NYC242 cover image See all stories from issue #242, May/June 2014

Me and My Anger
My fists landed me at Rikers
D. Perry

Names have been changed.

I’ve always had a short temper. I remember the first time I got out of control. I was 6 and I was mad at my cousin because he wouldn’t walk me to Dunkin’ Donuts, and I was too young to go alone. I pushed him off a fire hydrant and he fell onto the concrete sidewalk and cut his head and had to get stitches. I also remember throwing an apple at my kindergarten teacher although I don’t recall why. But I didn’t get into a lot of fights until I got to middle school.

I think my chaotic life shortened my temper even more. I had to live in different cities, and I was separated from two of my sisters a bunch of times. Then, when I was 12, I found out the woman I thought was my mother was actually my cousin, and that my real mom was in prison. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as upset if my cousin hadn’t lied to me all those years. Didn’t she think I deserved to know the truth? I felt full of rage all the time. I had so much anger and anxiety inside of me and I didn’t know how to release it. I often wondered why all of this was happening to me.

By the time I was 14 I was in fights a lot and I was suspended twice. Usually it was over stupid stuff such as not liking a look someone gave me. I provoked people. Once I was arguing with a boy on the school bus. When I insulted his mother, he started choking me and we fought.

Rage Against the Authority

In 9th grade I got into a fight with my math teacher. She always joked around. Sometimes she overdid it and teased in a mean way. She made a few negative remarks about my mom.

“And your mother died of a heart attack because you stressed her out,” I said.
I know this probably wasn’t such a wonderful thing to say to her but I couldn’t help it.
She came over to my desk and grabbed my purse and make-up bag and emptied everything onto the floor. She didn’t know it but that’s probably one of the worst things you can do to me; my make-up is my life.

I cleaned up everything and put it back in my bag.

“Now I’m going to violate your personal space for violating mine,” I said.

I walked up to her desk and I tried to reach for her bag and she pushed my hands away, so I spit in her face. Then I threw my juice bottle at her and laughed.

At the moment I felt good doing everything that I did to her because I thought she deserved it. I got suspended for 30 days and was sent to a suspension site, which is a separate school that kids go to when they really act out. I felt like a prisoner without any rights or say. The food tasted like scraps from a dumpster. You’re not allowed to bring pens, food, or cosmetics. When I did, I was yelled at. Being yelled at for wanting to have these harmless things with me didn’t feel right.

My anger would just build each day and then I would snap. Fighting and beating up people seemed like the only way I could be stress-free. Seeing people hurt and feeling the pain that I felt was a wonderful thing to me. At this time in my life, I wanted everyone to see my pain and also feel their own pain.

At the same time, I knew what I did was wrong. I felt horrible after I had fights. But I kept doing it anyway.

Provoked and Violent

Over the next two years, I got sent to suspension sites two more times. But it wasn’t until I landed in jail that I finally figured out that I needed help.

One day in school, I was walking in the hallway with two of my friends on the way to lunch. A girl named Sarah started staring at me and whispering to her friends about me. She was tall, light skinned, and had long black hair. I did my best to ignore her even though she kept at it. This went on for three weeks.

Until one day I came to school in one of my worst moods; construction problems on the subway had made me 30 minutes late and I was starving from not eating breakfast. Even though I knew it was wrong, I texted my friends asking them to cut our next period so I could go to the lunchroom. I felt like a homeless person that sits on the sidewalk looking for some food or spare change—that’s how hungry I was.

As I began to eat, Sarah walked in and started laughing and staring at me again. “I swear I do not like that girl. She thinks she’s better than everybody,” she said.

I was already pissed off so I walked over to her and said, “Listen: I’ve really just been holding back and ignoring you for these past few weeks but now I’ve had enough. I want to fight.”

image by YC-Art Dept

She looked surprised. “What are we fighting for? I just don’t like you. There’s no good reason to fight and get kicked out of school,” she said. At that moment I didn’t care. I was too angry. After three weeks of taunting she had pushed me too far. I felt like the only way to get her to shut up was to beat her up.

Out of Control

The school safeties came over and asked me nicely to get out of the young lady’s face and to sit down, so I did. But I still planned to fight her and I told my two friends to go over to Sarah and tell her that. She said real loud, “I’m not scared of anybody, so if you just touch me then we’re fighting.” That’s what I wanted to hear.

After lunch, she was leaning against the lockers with her friends, laughing and looking at me just like she’d been doing all these weeks. I methodically took off my boots, then my socks and placed them in my bag, and I asked one of my friends to hold it. While Sarah was still laughing at me, I punched her in her face really hard and she just stood there beginning to cry.

A student came over to me and pulled me away from her. I was yelling, “Get off me and let me fight!” I broke out and ran back up to Sarah. I pushed her hard and she flew to the floor. One of her friends saw her lying there and they began to hit me. Then my two friends jumped in. I was so angry that I fought the cops and school safeties, anybody who attempted to touch me.

Part way through the fighting it hit me that I was doing something really wrong and I wished I could go back and change everything. But another side of me thought, “You’re already in trouble and if you don’t finish what you started this girl’s going to keep bothering you.” So at the time, getting kicked out of school didn’t matter to me. Beating her up made me feel like I was solving the problem. It also made me feel in control of everything.

My two friends and I were arrested and I was sent to a juvenile jail at Rikers for three weeks. I did a lot of thinking there.

Reflection at Rikers

Sometimes I’d think: I’m just going to drop out and get a GED. I thought about staying home and just giving up on everything. Throughout these two years, I had fallen behind in my grades, and I’d missed a lot of school. I felt like a complete failure. I’d moved in with my mom, who’d been released from prison, but it was hard for her to find a job and we argued a lot so I still felt angry all the time.
Whenever I’d fight I’d just do what my emotions told me to do without thinking first. With Sarah, I should have been the bigger person and gone to the principal and had mediation with her.

I also thought about how well some of my other friends were doing. They had jobs and were in college. I knew I needed to stay in high school and finish. Getting a diploma with my name on it would be the best feeling and a goal I knew I could accomplish.

I also like my freedom and I knew I didn’t want to ever end up in a suspension site or locked up again. I like to be able to eat, bathe, sleep, use the bathroom, talk, clean, and watch television when I want to. In Rikers, I had no freedom whatsoever.

I also thought about how I was getting older, and I had to stop fighting. I had to learn to handle my anger in different ways. I realized I needed help.

When I got out, I got help from my caseworker at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). She connected me with a therapist so I could work on managing my anger, as well as a psychiatrist so I could take medication. At first I didn’t click with the therapist but I stuck with her and now I see her every other week. It’s working out well.

Focusing on My Future

After Rikers, I was sent to a suspension site for six months. Now I’m at a new high school and next year I’ll graduate. I’m glad I didn’t just quit and get my GED because I want to be a special victims detective. You need a high school and college degree for that. Dropping out or getting a GED would have left me feeling that I could have accomplished more.

Life at home is still difficult. I still get angry. But now I have other ways to deal with it. When I’m upset with someone I’ll try to talk to them about it in a polite way. If it turns into an argument everyone still gets their point across without physically fighting.

Just recently one of my ex-friends and I had an argument, and she told me to come over to her house and fight. The old me wouldn’t have thought it through. I would have gone to her house, beaten her up, and possibly landed back at Rikers. The new me just killed her with kindness. She didn’t know how to respond and didn’t want to fight anymore. That made me feel in control. The fight was over something stupid anyway. It usually is.

Another technique that works for me is doing something that I know will calm me down. I’ll take deep breaths, take a warm bubble bath, listen to music, turn off my cell phone, or take a nap until I feel the anger pass. I haven’t gotten into any trouble since I started using these strategies and I feel like a new person.

This is all a work-in-progress. Sometimes when I feel pushed by someone I cry because I want to hit the person and cause a lot of damage. But instead I think twice about the consequences. It can be hard because some people try to push me to handle things the negative way. But I believe in myself and that I can change for the better

I realized that I need to grow up, finish high school, get a job, help my mother with bills, take care of myself, go to college and most importantly, walk away from any negative situation.