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I was born in 1967, the third child of unstable, poor parents. My father was a womanizer, but my mother loved the ground he walked on. When she became pregnant with me, he denied being my father and accused her of sleeping around. He ended their marriage, which broke my mother's heart.

I saw my father often around town, but he would not acknowledge me unless he was drinking. Even then, he would go back and forth from being nice to me to calling me names and denying being my father. You can imagine the impact my father's insults had on me as a little boy. He maintained a supportive relationship with my siblings, but he never missed a chance to remind me that he did not consider himself to be my daddy. My father was a large man with a booming voice, and from an early age I associated his voice with fear.

My mother, siblings, and I lived in an old rundown house that backed up to an alley. As I got older, I spent more and more time in the alley, especially at one club in particular. I grew up fast hanging around the club. I saw more fights, stabbings, and shootings around that club than I saw on Gunsmoke. I specifically remember seeing a man shoot another man in the back after they had a fight in the club. I watched the blood pour from a hold in the man's back until the ambulance arrived. I couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old at the time. Is it any wonder that I became a violent offender?

Eventually, my family moved into the projects. I was grateful for air conditioning, locking doors, and no more rats from the alley, but the projects were just as violent. Fights, shootings, and police sirens were the norm. Looking back on it, I see that it was madness. But it was the only life available to a single mother and her five children. It was like a war zone, but we weren't in the military.

In 1980, I was thirteen years old. My estranged father told me he would get me a bike for Christmas. I was so excited and told everyone what I was expecting for Christmas. My mother told me that my father had never done anything for me and wasn't going to start now, but I looked up to and believed in my father. On Christmas morning, I went to my father's house. His girlfriend answered the door, and I asked if he had my bike. My father had been drinking, and he was in bed asleep. His girlfriend woke him up and asked him if he had gotten me a bike. He awoke in a rage and yelled, "I'm tired of this little ugly motherfucker! Get your goddamned ass out of my house!" I was paralyzed with fear, trembling, and tears streamed down my face. My father got up, grabbed my arm, and pushed me out of his house. I was devastated.

When I got home, my mother was furious that I had not listened to her, and she berated me. I was crying uncontrollably, and my mother demanded that I shut my mouth. She began to beat me with a small club. I crawled to the corner, crying, but my mother would not relent. Several of the blows struck me in the head. Finally, my sister intervened and got the club away from my mother. I spent the rest of the night with my head resting on my sister's leg, quietly crying. As a thirteen-year-old child, I learned the terrible lesson that both of my parents hated me. Is it any wonder that I became a violent offender?

I resolved at the age of thirteen to learn to take care of myself and make sure no one could hurt me again. Violence was the only thing that made sense to me. By the time I was eighteen, I had been in numerous fights and had several run-ins with law enforcement. Yet I had never touched or been around guns. One day, however, I came upon my uncle, who had been drinking. He made some comment about me being a bad-ass now. Then he pulled out a gun and pointed at me. Although I could fend for myself, staring at that gun, I felt helpless again. The moment passed, and he left, but I remained angry at having been made to feel fearful again. It was not long before I procured my own gun. Eventually this pattern of violence that had been with me from the time I was born culminated in me taking another person's life.

In 1954, author and counselor Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem entitled "Children Learn What They Live." In the poem, she states, "If children live with hostility, they learn to fight." My experience demonstrates the accuracy of Ms. Nolte's wisdom. Given the circumstances of my life, is it any wonder I became a violent offender?

by A Son of Israel

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