The Life-Style Violent Juvenile
Following is an excerpt from Andrew Vachss' first book, The Life-Style Violent Juvenile, a textbook he wrote in 1979. If you'd like more information, click here. You can view online the architectural guides for a Secure Treatment Unit, and read the transcript of a speech Mr. Vachss gave on the very same subject. Here is an excerpt from the book itself:
Interview with "Pirate"
The following interview between Andrew Vachss (V) and "Pirate" (P) took place somewhere in New York City in 1977. Names and locations have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
V: Under what circumstances did you first make contact with the Blood Devils? How did it come down?
P: Well, years back, I was in the Young Hawks gang; I was a War Counselor. We bumped against each other once in a while, and most of them I met by face, and recognized their faces when I got locked up ... cops had grabbed a couple of us, but we never got acquainted to know each other until I left the Young Hawks and I moved out [to another neighborhood] and I met the Blood Devils.
V: How did you become a member?
P: I did a lot of crazy shit.
V: Can you explain any of that?
P: The President had something for you to [do] to get into it at a certain position—you had to do something, and I wanted War Counselor, so I just had to arrange a meeting with another gang—go by myself and actually set it up ... and I did.
V: That was your only initiation? That was all you had to do?
P: Well, I had to do other things. Like go to Central Park and rape ... which I did. Mug somebody. And the last, what they call your Last Performance, is we went downtown to the white folks neighborhood and I did pretty nasty things, I beat this white dude with a baseball bat that had nine-inch nails across. All they wanted was to see if I had the heart to do something so I wouldn't be able to back out [at a later date].
V: Did you do these things acting with other guys, or did you do these things alone?
P: Well, they were there.
V: They were there to observe you?
P: Yeah. But I guess I did it because I really wanted to get into them. I felt if I don't they'll think a lot of other things about me which I know I'm not, so I just went. It happened.
V: But then they became convinced, right?
V: Were these particular acts the first time you did any such things? Was that rape the first rape you ever participated in?
V: Was hitting somebody with a baseball bat the first time you did that?
P: With a baseball bat? Yeah.
V: Was the mugging the first mugging you were involved in?
V: How old were you when you first got involved with this type of activity?
P: Eleven, maybe ten.
V: When you were that age, and you were engaged in this type of activity, did you act alone or with other individuals?
P: Well, there was a whole bunch of us just being together. We was always together. And we noticed that a lot of people would come out with gangs, and if you weren't in one and you were just walking, that they would beat you up and I mean really hurt you, and you know I was tired of getting hurt, you know, for no reason. So I decided to hurt people. And we decided to get just a certain gang together with that name [Young Hawks]—
V: That's the way you saw things; that you would have to hurt people or they would hurt you?
V: Is that the way it still is?
P: In most places, I hear it is.
V: When is the first time you came into contact with the police? How old were you?
P: Eleven, twelve.
V: What was the charge?
P: They accused me of suspicion of beating up this old man with a couple of other guys. And I was there, but I know they didn't see me and I figured I'd get away from there quick so they asked for my mother and I told them she was out. And I needed somebody old to get me out [to claim he was a relative or guardian] so we always had somebody old in the crowd, that can just go there and talk some shit and get us out. Most of the time it was easy, I would just be locked up in a room [at the local precinct] and there would be signing of papers and I would get out.
V: That was at the precinct, right? What about the Youth Center?
P: That's worse than the streets. I mean if you were there, if you would just get there ... they would cause some kind of initiation and get a couple of guys in a corner and just boogie on you. And boogie on you good.
V: Did that happen to you?
P: It happened to me, yeah. I had to make up a choice. See, I was in C-2, and there was this room with around twenty-nine or thirty people, young dudes, and every day that I was in there, I was even, I would like a couple and dislike a couple. And the ones that I disliked, I had to do something about it.
V: What did you do?
P: I fought a lot. I mean I used to hit them with a lot of different things. I hurt them a lot. Just to show them that I wasn't the type of person you could push around that easy.
V: How long were you there?
P: One year. One year for being in Central Park. See, I had just gotten out of school and we went down to the Park, and there was a couple of us and we all ran, and somebody got hurt...
V: How bad?
P: They say it was bad. I mean whoever got hurt, I don't know.
V: You didn't do this particular thing?
P: No, and I was caught. When they took us in, they recognized me by the clothes I was wearing and the way I was dressed and I was just sent in.
V: Who does most of the violence in your organization, the older guys or the younger guys?
P: The younger guys. I mean, the older guys, most of them just like to lay up with their lady, like to settle down. The young guys are just trying to keep what they been fighting about for quite a while.
V: How much do you understand about the criminal law? Let me ask you this question: when you are under sixteen, do you know that you can not be sent away to an adult prison? Do you know that?
V: But you know that now you can, right? In other words, if you are caught after the age of sixteen—
P: I don't know. I guess that would be what they call your first offense ... so you wouldn't go in?
V: You wouldn't go in?
P: I am asking; you wouldn't go in?
V: Sure you would. If you are past the age of sixteen even by one day, you're the same as an adult, and if you were to commit an act of serious violence, you could certainly be incarcerated. Does that surprise you?
P: Yeah. At that point, you're an adult?
P: So ... you'll go in mostly with anything anyway. They'll put you somewhere ... a reform school and being in jail is practically the same thing.
V: You think you could do time as an adult, right?
P: Yeah. If it's worth it.
V: What would make it worth it? Give me some examples of what would make it worth it.
P: Hurting somebody who's hurting me or my people or done something that we disagree with completely. I would go out and —
V: How about someone who hasn't done anything to you?
P: To me personally?
V: To you or your people. A rape of somebody that you never saw before ... is that worth it?
P: I won't think about it. If I have to, I wouldn't think about it. I'd just do it.
V: What would be the circumstances that would make you do it? What kind of situation would you have to be in?
P: Not a deep one. I can hurt you for any reason, if I dislike you for the reason, I'll do it. If it's small and I dislike it, I'll hurt you.
V: Do other people have the same attitude towards you? In other words, do people just hurt you—
P: They've done it. I've walked the street and just because I walked on the wrong side of the street or because I wore my jacket a different way I've gotten hurt. Actually hurt. And I feel they've done it to me, I've learned, through the people I am with, if you are going to live and survive out here, best do it that way.
V: Hurt people before they hurt you?
P: If you got the chance, yeah.
V: Do you figure just about anybody would hurt you if they got the chance?
P: That's right.
V: The police would hurt you?
P: Police would hurt me.
V: Regular citizens would hurt you?
P: They've done it.
V: What would you do if you got arrested tomorrow for something serious like a robbery or a rape?
P: What would I do? I wouldn't do nothing.
V: You'd just go along with whatever happens—
P: That's right. Try to keep it away from these people as much as possible.
V: How are decisions made inside the Blood Devils? How do people decide on what happens?
P: We have on the table six people, and we are the ones who sit and talk.
V: You are one of the six, right?
P: Right. And we'll try to bring it down to the easiest thing of talking but if like a President and a Vice President says "No" and four of us says "Yes," we have to vote it again for the simple reason that they are up there. And we respect them.
V: Are you going to be up there?
P: If they need me and I got the chance, yes.
V: Do you expect that to happen?
P: It will happen.
V: What's the difference between your gang and the Savage Skulls?
P: They'll do things we probably wouldn't think of doing—like going out and blowing clubs for one person.
V: Blowing up the whole club because of something one person did?
P: Because of one person, right. And we disagree with that completely. Letting youngsters go out for us is out. I wouldn't let nobody thirteen or ten years old go out and hurt somebody for me and then just stand there. I would do it myself.
V: But the Skulls will do that?
P: Yeah, to keep as tight as they are, that's the only way they would be able to do it. Sending the youngest out and getting probably caught or hurt and still have a chance to be together, than if they sent somebody who is seventeen, eighteen years old. He gets caught and his chances of coming back is not very good.
V: Are there ever any major disagreements among members of the same organization? What happens if two guys in the Devils disagree heavily on something?
P: Well, they would have to settle it one or another way. If they disagree with it, depending on what it is...
V: Say an argument over a girl. How is that settled?
P: That's stupid.
V: So that doesn't happen?
P: It happens. It has happened. And they've gone out and beat each others' brains out, and after that they'll pay a lot of punishment. We'll pay them a lot of punishment. I mean I can hurt someone for doing something stupid, I don't care how close he is to me.
V: Do you have brothers and sisters?
P: I have a younger brother, and two older brothers.
V: What do your older brothers do?
P: I don't know; I never bothered getting into their life.
V: What about your younger brother?
P: He tries to follow steps.
V: Your steps?
V: You expect him to be in the Devils?
P: Yeah. If he keeps on following me, he will get there. And if he has a reason to be there, he'll be there.
V: What do you see yourself doing two years from now?
P: I don't look in the future.
V: Six months?
P: Well, six months from now, it will probably be summertime and we'll probably have a bigger organization than we have now.
V: You expect to recruit more people during the summer?
P: Most of the summers we usually do. Guys that feel that they can do things, they just don't know where to do it and how to show they can do it, and we'll take a crack at it. We'll see. But it will be a while before we can say he's in with us completely. And we've bumped into guys that we've taken cause they're big and they're strong and they've turned us down.
V: Is it okay for them to turn you down?
P: It's not for me. If they turn me down, something behind it. There's something behind everything.
V: So what do you think is behind that?
P: Guilt. I mean he turns me down when I feel I need him. If I can help it he won't be able to turn nobody else down.
V: What about people who simply don't want to be in the Devils but live in your territory? Is that permitted? Do you let people be neutral?
P: We don't have too many of those. Old people only. Most of the youngsters that live in my neighborhood are all in this. This is about the only way we can protect what's ours.
V: What is yours?
P: We have a territory [of about twelve square blocks] but we've managed to get around with other clubs near us. We got into them for them to feel we're brotherhood with them. And we'll be there if they need us, but we don't depend on them. If we know there's something going to go down hard, I wouldn't depend on the boys down the street because I know they feel if they are going down to somebody else's territory and they don't belong there, they won't go. I don't feel that way. If you need me, wherever it is, I'll be there if I can. I'll make it.
V: Is your organization almost exclusively Hispanic—are there mostly Latin men in your organization ... do you have alliances with all—black clubs?
P: There was a couple of them. I mean down on the East River Drive. There's a couple of them. But they all break off by themselves. They will do two or three things at most and then they'll break off by themselves. They won't be able to handle it or—
V: They'll stop short at certain things?
P: Yeah. So we just don't bother with them. They don't exist anymore.
V: What would you call the most notorious club in the City right now?
P: There's a couple of them. The Bronx has got them all. I'm going to get a chance to move up there myself.
V: You want to move to the Bronx?
P: Yeah. I'm staying—my mother threw me out of the house and I'm staying with my grandmother in the Bronx, and I don't communicate with the people out there because I know what they do and I know how they act. But I feel the way I got into the Blood Devils I'll get into anybody else's gang. It will take a lot more but I'll be able to handle it.
V: How do you support yourself? Do you work?
V: Do you go to school?
P: No. I don't bother. I mean they don't get me nowhere. They don't get nobody out here nowhere.
V: So how do you support yourself?
P: I support myself by the people out in the streets.
P: I steal. I rob. I mug. I manage to get around.
V: And you will continue to do so—
P: For as long as it takes.
V: Is there any kind of job that anyone could offer you that would motivate you to want to quit what you're doing now?
V: No kind of job at all?
V: Two hundred dollars a week?
P: No. It's going to take me away from the thing I grew up with. The thing I feel. It's probably going to put me into a different person. I don't want that. I'll probably get hurt out here. The way I am now, I'm secure, I'm protected, I know there can't nothing happen to me. I mean I will probably get locked up but once I come out with the faith my people got towards me and the respect that we all got I can always turn around and say "Well, here I am. I'm back." And they're going to treat me the way they were treating me when I left them. They'll still be there. Everyone who's out there protecting what they want and what they feel belongs to them, they're going to keep it and they're going to try to keep it for as long as they can.
V: Do you think this situation with the fighting clubs is going to continue in the city?
V: We used to have a whole lot of it; remember in the fifties, I guess you heard about it, it used to be the whole thing, right? And then it seemed to disappear—
P: It didn't disappear. It's just that we have it now in a completely different form. We've changed. We're not out there, like in the fifties, they had a lot of brothers with leather jackets and motorcycles and that was their transportation; that was their everything. They wouldn't do nothing unless they were on their motorcycles and so on. Everything has changed. If you want to do something and deeply inside you want to do it, you're going to do it. You cross the river and won't wet your pants; you'll do it. You'll get there.
V: What is your ambition? Eventually you'll be President of the Devils, or maybe join one of the Bronx clubs, right? What about after that? Do you have any ambitions about consolidating different clubs?
P: You can't. Too many people out here don't agree on what we people really feel. As long as they disagree with it, we won't be as together as we want.
V: What are the basic disagreements? What do people mostly disagree on?
P: Your attitudes, the way you do things. They disagree with the way you rip off somebody. They disagree with the way you rape somebody. They want to do it this other way. They want to get rid of it completely. That's out.
V: You're drawing the line at homicide, is that what you're saying?
P: No. I would kill if it's necessary. I mean I'm going to do something and I'm doing it for my pleasure and for what we know I'm going to rape somebody. And if I rape her and it turns out in the situation that I got to get rid of her, I'm going to do it. But I'm not going to do it because I finished doing what I wanted to do. Dump her in the river cause I finished laying her and she was no good. Hell with her. Dump her. No. You rape her. I'll rape her. I'll let her go if she be still. It won't bother me. She'll recognize me as much times as she wants. But I know a girl won't put me for rape.
V: She wouldn't testify against you?
P: She wouldn't. If she would she'd be a fool. If it really came down to it and she had to testify she'd be a fool. She'll be losing maybe two lives. Keeping it the way it is, I'll hurt her once in a while, because it's in me, and they'll probably tease her and scare her, but she won't lose her life just like that.
V: You're not just talking about a girl from the neighborhood ...
P: Any girl. No. I mean I'm going to do something with the protection of the Blood Devils. Now, if I rape her, she knows it's not no city kid who feels like raping her. It's somebody ... they look at us like evil, nasty, dirty. Hell, I really don't care. But if I rape, and I just rape you, and you catch me and you recognize me in the paper and you say "Well, that's him," everybody knows you pointed me out. If I get in trouble, I mean if I do go in, and they know I don't want to be in there, they're going to do something about it. I have that confidence. They are going to do something about it.
V: Has this happened in your experience?
P: Yes. We've hurt a couple of people.
V: Are there any people whom you would respect and leave alone who are not members?
P: My mother and father. That's it. Well, Turk here [indicating another person in the room]. He's not in with us. I mean he's got his own head, and he understands us and he met a couple of guys that so far they find him cool. They ... and I like him; he's all right. But I wouldn't hold myself from doing something against him if he hurts me, or hurts any of us.
V: What if you don't know him; if you have no contact with him at all?
P: You mean I'm going to hurt somebody and he's in the way?
V: No, no. He's just not involved. Let me give you an example, okay? We met today. You and me, right? Now you see me on the street tomorrow; are you going to attack me?
V: Why not?
P: I'm not like that. I'm not going to attack just for attacking you. I just like you. But I'm talking here and I know what's the reason and I'm not going to go outside tomorrow and lay for you and say "well this man is this and he's that and I don't dig him." I won't get rid of you. You ain't going to hurt me. I know. I was told by Brother Turk. You ain't going to hurt me.
V: So you respect his word?
P: Yes. Now if you were to come up to me and say "Pirate, you going to rap on this and this, but watch what you say" and put me in the position that I got to be checking myself out a lot because of someone, I don't give a fuck who he is, if you push me far enough, I'll probably hurt you.
V: Everybody's like that, aren't they? I mean that's just not you. I'm the same way; everybody's the same way. Everyone has a limit, right?
P: Yes. But you have your limit like "I don't like him and if he fucks with me I'm going to hurt him; I don't like you; if you fuck with me, I'm going to hurt you" but you'll probably go up to the person and talk with him and bring up a conversation. I'll see you in the street and you can call me and I'll see you but I won't stop in the street and talk to you.
V: What are your requirements for someone to be friends with you? Let's say that I wanted to be your friend. What is it I would do?
P: I would keep you around me for pretty long to see what type of person you really are.
V: So only people that would hang out with you every day?
P: Every day.
V: And you don't have friends outside of that?
P: No friends. I know people outside of that. And the people I'm with every day is like a dollar in my pocket every day, and that's your friend. Somebody you go outside and you meet and you know him because you read his name and he probably asked you ... he's not your friend. He's just a two-way mirror. You're looking at him and there's somebody in there looking at you that doesn't like you and just don't know how to come out.
V: You believe most people don't like you?
P: Most people don't like me.
P: I been trained, and I look at somebody and he'll look at me and I can sense it. I can actually hear him say to himself "I don't like this guy" and it don't bother me. I know he's thinking that. It's just that I guess I would prefer it more if you would just kind of come out with it. If you didn't like me you would give me the same looks I gave you and you would react to me the way I reacted to you. If you're going to insist on me knowing that you don't like me and you're going to try and be sweet to me, I know you're going to be playing something else, and I'm going to find out what it is.
V: But you think the average person has some kind of game, some kind of reason for doing what he does, right? And this is what you've seen and observed with your own eyes, right? It's not just a feeling ...
P: A lot of guys do things because mostly they feel one way and they do things another way. I mean my mother threw me out. That is something that I never thought she would actually do. But she threw me out. She disagreed with what I am. That's what I learned. I've been out here and that's what I learned. How to be what I am now.
V: Did you learn anything about being the way you are now while you were in those training schools?
P: Even if you got busted stealing your first pocketbook, and they put you in there, by the time you come out, I don't care if it's two weeks, three weeks or what, you're going to feel that you belong to some kind of organization, and it's going to be completely different. You are going to want to experience it and really kind of—I mean, I was in there, and the time I was in there, I heard guys saying "I do that and I do this" and I never got out to there. And yet they felt so big and I wanted to get there. I came out and I came out with the willpower of doing whatever I wanted to do. If I needed money and I couldn't get it in no other way but to snatch it off somebody or hustle for it, I'll do it. To satisfy myself, I would do it, cause that's what I learned in there—satisfy yourself first and the people you really think about and you'll probably be somewhere. And you'll be together. I have had rice, beans, bread, water. Every day I am out here in the streets, most of it I get from friends of mine, girls that are in the neighborhood, and we manage to tease them or order them to get us a plate of food. And them knowing us, they'll do it. Not because they are scared of us but they know the situation we're in. They wouldn't turn us down. No, because they know they will help. "You're a devil! Why should I feed you?" It's not like that. "You're a devil and I'm going to feed you, but it's not because I like you or anything like that. I am going to feed you because we are together. I know you would do the same thing for me." I mean somebody comes up to me and says "Pirate, I am going to need this for this and I can't do it on my own," I'll do it with him. I'm going to do it with him. I'll go as far as I can with him, as long as he's pleased and as long as he knows that whatever he needs he's got somebody to come up to. I'll hear you ain't got nobody to come up to. People be going to school most of their lives, and they come out here to earn a couple of dollars for themselves, and they don't get a damned thing. I'm better off than they are. I go out here and I want to buy me a pair of pants, or I want to do something, I'll rip off anything I want to rip off. Grocery store, snatch pocketbooks, wallets. Open it up and have a couple of dollars in there, and I'll get what I want. Most people out here, they hustle all day—all day, every day of the week, and they don't come home with a damn thing, and they don't know what to say. I know what to say if I ain't got the money. I just say "try harder, man" but I'll get it and I usually do. I came here because Turk told me what was going on and what was involved here. I figured, you know, it's easier than hanging out in the street and checking somebody coming out of a bank. I mean, I could stand out there and look at somebody coming out of the bank, and without seeing what he got, I'll rip him off.
V: Have you learned to be able to tell which people are coming out there with money and which aren't?
V: Sometimes people go to put money in, right?
P: You learn. You see that. You can be a person that I want fifty dollars. That's a person you rip off for fifty dollars. Hell, you'll never get nowhere. I have observed banks, I have seen old people, young people, rich people, put money, take money out of the bank, and I've even named them. I've given their names and told them, actually saying that money is nice. And I'll get it some way. I need fifty dollars and I know I can rip off this apartment over there then I'm going to do it, and get fifty dollars for whatever it is, stereo, TV anything. As long as I'm pleased, as long as I got something I can give to somebody, to please somebody that's real close to me, that's all we really need...to pile up the little grains of rice and pack them together. And that's us right there.
V: When you're going to take somebody off, do you try and make a judgment as to how hard it's going to be? Do you try and pick easier targets?
P: You don't. You can't think at things like that. No. You just—you want to rip somebody off and somebody's coming, all right, that's your victim. If you let it pass and you rip the second person off, he probably won't have nothing and the person in front of him already seen this. So just the first chance you get you do it. And do it the way it comes down. If I grab you to your throat, and you're going to kneel on the floor, then you're giving me a better chance. Because all I got to do is keep you there. Now if you're one of them people that like to move your arms a lot, while you're moving your arms and hurting me in my face with that, I'm going to get your money. But I'm going to hurt you for hurting me.
V: What happens if the person just surrenders? Just says "take my money?"
P: I take it.
V: And that's it?
P: That's it. And I go. But if he tries something I'll hurt him. I have something in seeing blood. I guess that's why they call me Pirate. I like blood. I won't cut you after you give me your money, quietly. Sooner or later you're going to have to go and say "I seen him." But if you try and get smart with me and after you gave me your money and I turn around and run, and you're going to come over here and chase me, or try to grab me while ... you're putting your own life in danger. That's the way I look at it.
V: How do you feel about people committing crimes against you personally?
P: That's just the way they are.
V: You don't have any hostility towards them?
P: I mean I walk and somebody rips me off, he's going to rip me off. I'm going to try and not get ripped off, but the guy will probably rip me off. I'm not going to just sit down and stand for it. He ripped me off.
V: You'd just go with it?
P: Yeah. If I can get my hands on him, I'll do it. If I know what's happening, I'll get to it. But if I know I can't get to it and we've decided that there's no way you can get to that person, well, hell, it happened, man, and it's over. I don't mean that if you see him again you can't do it to him or you can't remember. I've remembered a lot of guys who've hurt me. Just for the hell of it. See me walking down the street and kick me, man, stomp on me. I haven't been able to do anything. We've talked about it. I've described the person, exactly who he is, and we've gone all the way down about how it come out. You can't touch him. And you're furious! "Why can't I touch him?" He grabbed me. You can't touch him. And the reason comes out. You just don't touch him.
V: What could be some of the reasons that you can't touch him?
P: He's somebody else in another brother gang. A brotherhood gang; he belongs to somebody in that gang. I won't be able to go up to him and stab him for taking my money, because you're hurting one of your own, and they might know that too, but they might just feel "I don't care." That's what we ain't got in common. And that's why we can't really get together. I mean, if we could just say "He's my brother, but he ripped me off," I could sit down with you and tell you "Let's talk about it; why did you rip me off?" He come up to me and tell me "I know you had this and, all right ... but if you're going to come and say I ripped you off and you're not allowed to rip me off ..." That's out. We are real basic with the things that we do. We do them, but we don't do them in stupidity ways. We won't try to hurt; you don't try to hurt yourself when you do things, or the person you're doing it ... just do it and be satisfied. And that's all.
V: You're talking about justice now, right? How do you think things should be done? Let say somebody breaks in my house, rapes my wife ... what should I do?
P: You seen "Death Wish?"
P: You would go out and look for that person. Protect yourself as best as you can. Now you'll find him and you'll get him. If you're going to hide away from everybody else and you're going to let nobody find out exactly what happened, you might as well just say "Here I am; take me now," because they're going to take you. There's going to be somebody that's going to see you and he's going to remember you shot this guy because he raped your wife and so far you've been hiding. He's going to bang you. He's going to get rid of you good. And he's going to feel happy and he's going to try everything he can so that his people could feel happy you're rid of. You're gone too. Now if you come out and find the person and you hurt them, and you actually go through meeting somebody and actually saying "Look, I hurt this person because he hurt my wife, and I know where he was and I know who he is and I just disliked him" and you actually come down ... a lot of people are scared of doing things like this. They are afraid they are at the end ... after somebody tells them they can go, they'll be stabbed in the back. But that's not true.
V: You say that everybody out there will hurt you?
P: Somehow. If they get the chance.
V: There's different ways that people can hurt you. I mean, there's ways besides violence that they can hurt you.
P: Definitely. I mean you got people who are in a back table sitting down, white collar, black suit, and that bastard's going to hurt you. When you face him, no matter how sweet you look, no matter how innocent you look, he's going to hurt you somehow and that hurt is taking you away from what you really want ...
V: What about the people who are in business to protect you?
P: Who are there to protect us besides our own people?
V: What about if you get arrested? Wouldn't a lawyer protect you?
P: I don't know. I haven't gone that far. I wouldn't trust a lawyer. I can't trust anybody. I just got to trust the people I live with. Like the people I actually see going through it every day and they are accepting it. I mean they are actually surviving out there. I started thinking about things like that ten years old, eleven years old. I realized you can't trust nobody out there. I used to be walking around, cut out of school, didn't have nothing to eat for breakfast. Walk inside a restaurant and just walk around the table and see a dollar seventy-five lying there and that's yours. Take it gladly and walk out. You got a dollar seventy-five. Two hours later you got a cop busting you and grabbing you and he actually requesting that you try and get away from him—and they still hurting you by being there asking you so many questions "why I ain't got school today?" and still they hurting you, knowing they going to put you somewhere, everybody's going to find out what you did that day. Your mother find out, your father find out, your teachers will know you got locked up. Why? Because the son of a bitch didn't want to let you beat it, didn't want to let you walk the streets and actually mind your own business and just let him pass by. No, you're a youngster and you belong in school and the law says you belong in school, and the law's wrong. They don't care what the law says; if you don't want to go to school, you don't go to school. I didn't go to school. I didn't like school—
V: Do you read?
P: Magazines, comic books, yeah. Those are the things I spend time with.
V: Do you teach the younger ones; you do any kind of teaching?
P: Yeah. Open up a switchblade fast enough. Run. Zig-Zag. Dodge. Rip off pocketbooks. Quick. That's about all I can— that's all the skill I got to teach that I know of. I mean I can't actually sit down and tell somebody "let's do this and let's do that and this is the way you do it." You tell me to teach them how to open up a blade, and I'll teach them how to open up a blade. I'm going to teach them to use it the correct way. And probably at the time I'm doing it, he'll probably feel like he's going to become somebody, like I felt I was going to become somebody in there [the state training school]—I felt I was going to become Pirate, the fastest blade. The fastest dude with a blade. And even now, I feel I'm the fastest dude with a blade.
V: When did you first start to feel that, while you were inside?
P: Yeah. Right in there. When you actually be using it more and trying to find something that's as good as a knife or scissors. Cut a pair of scissors in half, split them in half. Just have something you can actually pull out and show them there. You're not going to let them step all over you just cause you smaller, just cause you Spanish or whatever.
V: If someone says to you "I like you, I respect you," you don't trust that, right?
P: I don't buy that. No. You actually got to show me. And I'm not going to tell you show me you like me. You got to show me your way and if I like your way and I feel that you're a person with a good reason and understand somebody else's thing, so time will pass then I will...but I can't say you come up to me and say you're a nice guy, Pirate. That's out, you don't understand me at all. But what has to be done, I'll tell them to do it. I can't see myself being a War Counselor and just cause I need those papers picked up I'm going to pick up the papers. Just go over there and straighten out them books. I don't go for none of that. I mean, I'm going to look at you. You're a person who likes to play around with guns; you know a lot about guns. You could fire an M-16 or a rifle pretty good. So every time I get my hands on a weapon I'm going to make sure you get that. Because that's what you know. Me, I know how to play around with a blade, get in and out with a blade. I've learned things from old people in the streets that've gone half their lives doing what I'm doing now. And they still doing it but in other ways and I just pick things up from them. And they let me know a lot. They know everything I want to know. I don't have to sit down in no room with a blackboard, or to listen to nobody else, or do what they tell me to do. I just do what I feel I want to do and just learn how to do it.
V: Is there anything you want to say before we close this up?
P: No. Just that the Blood Devils are where I belong and it's going to take a lot more than people out here in the streets to convince me that there's something else inside the apple they call New York City.
Excerpted from The Life-Style Violent Juvenile by Andrew Vachss.
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