My Brother’s Hands

Bonnie, aka HipsterLibertarian, just posted this quote about the disproportionate criminalization of drug law violators of different races. And it made me think that maybe it’s time I shared a personal story that’s quite relevant to this.

When my brother was maybe 12-13yrs old he joined a Mexican gang in our area and began selling drugs. He went to prison a few years later. I never blamed him.

Let me give you some context:

My mom is a drug addict. After my parents divorced, she had a string of dealer boyfriends that she would take off with without notice. And one day, she did just that.

Except this time, she didn’t come back the next day, or at the end of the weekend. No, she decided to take a trip to Vegas for several weeks without letting us know. “Us” consisted of me, maybe 4-5yrs old at the time; my sister, 6-7yrs; and my brother, around 11yrs. That’s it.

Where were we left? In the house that they hadn’t paid utilities for. So there was no heat, no water, no electricity. Guess what else they forgot to leave? Food. We ate what scraps had been left until soon we just ran out. We were cold, we were hungry, we were just kids. But my brother was the oldest, and he knew he had to take care of us somehow.

I’ll never forget my brother’s bleeding hands staining the light brown carpet in our living room.

We didn’t have a lot of blankets, and it got so cold at night, but we had a fireplace. He’d gone out to our backyard and began tearing down our wood fence, plank by plank, to try to make a fire. But he didn’t have the proper tools. He didn’t have any tools. I sat in the corner and cried as I watched him struggling to make a fire, his hands bleeding, tears streaming down his own face.

He started walking the two miles down to the nearest gas station every day, where he’d ask people for change until he had enough to buy some food for us. And that’s how we lived. For two long weeks. When my brother realized that maybe mom wasn’t coming back this time, he searched the house for a phone book and found my grandma’s number and headed for the payphone at the gas station.

I don’t know what he told her, if she knew how long we’d been alone, all I know is when he came back he bundled us up in all the warm clothes we had, and we headed to the nearest bus stop. My grandma took care of us until a week or so later when my mom came and collected us as if nothing had happened.

My brother joined the gang and started dealing shortly after.

When I got suspended from elementary school for having brass knuckles in my pocket (my brother’s “friend” had slipped them in my pocket one night when the police came to our house, and forgot to retrieve them)— I didn’t blame him. When they threatened to throw me in juvenile hall, I said nothing except that they weren’t mine and I didn’t know how they got in my jacket.

When my brother’s gang got into some trouble with some other gang and they came to our house and shot all our windows and I lay with my cheek pressed on the floor with glass falling around me— I still didn’t blame him.

I never blamed him because I remembered how scared he had been those two weeks. How helpless we all were. And how he never wanted to be in that situation again. What could he do to protect us from that? He was too young to work legally. And who was in our neighborhood always flaunting how much money they made? MS-13 of course.

As I grew up, I got to see and hear about one white kid after another dealing drugs for “fun”, because their friends thought it was “cool”, because they wanted some “extra cash”—these are literally their self-stated reasons, I’m not just being an asshole here. And when they got caught, their parents took their car away, or they had to do community service, or they got suspended from school or even *GASP* expelled!

I hated them so much. Because all I could think of—when I saw some smirking white kid showing the weed in his backpack to all his friends—was the one time I was allowed to go visit my brother in jail.

His wrists were cut and bruised from the handcuffs being too tight. And I asked him what happened, and he tried to hide it, and he just told me, “Don’t you worry about it, Babygirl. I’m alright. I’ll be home soon. Have you been doing your homework?” And I cried then, like I’m crying now, like I’ve cried every time I’ve remembered since.

…I don’t know why I bothered to write all this down. Maybe I’m just hoping that those of you who I see writing things like, “Well he shouldn’t have been selling drugs DUH” without the slightest hint of empathy or understanding, will have a small glimpse of what it’s like to live the lives of these people you’re so far removed from.