This is not a coming-of-age post, not exactly, but maybe, just maybe, in some neighborhoods, getting arrested and going to prison qualify as rites of passage. Perhaps they qualify because it’s all we have. I do remember the first time I legally purchased a pack of cigarettes, it was at a prison canteen in Belle Glades, Florida. And I remember the first time I shaved, it was in Orange County Jail. Those times were the closest I’d come to any form of initiation into adulthood. I bought some cigarettes, so, in the legal sense, yeah, I was an adult, but there’s the problem, I was only an adult in the legal sense, not in actuality, not in deeds, not realistically.

I never participated in an official ceremony designed to instill within me the notion that I was finally an adult. I never crossed a bridge that lead me to a place where I suddenly felt wiser and more mature. I did not experience that loosening of the reins, that explosion of conceptual freedom which says, “go and make your mark in this world.” What does that even mean? In the Bronx, phrases like that aren’t part of the normal instruction. The marks we left were on other people, usually physical, manifested as bruises and scars, and they were proof that we paid attention, learned our lessons. We majored in survival.

[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FEBRUARY 2017. It was only my second post ever]


6 thoughts on “Coming of Age in the Age of Self Preservation

    1. Thanks. I appreciate it. I love your writing too. I just finished reading your “The War on Youth…” article. Strong stuff. And yes, our sentiments on the the state of our youth and neighborhoods seem like rivers that are supplied by the same body of water. I believe that getting arrested and going to prison is a rite of passage in some neighborhoods, And it’s unfortunate. There are so many things that have led to that, and you’re doing a great job of skillfully illustrating the more complex issues that Blacks and Hispanics contend with on a daily basis. Keep up the great work.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You’ve communicated your sense of not having the same coming of age rites as — presumably — most people. (I didn’t have any of those either until I was 21.) In fact, you make it sound like that would be true for pretty much every kid growing up in the Bronx. I’m sure your perception of your environment was shaped by your personal experience, and I don’t doubt your reality.

    You made me wonder about the actual percentage of Bronx residence who serve time. According to a January 2016 article in the New York Daily News ( : “Crotona Park East and Morrisania … have the highest rate of incarcerated residents … On average, 371 of every 100,000 of the neighborhoods’ adult residents were locked up in a city jail on any given day during 2014 …” That’s 0.371%. A little over one third of 1%.

    What should New York and the Bronx be doing to change kids’ perceptions that physical violence is the path to adulthood?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello. Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Yes, I believe that my coming-of-age rites were different from most others who were not raised in a neighborhood like mine. It’s a very short piece in which I stated that maybe “getting arrested and going to prison qualify as rites of passage.” I never stated that those were the ONLY rites of passage, just that (maybe) they qualify as rites of passage.

      I read that article you supplied the link to. And yes, 371 out every 100,000 residents is “a little over one third of 1%,” but by no means is it a small number. The article also states that the neighborhood with the lowest number of incarcerated people has “an average daily jail population of just 5 per 100,000 adults.” That’s 0.005%, 1/200 of 1%, a very significant discrepancy. We’re talking 5 people versus 371 people. That’s a 7,320% increase from one neighborhood to the next. That’s a discouraging, haunting reality.

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      1. I agree it’s a discouraging number, but do you also see my point that more than 99% of the people in your neighborhood apparently found some other way than majoring in survival? It looks to me as though the neighborhoods in question have failed to provide options for too many of their youth. That also means something more positive CAN be done to change that statistic if enough people can find the will to act on it.

        I do wish you the strength to continue on the journey you’ve chosen and create the life you envision for yourself and your own children. Maybe you’ll be the one who can inspire people to make the changes that have to be made to change that haunting reality into a better reality.

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  2. Yes, I do see the way you’re looking at the percentages. Just because 99% of the people aren’t incarcerated on a “given day” does not mean that they’ve “found some other way.” These statistics we’re referring to are statistics for “any given day.” Every day some get released and others fill those spots to create that “any given day” statistic. How many is that per year? We can’t tell by the data we’ve gotten from the article. What we can say is that, “on any given day,” 99% are not incarcerated, which in no way means that 99% have NEVER been incarcerated. If we look at it the way you’re suggesting then we’re altering the reality of it, making the threat of incarceration appear much less menacing than it actually is.

    Here is what ‘less than 1%’ really looks like:
    1 in 3 Black males (33%) will go to prison in their lifetime
    1 in 6 Latino males (17%) will go to prison in their lifetime
    1 in 17 White males will (5%) will go to prison in their lifetime

    I got the above figures from:

    Given the new light in which we’re viewing the numbers, it’s probably a bit more understandable why people from certain neighborhoods “major in survival.” But, in truth, majoring in survival isn’t something peculiar to people from rough neighborhoods, self-preservation is a basic human instinct.

    Liked by 1 person

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