By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Edwin didn't hear that voice. At least not in any consistent way; his mother whupped his tail from time to time, he says, taught him to respect his elders, but with a household of eight to look after and problems of her own, including drug charges, the supervision was spread pretty thin.
Edwin would spend a few months with his father here and there, and his schoolteachers noticed cleaner clothes, a better attitude. Edwin's father says he's strict, and he made sure his kids followed the rules. "I work hard, I take care of my children," Debrow said angrily when told that some family members questioned his commitment to his oldest son. Early on, Edwin and his siblings also lived for a time with their grandmother Erma Debrow, while Seletha, she says, "was kind of running the streets." She remembers that time with regret, because she already sensed that the children's futures were dim.
Her intimations would turn out to be true. All of Seletha's boys are locked up in state or federal prison today. Erma Debrow doesn't consider that a coincidence. "Hello," she says. "Hello."
Her grandson Dwayne, though, points the finger at both parents. "No food. No house. In the rain," he says, summing up Edwin's childhood. "Always listening to his mama argue, knowing she's on drugs, and the dad is not there." Edwin's father is Dwayne's uncle, and he apologizes for the harsh words. "If anything, people kind of blamed the mother. But I always thought, well, where was his father? It's easy for him to say he works and leads a more regular life, but where was he? He was never there."
That left Edwin free, as he puts it, to "rip and run."
And here the memories start to grow thick.
One day I was at Jolly Time selling dope and this black lady told me that she wanted to buy some. So I said all right but she wanted me to walk around the corner with her to her house. I was standing on her porch and she told me that she wanted to buy a $20 rock. I gave her a 20 and she told me that she would have to go get the money out of her house. I was waiting on the porch when I heard the fence rattling in the back yard. So I ran around the back just in time to see that dope fiend jumping the fence. At the time I had a chrome 32 with a pearl handle. The dope fiend was running fast so I pulled out my gun and shot one time at her back. The last thing I seen was her hit the fence and then I took off running. I learned from then on to never trust anybody. I was about 11 years old when this was going on.
Gang activity was real popular in San Antonio especially on the eastside. Some of them fools I had known all my life and then they ended up dead behind some [gang] color shit. My oldest brother Dinky was in California for a while. When he got back he had a surprise for me. He was now a gang member of the Altadena Block Crips. He began to bang to the fullest and I admired my brother. He was my true role model. I wanted to be like him so bad I joined the same gang. I was all about representing and at the age of 10 I didn't know better. I started wearing blue bandanas and in a matter of time I knew how to chunk gang signs real good. I would hit 'em up all the time just to practice. To make sure that I would never forget what I was taught.
The eastside always stayed cronk. Robberies after robberies and killings after killings. My homies had no pity and they didn't value life either. We all had a mutual understanding. I wonder now if that was something that I wanted to be a part of. To kill another black man behind a color. That was sure genocide.
Society couldn't and wouldn't accept gang violence. They were cracking down on gang members but we still didn't care. In the back of our minds we were doing the right thing. It was justified by any means necessary. When I got older I tried to explain it to adults who didn't understand. To strongly believe in something had to be based on faith. Just like Muslims who believe in Prophet Muhammad, and Christians who believe in Jesus Christ. Just like all religions. What they believed was based entirely on faith. So why couldn't I believe in something. A man would die behind his beliefs and you could definitely put me into that category. I was dedicated to serve my hood to the utmost and with loyalty.