Growing Up In Violence Part One: Liam’s Story

I am a guidance counselor. And I’ve always wanted to tell some of my enlightening stories. Over the years I have taken notes about a lot of my students. And I’ve decided to start sharing some of them here.

I work with a lot of kids who don’t have ideal home lives. The one thing that always amazes me is that they always come to school. Even though there’s no one at home making them. When I was a kid I would have stayed home every chance I got.

Even when there is a field trip they can’t participate in. Even when they don’t have a uniform. Even when they come and don’t do a damn thing. They come.

I’ve worked with a lot of kids over the years. And I’ve learned so much. Getting to really know kids is the best part of my job. Normally the kids who are the most difficult are the ones I grow to love the most. What I’ve really learned is that all kids, everywhere, want exactly the same thing. To be loved.



Liam is one tough looking kid. He is big for his age and could pass for a grown man. He has long hair that he keeps tied back in a ponytail. If you saw him on the street you would hold your purse closer or make sure your car doors were locked.

He is fourteen years old. He has told me of a time when a gun was pulled on him. He has been jumped by rival gang members. Even though he is not officially in a gang. I have also seen Liam cry on several occasions.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In ten years I see myself gangbanging. Just me out there doing crazy shit. Breaking the law. Just being right there with all of the gangbangers. I’ll have some kids and have a job too. I can be a welder and still gangbang. I hope to still be living here in this neighborhood. I never want to leave here. I feel very safe here.

I fear nobody. I fear nothing.

He’s pretty damn convincing when he says these things. But I know him well enough to know it’s an act. Everyone has fears. Everyone. When I tell him this the look on his face is one of suspicion.

What do you think things are like outside of this neighborhood?

I’ve never been outside this neighborhood.

It would be dangerous for me to be outside this neighborhood. If I go to a different neighborhood and they recognize me and I’m alone they could do something to me.

When I explain that I only live a few miles from here and that my neighborhood is nothing like this neighborhood, he thinks I’m joking. He asks what gangs my neighborhood has. When I answer that as far as I know there are no gangs in my neighborhood, he smiles. Because he thinks I’m funny.

Are you worried you won’t live to see 10 years?

I don’t really care. If I’m caught lacking then I’m caught lacking. But for sure if I die I want to die being shot.

He talks about this as if it’s some type of honor. Like dying any other way would be a disgrace. I really hate hearing him talk like this. But I also know the reality of his situation.

Do you want to live?

It’s just not promised.

He answers this way too fast. Yes, Liam, the answer is yes. A fourteen year old boy is supposed to want to live. There should be no thought process behind this. The answer is supposed to be yes. Always yes.

Are you afraid of dying?

Naw. Because everyone is going to die at some point anyway.

This is part tough guy persona and part serious. I remind myself he is only fourteen and all fourteen year old’s think they’re invincible. But there’s also a sense that he’s expecting that death might really come sooner than later. He’s thought about it.

What do you think your parents want for you?

The best for me. They want me to succeed. They want me to stay out of gangs. But it’s my life. And I do what I want. My oldest brother is in a gang. My dad doesn’t be out there that much anymore. I don’t really look up to my dad because we don’t really have a connection. But I still want to be in a gang.

Why do you still want to be in a gang if your parents don’t want you to be?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s hard to explain. (His eyes start to water) It’s cause I feel lonely and my mom doesn’t really care. She says she does but she doesn’t. My dad and I don’t connect. My older brother doesn’t talk to me. He just walks in and leaves. I’m looking for the gang to be with them. To have someone to talk to. Be with. Because when I try to talk to my friends they be like naw. They don’t invite me places. They hardly talk to me anymore. I don’t know why. Now when they see me in the halls they barely say hi. The girl I like says she’s going to come over but she never comes. She never shows up. So then I just leave and go with the gangbangers.

The other kids don’t invite him places because rival gangs are always looking for him. You’re just asking for trouble if you’re seen with him. The other kids see him the way he wants to be seen. Tough. Like nothing matters. They don’t know how badly he just wants to fit in.

What is your biggest hope?

To graduate 8th grade and High School.

What is your biggest fear?

I’m scared of losing the girl I love. I’m not with her right now but I really hope to be.

This is when I’m reminded that he really is 14. He’s had several girls that were “the one” over the few years that I’ve known him.

What’s your favorite food?

Pizza. Pepperoni.

Favorite holiday?

Christmas. I don’t know it’s just a good feeling.

Favorite subject?

I don’t have one.

But I’m sure he meant to say Guidance.

Favorite singer?

Lud Foe.

He laughs when I say, “Lud Who?”

Favorite memory?

When I was dating this specific girl I was the happiest. But she left me.

Ahhhhh young love.

It’s sometimes hard for me to remember my first impression of Liam when I met him a few years ago. I remember being intimidated by him. I remember thinking this kid will be trouble.

But now all I see is a fourteen year old boy. Who feels as though he’s not loved. Who feels as though he doesn’t fit in. Who feels as though he needs to seek out acceptance the only way he can, through gang affiliation.

My students teach me a lot about what it’s like to grow up too fast. They teach me about what it’s like to not really have a childhood. I can only hope I teach them as much.

*This is part one of a series I have written. Stay tuned for more stories like Liam’s.

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