One day in our English class my teacher introduced a book called "Always Running," by Luis Rodriguez. I wasn't really interested because I wasn't really big on reading. The book was basically about a young man growing up in California who had to deal with gangs, with his friends dying and with drugs and violence.
Even though the book was long, I decided to read someone else's perspective on the same things that I experience.
My brother, Edgar, was shot in the neck and paralyzed in February 2003 as he sat in his car at a red light in Southeast. After I read "Always Running," I felt as if my problems were not that bad. So my brother was shot and can no longer beat up on me and drive me around -- at least he is still here and breathing. I can still get on his nerves and still run to him when a boy won't leave me alone.
I don't really enjoy talking about my arrest at 12 years old, because I feel as though it wasn't too smart on my part. It is something that's going to follow me for life. It happened the day before my birthday. I had come from school and went to my grandmother's house. My cousin and I got into an argument about something, and we started fighting. I got so mad, and hit her on the head with a bottle. I was 12, and I spent the night in Oak Hill Youth Center on my 13th birthday.
That explains a little bit about why I wrote Luis Rodriguez a letter as part of a national contest called Letters About Literature. This is what I said:
"Dear Luis Rodriguez,
"My world is not filled with happy people everywhere, flowers blossoming, birds chirping, and children laughing. Instead, it's the exact opposite; I live in a world of depression, poverty, violence and sadness. . . .
"Mr. Rodriguez, it seems to me even though we live in two different area codes, we have experienced almost the same things. I really enjoyed your book, "Always Running," because for a long time I felt as though people who haven't lived in D.C. haven't experienced anything. I was wrong; I loved reading your story. Your book made me feel that there was someone else who saw what I saw and felt what I felt. You changed my perspective. I didn't think anyone felt like I did when it came to street life and violence. In your book, just as things seemed as though they were getting better, things got worse.
"While I was growing up, I watched as people were being shot, drugs were being used and sold and people were being harassed by the police. To me these things seemed normal. I felt as though this is my life because I hadn't experienced anything better.
"After moving from one neighborhood to another, my mother tried to keep our family away from these things she realized were everywhere.
"Your book put me in touch with myself. Your story made me think that 'This isn't normal. I don't have to live in this!' There are gangs and hood conflicts all around me. Your book made me hope that I never have to fall into a gang. Life is all about choices, and how you choose to live your life is all on you. Your book inspired me to think that maybe if I can get my mind focused on at least one activity, it would help me stay out of trouble.
"Every day I walk outside feeling and thinking, 'Who's going to get shot today?' I've watched so many of my closest neighborhood friends get killed or sent off to jail. I would need a lifetime supply of fingers to count.
"You reminded me of myself when you were arrested. When I was 12, I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. At 12! That incident made me wonder about today's youth. What is the world going to do? Do they care? Do you think that . . . the president and the government . . . are discussing how they are going to stop the violence in the USA? If the youth feel the so-called leaders of their country don't care what goes on with them, they won't either.
"Each time a friend of yours was killed, I'm sure you felt hurt or angry. When my brother was shot, I thought the world was over. These people shot a star athlete, a sweet person and my big brother. He's the closest thing I have to a father, and they paralyzed him from the neck down.
"In your book, after an incident, it always made you think -- just like with my brother. After my brother was shot, I wanted to go outside and yell to everyone, 'Stop shooting!' After he was shot, I didn't think this violent and dangerous life was normal anymore. It made me think, 'What are those secret agents and police officers really for? They are so busy protecting the politicians and the president, but from what? What is so dangerous about living in the White House? It's surrounded by so much security. I feel as though they should come secure the neighborhoods, schools and corners. Our world is so confused!'
"Mr. Rodriguez, I want to thank you for your story. I want you to know . . . you inspired at least one person. Your story has inspired me to think and question things around me."
Aleta Lane is 14 years old, lives in Northwest and is a freshman at Wilson Senior High School.