There is something unsustainable going on in this country. It’s happening in every project building and trailer park across the nation. Babies are being born into poverty, if they are lucky enough to make it that far, as many are discarded with the trash.
These kids grow up like weeds, forgotten by incarcerated and addicted parents — many of whom are still kids themselves — ignored by society, bouncing around state foster care systems and juvenile detention centers, raised by the streets.
When I was smoking crack, I remember driving to my local ghetto to score some dope one morning. I was amazed by how many kids mobbed my car. Eleven and twelve-year-olds, pushing and shoving each other outside my window, holding out baggies of the rock cocaine I sought, vying to make the coveted sell. Even in my drug-addled mind, I remember wondering why these kids weren’t in school.
Now, eleven years into a 30-year prison sentence, I see those same kids moving into the neighboring bunks in my dorm; 18-year-old boys with 50- and 60-year sentences, their lives already over. I know people will say they made their own choices, but when a child grows up unraised and unloved, when he has to hustle and scrap for everything he gets, when the only environment he knows is one of crime and violence, when the heroes of his community are gangsters and criminals, when the music he’s been listening to his entire life trumpets murder, robbery, and dope-dealing as a realistic, viable life path … it’s difficult to wake up one day and decide to get a GED. Maybe in Hollywood; rarely in real life.
The newspapers say crime is down 4 percent in this country. Somebody is skewing those numbers. With the rise of physically addictive prescription drugs, and heroin rearing its ugly head, there is no way the crime rate is dropping. The problem is not going to go away. It is a festering sore on the face of society that is expanding exponentially. And there’s only one way to stop it: Love.
Naive as it may sound, if every child in this country were loved and nurtured, there would be a lot less violent crime in America 15 years from now. So let’s set aside the whales and the trees and the ozone for a minute. If we really want to make a difference, we need to save the kids. Because there is no them; only us.
Here’s the back cover copy from my new novel, On the Shoulders of Giants, currently in production and due out this fall…
The last time Izzy James saw his mother’s trailer was through the rear window of a Dodge Aires driven by a social worker with the Florida Division of Children and Families. He was four years old. He spent the remainder of his childhood bouncing around the state foster care system. Always the outsider, introverted and awkward, he assumed he was exempt from things like friendship and love … until he met Scarlett McGhee.
Pharaoh Sinclair was born on a prison van. The illegitimate child of an unknown father and a crackhead mother. He grew up on the sidewalks of the Azalea Arms housing project, where gunshots and police sirens were as commonplace as the stench of the neighboring landfill. Molded by hustlers and pushers, with the dope game in his DNA, the lone soft spot in his concrete heart was reserved for his baby sister, Symphony. But could he protect her from the same streets that raised them?
From the sugar-white sand dunes of Pensacola Beach to the murderous Arthur G. Dozier reform school, from strip clubs to emergency rooms, from traphouses to courthouses to prison cells, On the Shoulders of Giants chronicles the intersecting journeys of a foster kid and a projects kid as they battle and stumble their way through adolescence into adulthood.
An exploration of race, part memoir, part coming-of-age, part thriller, part love story. This transcendent novel defies genre. A book within a book. More than a story, a living organism. A legacy. The only child of Ezra “Izzy” James.
My camp is 60 percent mentally ill. The spectrum ranges from violent psychopaths (dudes who rape and stab and make me grateful there’s such a thing as maximum security) to zoned-out convalescents whose lives consist of drooling and taking thorazine.
The kid in the next bunk is neither. His name is Jimmy and he’s from the north side of Jacksonville. He spends his days autographing the faces of celebrities in OK magazines and babbling these outlandish stories to himself. “This is my Uncle Leroy from the Bahamas” (George Clooney). “This is the detective that busted me with 40 bricks” (Donald Trump).
It used to drive me crazy. The mental immersion required to write a book demands silence and space to think, not a running sink of psycho-dribble 24/7. But lately I’ve been embracing it as a kind of right-brain exercise to get the creative juices flowing. When I get stuck, I’ll drop my pen, look at him and say, “My father was a swordfighter in Lebanon.”
Jimmy: “Mine too. They fought naked aliens together in the war.”
Me: “Those must be the same aliens that kidnapped me and trained me in martial arts.”
Jimmy: “How do you think you got that scar on your head?”
And around and around we’ll go until I fall back into my novel-in-progress and he to his celebrity gossip rag. “This is my ex-wife” (Caitlyn Jenner).
But today, something different happened. When I asked him if his mom was a Russian bullfighter on ice, he shook his head and looked at me with clear eyes. “My momma killed herself when I was little. I saw her do it.”
Then he turned the page and resumed his elaborate babble. It could have just been more BS but it sure didn’t feel like it. If it is true, it’s unfathomable that any kid should go through that. There’s a reason why people withdraw inward and batten down the hatches. Nobody is born bad. We are each of us a tapestry of our life experiences, influences, and impressions. We are all grown children, some of us with heartbreaking backstories.