The Difference a Book Makes
Recently I received comforting news through twitter. I’ve written before about the additional celebrations surrounding the Christmas Cookie Club that Facebook and Twitter have brought me. I thank all the people who have taken the time to tweet or message me and share the impact my books have had. How wonderful to be living in a time when this is so easily possible.
A few weeks ago, I received a twitter about a much less happy publishing story. “T” wondered if I had a new address for Colton because our book had such an important impact on him and his community.
Sometimes we do something with all the best intentions in the world and the truth of the old saying no good deed goes unpunished becomes clear. That was certainly true of writing the book Inside the Crips in which Colton Simpson and I focused on his life as a L.A. Crip gang member. Our dream was that the book would be a cautionary tale helping to quell gang violence as well as a platform for Colton when he spoke to junior highs, high schools, and juvenile detention centers.
That was not to be. Instead, the book and I were subpoenaed in a trial against him and used to convince a jury that he needed to be put away for 126 years to life. I testified for a day and half. He was thin and drained after several years of incarceration in the county jail. The sadness that filled his eyes when he saw me take the witness chair while he sat in the chair for the accused was by far the most painful event of my professional life. Colton was found guilty of being the get-away driver in a jewelry heist that netted an 800.00 dollar earring. What an irony that one person is sentenced to 100 plus years for an 800 robbery and another (Madoff) receives a similar sentence for an 18 billion dollar robbery that damaged thousands of people.
T’s tweet proved that in spite of the vagaries of our justice system, the book lives on. I offered him a way to reach Colton and asked how the book helped him.
Meanwhile, I Googled his community, a First Nation reserve for several groups of Cree in Alberta, Canada. Large oil and gas deposits lie under rich agricultural land allowing the four nations of Cree that live there to be prosperous and stable. Crack cocaine was introduced and influx of drugs resulted in gangs and their accompanying violence including four or five drive-bys a night. A two-year-old girl was shot by a stray bullet. In a city of 12,000, twelve gun firings in one week make the city sound like a war zone and caused sufficient alarm that the Canadian government declared the town in a state of crisis and dispatched gang experts. The gangs were viewed as a result of larger social problems: drugs, disenfranchisement, and fragmented family life worsened by a residential school system. The influx of oil money and boomtowns created a demand for drugs. The reserve became part of the thoroughfare for drugs while children and teens became part of the gang’s jockeying for power. This a version of the story documented in Inside the Crips where preteens become recruited and involved in the gangs.
T’s next tweet informed me he lives just off a native reserve where gangs are crazy, including drive bys and kids beating kids. He’s in eighth grade and his teacher had the class read Inside the Crips. Because of the book, a lot of “his friends realized the out come in losing friends, and life with the gang life style. There were programs to help the community, too” Most of the school read the book and it was a big hit. As a result, many people stopped gang activity, T reported.
I congratulated him on choosing to appreciate the life he had been given instead of the gang world that involves prison, death, or both.
T’s tweet provided a flutter of joy and proof that our book continues to travel and heal people in spite of the heartbreak that one of its authors remains caged in a California prison.
It’s a terrible irony that the most positive thing that Colton did in his life – our book—was used to put him in prison for the rest of it. In spite of the pain it has caused in our lives, the book wages our struggle against the gangs for us.
Yes, Inside the Crips continues to speak for Colton. Our book and our mission has taken on a life of its own.
And tweets and facebook messages bring me comforting news despite the heartrending situation.