Friday, January 29, 2010

18 and Life

Due to a couple of recent phone calls and stories in the local media, I was forced to pause and ask myself a question: how would it feel to be 18 (or younger) and looking at spending all of your adult life in prison? How do you get there? Catch a murder case. That's how.

I don't know what that feels like. And I am thankful. When I was 18, I was in the U.S. Army infantry. Regularly I was armed with an M-16 and knew how to use it, quite well in fact. I was a trained killer. I knew how to disassemble, maintain, and operate half a dozen deadly firearms. And for a kid that had never fired a weapon prior to enlistment, I was a good shot. Trained well. I could also throw hand grenades and use anti-tank weapons. And I also knew how to set up a Claymore mine....front towards enemy (will never forget that).

Let's see what else? Oh bayonets. Those kill too. Violently. Knew how to fix one on the end of my weapon and charge at the bad guys like in a John Wayne movie. I never heard the command "fix bayonets" in a real situation and I am damn glad.

In truth, one doesn't even have to put a bayonet on the end of a rifle to kill with it. It's easy enough to pull it right out of the sheath and slit a neck, quickly and quietly. Or you can place it gently at the lower part of the back of the skull and thrust it swiftly upwards. Either method works. I was told by some old Vietnam veterans bayonets are great for cutting off ears too.

Some days I really miss the military. But mostly, I don't. I took just enough of those years to help me the rest of my life while leaving the instinct and urge to kill behind. Killing in the military is generally acceptable as long as the victims are enemy soldiers. Being a murderer in the street brings problems. And lots of them.

I wonder if these kids ever stop to think that they might go to prison for a few decades if they shoot a gun at someone? By analysis, you can back up to the point where that bad decision was born. Once that gun is picked up, the chances of going to prison or the grave increase with every subsequent act. How?

Pick up the gun. Load it. Put it in your pants. Take it outside. Ride around in a car. Be in a gang. Be in the drug business. Pull out the gun. Chamber a round. Point it. Fire it. Do you see what happened? With every step, the probability of something bad happening increased until the point that the outcome became not only predictable, but likely.

You can pull out the gang and drug bits and still have problems by just possessing that weapon. Not everyone shot in Chicago is a result of drugs or gangs.

When I think of everything I have done since I was 18 it's impossible to imagine my life any other way. Remove it all and there's just a blank canvas. And around here, playing around with guns at such a young age might just get you a nice blank canvas, well except for the horrors of prison.

As bad as my life has been at times, it wasn't prison. Sitting here now, really thinking about this, it's clear I have had a great life. At 38, I am the product of my life since 17 (age of enlistment). A lot of me extends back into childhood, but I am the person I am mostly from being shaped by my adult experiences.

I wonder, though, had I been presented with more bad options as a pup, would I have turned out as I have? Or would I be in prison without most everything I know and feel? I was dumb at 17. But how dumb? Dumb enough to carry a gun? In the right....errr wrong neighborhood, maybe.

However, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that didn't have metal detectors and shootings after basketball games. I can think of only one gun ever showing up in my high school and it was a huge deal. No one could figure out why the kid even brought it to school. Why? It was stupidity and nothing more.

He wasn't out to shoot or kill anyone. No one was threatening to shoot or kill him. He found a gun somewhere (probably belonged to his father), thought it was cool, and took it to school. But not for show and tell. It was left in his locker and someone snitched. Stupid.

But even in the relatively crime-less high school I went to, a young man made a bad decision and picked up a gun without thinking it through. Did he pause to think that pistol might accidentally fire and cause someone injury? I doubt it. He didn't even think he might get caught with it and expelled from school in disgrace, let alone potentially killing someone. He didn't think. He wasn't a young man. He was a boy.

And these boys on our streets are picking up guns everyday without thinking it through. This has to stop. It does. The kid at my high school probably never imagined actually using that gun. He probably didn't even know how to disengage the safety. Sadly, I think someone who picks up a pistol around here knows that sooner or later it will get used. The only question is when.


Rest in peace; or rest in prison.


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