This is the first story in Pain of the Prison System, a series proudly presented by Narratively, written by high school students for POPS the Club – a nonprofit dedicated to providing a safe space for high schoolers whose lives have been impacted by incarceration.
I was seven years old, fifty yards from my grandma’s apartment in Mar Vista Gardens on the Westside of Los Angeles. My cousin Andy and I were playing catch on the nearby baseball field when the sound of firecrackers startled me.
After a moment, I realized they weren’t firecrackers. I felt a tension in my gut and assumed they were gunshots. I walked over to where I heard the shots ring out and saw a body lying on the sidewalk.
As I approached the corpse, Andy yelled, “We gotta get out of here before we get hit next!”
But I was too busy staring at the body. As I walked towards the guy, my cousin followed. My heart dropped and I froze. I knew the person who had just been hit.
His name was Daniel. I also knew his younger and older brothers.
Andy screamed, “Screw this, I’m leaving.”
And he took off running back toward the ball field.
There I was, standing above Daniel as if I was the one who shot him. I looked directly into his eyes. But I also saw blood flowing out of his mouth, his chest filled with smoking bullet holes, and a puddle of dark blood at my feet that matched my red Nike tennis shoes.
While Daniel lay there dying, maybe already dead, I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I tell somebody? Should I help him up?
Then I heard police sirens. I didn’t want to leave Daniel alone but the sirens were getting closer. So I ran. My size two Nikes left a trail of blood. When I turned I saw the police had arrived at the crime scene.
I sprinted back to the baseball field and wiped off my bloody shoes but that didn’t work. I didn’t want my grandma to know that I had been standing in a puddle of blood. So I ran to Ballona Creek to throw away my favorite shoes because I was afraid someone would find them and trace them back to me and link me to the shooting.
I took my time walking to my grandma’s place and by the time I arrived my white socks had turned black with dirt and filled with holes. I tore upstairs, changed my socks, swept the floors, washed the dishes and collapsed into bed.
After seeing Daniel dead I was unable to sleep for a full week.
I tried to imagine what Daniel’s parents must have been going through. They must have been in shock, feeling sorrow and hatred, a rollercoaster of emotions.
I knew Daniel because of my older brother Robert. He and Daniel were both eighteen and they had played Little League baseball together in Playa Vista Little League since they were ten.
I also knew Daniel’s little brother, Chris. We used to play basketball, football and baseball together outside the apartment complex. Heck, we practically grew up together.
That their mom and dad lost a son to gang violence was a sad thing for this second grader to think about. Daniel hadn’t walked around the neighborhood thinking he was a badass. Nor did he rob or kill anyone. He seemed like a good kid.
His older brother Manny was never the same after that. Manny went from being upbeat and energetic to constantly depressed. His younger brother Chris fell into a deep depression and he told me that after the shooting he didn’t stop crying for a month.
I don’t know what I would do if I lost any of my brothers. I know I would go crazy and never be the same again, like Manny and Chris were never the same again. I also know I would do everything in my power to find out who killed my brother and take matters into my own hands.
To this day, ten years later, I have never forgotten Daniel’s shooting. It lives in the back of my mind. I try not to think about it because when I do I feel sorry for his family. Whenever I pass the site where Daniel was murdered, I always bless myself using the sign of the cross.
I will never forget what happened to Daniel and I pray to God that the same never happens to my brothers or to me.
* * *
Rodrigo Raygosa is a 2014 Venice High School graduate, an outgoing athlete who is studying criminal justice.
Alison Rutsch is an artist and educator living in New York.
Stay tuned to Narratively this month for more stories from Pain of the Prison System.