The travelling sketchpad: part 2

Crip life is no good
This is one of my favourite ever pieces.

On a train from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, I sat next to a big fat black fella. He got on at LA and I thought Damn this is gonna be a long ride.

About an hour in we started chattin and the big fella proved me very wrong by turning out to be a really nice guy. That'll teach me to make judgements based purely on how much space a guy takes up on a double seat on a train.

Anyway, it turns out that Mike was a former gangster. He used to be a Crip in the South LA ghettoes and he claimed to have been stabbed and shot more times than I've washed my hands.

"Bullshit!" I said, somewhat cockily for a guy trapped betwen a 20 stone gangster and a wall on a moving train.

"Alright little dude, you want me to prove it to you?"

I wondered exactly what this entailed, but obviously, whatever it entailed I would be up for. I like a nice surprise.

When Mike lifted up his shirt, I can only say I saw a tapestry to violence written in scar tissue. Before that point I'd seen stab wounds but he had wounds all over the damn place, looking like the table tops I've seen in comprehensive schools.

I'd never before seen a gunshot wound til that day. Gunshot wounds look like a crater, burnt around the edges. The hole looks like it's been punched through with a hole punch and the scar tissue, like a loose canvas that's been sewn onto it.

Together the holes and slashes were a morse code of pain, the written diary of a gangster.

But for Mike that life was behind him. Having spent 8 years in jail for armed robbery ("How much did you get?" "About $800,000") Mike had decided to go straight. He now ran a pizza joint in Seattle and was on his way up there.

As we chatted he revealed to me more about his life. He was so worried for his son, who was my age. He was so proud of the fact that I wanted to teach and wished that there was some way he could talk his son into following him out of the gangster life.

"He won´t listen to me cos I used to be a gangsta." he said, "Hey poppa, don´t tell me what to do. If it´s ok that you went out bangin´ then what position are you in to tell me not to go out bangin´?"

We talked about the idea that Blacks in America felt that they were persecuted and that the state owed them something. I argued that everyone is provided for, after all our family came to the UK with nothing but the clothes on our backs and we were provided with what we needed to suceeed. For the duration of that journey we chatted like old friends.

The journey was a long one, about 32 hours if I remember rightly. I met Eden on that trip, and we're still in contact today.

While Mike slept that night, I felt inspired to write 2 poems. One was a poem from me to him and the next was >>>>a poem that I thought would have been like him talking to his son.<<<<

When he woke up I read them to him.

No-one had ever written anything for him like this and he thought that it was brilliant. I gave him copies of both poems and he drew in my sketchpad, a picture that summed up what he felt his son should know about LA Life. He wrote it in the font of the local gang, The Crips, who he used to run with and who his son now runs with. And here it is.

Crip life is no good.
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