. It was rare to have my brothers, my sisters, and I on a vacation with my mom and stepfather.
From kindergarten to third grade we lived in Phoenix. We lived in the projects, and it was a three– or four–mile walk to the school. It was a rough place—the Duppa Villa Projects. I remember a couple of times walking to school and seeing women get beat up. The school was kindergarten to the twelfth grade. The older kids seemed so much bigger than I was. I had a second-grade teacher, Miss Glenn. She was remarkable, a really, really nice teacher. To this day I remember her because she was so nice to me. She was enthusiastic and made learning attractive. That’s the type of teacher she was.
We moved to Tucson when I was ten because all my aunts and uncles were here. I started school at Ochoa. When I did go to school, before I started messing up, I was pretty good. In the fifth grade at Davidson, I realized the street way of things. I started realizing that we were broke—we didn’t have any money. Why were we the only kids wearing the same clothes from the year before? Why were we the only kids wearing the same shoes from the year before? I was only eleven but realized that kids were wearing better things than I wore.
When I was in the seventh grade my mom’s last husband molested my sister. From the seventh grade through the rest of my school years I had that anger in me. I felt like I could do something about it because I actually busted him in the act one time. I told my mother, but she didn’t really do nothing about it. I always had that guilt inside me—that rage and anger.
. . . to be continued.