NYC246 cover image See all stories from issue #246, March/April 2015

Writing Helped Reduce My Rage

I remember the day I was taken out of my grandmother’s house in the Bronx by the foster care system and placed with my aunt in Harlem. I was 11 years old. I was close with my grandmother and it made me angry to have no control or say in the decision. Now, at 20, I’ve been in over a dozen fights and I’ve been arrested 10 times. For years, I felt that if the foster care system didn’t care about how they hurt me, I didn’t care about hurting other people.

I had lived with my grandmother, along with my sister and three brothers since I was born. Then one day she told my 17-year-old brother Doran and me to get ready to go out. We had an appointment, she said, and afterward, she’d take us to McDonald’s. I thought it was a doctor’s appointment but we were really going to the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). When we got there my grandmother met with a lady who was our caseworker. She said, “It’s so nice to see you,” as if she already knew us. But I had never seen this lady before, so it made me feel like I couldn’t trust her. While they talked, my brother and I had to wait in a kiddie area for what felt like a long time and I was losing my patience. Then my grandmother broke the news that we’d be taken out of her house.

She didn’t give me a reason, so I was upset and confused. (I learned later that someone said my sister had been molested.) The next week, we moved in with my aunt. I missed my grandmother. It was hard to be separated from her. I was angry but I couldn’t express it because I wasn’t good at talking to people about my feelings. I didn’t know how. I didn’t talk a lot or sometimes at all. I’ve always been more of an observer.

Imitation Situation

When I moved to Harlem I’d see people in my project express their anger by getting into it all the time. Disagreements turned into physical fights. I witnessed that and I figured that was how to express myself when I was really mad. The kids I hung around with behaved the same way. Something would get them mad and they would go out looking for a victim to pulverize or rob to release their emotions.

In my family, most adults expressed their anger at me by screaming when I was disrespectful to them or I got in trouble at school. A few people, like my grandmother, uncles, brothers, and teachers, have spoken to me calmly to tell me what I’ve done is wrong and that they are disappointed in me. But for the most part, I was accustomed to violence and yelling.

I remember a time I was 15 and it was a hot sticky day. I’d gotten in trouble for showing off in class, and my teacher said she was going to call my house. That got me mad because I knew my aunt would punish me and that meant I wouldn’t be able to go out or watch TV. Since I figured I was already in trouble, I kept walking in and out of class and cursing out loud. I shouted out jokes. This was my way of getting back at the teacher, to let her know she got me angry. It also helped me release my feelings.

Locked Up and Losing Out

Then instead of going straight home after school, I hung out with my friends. When I finally got home, my aunt said, “Give me your key since you like coming home when you feel like.”
“Then how will I get in the house if no one’s here?” I asked.

I handed over the key but she still went off like a rocket with her attitude. “You think it’s cool to be disrespecting your teacher?” she screamed. “And now you think you can disrespect me by violating my house rules and coming in whenever you want to? Oh no, not in my house! Now get out!” So I marched to the door and slammed it on my way out. Then I started to bang on the locked door non-stop until she came to the door and told me to stop banging.

When I was 16, my teacher made me stay after school because I’d threatened another kid who’d been talking disrespectfully to me all through class. But later I found the kid anyway and I attacked him until he fell. Then I caught flight with my friends. I knew it was wrong but when I was done beating him up I wasn’t mad or upset anymore.

I was still hurting from being taken from my grandmother’s house, and the only way I could feel better was to make other people feel pain too.

image by YC-Art Dept

I continued to take my anger out on strangers by beating them up or robbing them. If I didn’t know them it was easier not to feel bad about hurting them. I could turn those emotions off. Then one day the cops came to my school and threatened to lock me up for gang assault. Fortunately they only questioned me and I wasn’t charged. My aunt came and got me from the police station. I realized I had been lucky this time and there could be huge consequences associated with beating up on people. I didn’t want to get thrown in jail and have my future ruined by having a criminal record. Also I started to believe in karma because I was becoming a target in my projects. I didn’t want what I did to others to come back and happen to my family or me.

Learning to Talk, Not Terrorize

When ACS moved me out of my grandmother’s house, they also set me up with a therapist. It took a long time but I slowly began learning about the source of my rage. I learned that being separated from my grandmother was a big part of it. I had always followed her everywhere like a shadow. We also worked on how to express my anger through words instead of violence and to try and think before I act.

During one session I told my therapist I write rap sometimes to express my feelings and she encouraged me to continue doing that. I liked that she didn’t judge what I wrote because I used profanity and described violent situations. I feel like I get a lot of anger and built-up stress out that way.

Also during therapy I learned how to talk through my actions instead of just getting violent. A few days ago in my GED class my teacher and I had a confrontation about getting my school MetroCard. During that day he was also frustrated with me and some other young adults in the class because we kept talking during the lesson.

“Nobody should come to school to disturb the class,” he said.

I knew he was talking about me and that made me mad.

“If you have something to say to me you should say it to me directly. I’m sitting right here,” I said.

“We’ll discuss it after class,” he said.

After class we talked and I apologized. We shook hands.

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the situation so peacefully. I’ve changed.

I used to inflict physical pain on people when I got mad. Now I inflict pain on paper—I write. I have a lot of regrets for hurting the people who didn’t deserve it and wish I could ask their forgiveness.