By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
One time, though, her auntie sent a picture of Lizzie. "I don't know why they send me pictures like that," LaTonya says angrily, "because you can tell she's out there." In her thick South Dallas accent, the word comes out theya.
"I know the street look. The rough look. Just out theya."
LaTonya's voice softens a bit. "Lizzie," she says, and smiles. "We all grown, and we know right from wrong. I really can't look down on nobody, because of the simple fact that I'm in here."
To be honest, I had little hope for Daryl Oudems, known back in the day as Youngster. Carrying a gun at 9; put in charge of a crack house at 13; ninth-grade dropout; and, as a check of Dallas County court records showed, recipient of two felony drug charges by his early 20s--it's difficult to screw up your life in more ways as quickly as Oudems did.
So I was surprised to find myself talking to a young man who'd made a firm decision to put aside the easy money and devote himself to the working man's life. Up until a few years ago, he'd never even done an honest day's work.
When we spoke, Oudems was sitting in the home of a friend, fresh from his job moving cars at an auto auction. Though he was wearing young-man's garb--'do rag, FUBU jersey and blue suede shoes--he looked vaguely older than his 26 years. Maybe it was his serious demeanor, or the absence of small talk. Oudems answers questions with one word when one word will do.
"I'm maturing," he said. "I'm beginning to see regular, normal life. How people are supposed to live. I love real nice things. I knew how to get it by selling drugs. Now I do my best to try to work hard.
"Sometimes I think, you know, I'm gonna go back and get on my hustle. But I don't want to do that. I done weighed everything out, and it ain't worth it."
I asked him about Cleveland Street. He grew silent for a moment, unable to speak.
He remembers sitting on the couch. Then "they came in there like the Army, with AKs, pumps, all type of automatic guns...they throwed me on the floor." Oudems climbed into the tub first while a young man held a shotgun to his head. He's never seen him since and didn't spot him in any of the police photos. "I was looking at him, and he told me, 'Don't look at me no more.'"
The girls came in last, he says. At least six gunmen were milling around the apartment. "They was debating what they was gonna do...and rambling around the house, throwing stuff. We could hear 'em. And the next thing I know, Ken was begging them not to shoot us."
Covington made the deadly mistake of calling some of the gunmen by their street names, including "Babyface."
"And the next thing you know, it was just smoke in that bathroom, it was just gunfire everywhere. Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom."
Oudems was trying to duck when he felt his left leg buckle. "My leg just seemed like it broke," he says. In the aftermath, while the smoke and dust were still settling, he "went into a dream," he says. "I got a dead leg, and I'm dragging it out of there, I'm crawling...I think I just rolled down the stairs. I remember trying to talk to the police...trying to stay up, praying, hollering for Mama, crying."
The worst came later. Oudems found out that his buddy from Elihu Street, Juniores Ray Mahan, was dead. Oudems is silent again, looking down, trying to hold back the tears.
He admits the shooting didn't do much to change his life, not at first. When his father and mother visited him in the hospital, right after he'd gotten out of surgery, his first words were, "Where are my Nikes?"
A few months later, he saw Covington climbing into a cab in front of Grand City, a popular liquor store and grocery on Grand Avenue. He had a pocket full of money. "Come on, man, go back to work," he urged Oudems.
Covington, he said, had started selling crack soon after the shooting--right back on Cleveland Street.
Just days after they met, Covington turned up dead.
Even that didn't sway Oudems.
He doesn't have much to say about his own return to the game; there's nothing glamorous or sexy about catching two drug cases. Oudems was never a crack user, but he found it hard to pull away from wheeling and dealing and the money that went along with it. In 1994, he was arrested for felony cocaine possession. Several months later, his probation was revoked and he ended up in prison. Right after he got out in 1997, he was arrested again, this time for drug trafficking.
Oudems had barely tasted freedom, and now he was back behind bars. During his six months in state jail, he says, he spent his time going to chapel and praying. He knew he had to make a change or he'd be dead.
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