January 15, 2020
Excerpt from In Deep: How I survived Gangs, Heroin, and Prison to Become a Chicago Violence Interrupter - Winner of the 2019 Book of the Year Award for Traditional Non-Fiction
By Angalia Bianca with Linda Beckstrom
No Direction Home
Within weeks of my release, I was dealing with the gang in Humboldt Park. As soon as Javier left for work, I would take the El to Damen Avenue where Pappo, who was still the leader of our chapter, and his girlfriend picked me up. Javier was working the night shift, and I was, too. Pappo and his girlfriend were my best friends, and I felt closer to them than my family. I had learned a lot from Pappo, becoming his protégé before going to prison. I was a quick study and willing to do anything he asked, still deeply loyal to him and all the brothers. I would have died for any one of them. I had one of my gang sisters tattoo the gang symbol on my left hand. Pappo taught me everything I knew about gang life, how to do business, and surviving on the street. He was a hero and role model to me.
But there were factions within the gang, members of the Nation that had problems with him and the way he was dealing drugs. It was rumored that Pappo had stolen cocaine from another brother and was losing ground inside the organization, falling into disfavor with too many other members. The gang had actual bylaws, many pages that addressed every facet of gang business and members’ behavior. Unlike today’s gangs in Chicago who have lost their leadership and become scattered and autonomous, the gang had a strict hierarchy and clearly defined penalties for the slightest departure from the rules. And they were ruthless in the punishments they could assign. Pappo was a heroin addict and dealer, both behaviors that broke written laws, even though heroin traffic was a big part of the gang’s economy and he ranked high within the organization. The laws were written back in the fifties when gangs were first formed, and their purpose was more political in nature, to “promote prosperity and freedom through love and understanding,” to quote the bylaws, and to solidify the community, a noble plan that did not work. Eventually, the laws became irrelevant and were referred to only when they suited the gang’s purposes, especially when it was time to get rid of a brother who was no longer in good standing. Then the laws were suddenly valid and unbreakable.
One early evening I got off the El and walked out to the corner of Damen and North Avenues where Pappo’s car waited for me. His girlfriend sat in front. Pappo was in a dark mood when I slid into the backseat.
“Bianca, you know they’re gonna kill me.”
“No, Pappo, whaddaya mean? That’s crazy. Who’s gonna kill you?
“The brothers got a hit out on me.”
“Oh my God, no!” I was scared for him. “C’mon, man, how can we figure this out?”
“There’s nothing I can do,” he was resigned to it. “My hours are numbered, girl.” I had never seen him like this before. But that was all he said about it.
We drove around, making our stops, laughing and getting high, having fun as we always did. I heard he’d been involved in that bad coke deal, ripping off another brother, but I figured he would outrun it, and I still trusted him with my life. As we drove around the Wicker Park neighborhood, his mood lightened.
“Hey, Bianca, I got some new dope, and it’s really good.”
“Oh, yeah?” I was hesitant because I’d gone on methadone to stay off heroin while I was pregnant.
“Yeah, you gotta try it.”
“OK, let’s do it,” I didn’t hesitate for long. It didn’t take much to tempt me, and I figured just a taste would be fine. We pulled into Humboldt Park, and Pappo parked the car along one of the many streets that wind their way through the expansive tree-filled grounds. His girlfriend stayed in the car while we headed for a clump of trees near the pond, a secluded spot where we could shoot up. The sun was setting, and the sky was bright purple.
We got out of the car, took a few steps, and Pappo said, “Oh, shit. I forgot my piece.”
“What? No, no, you need the gun, man. Lemme go back to the car and get it.” I started to run toward the car, and he stopped me.
“Nah, fuck it, I don’t even need it. Just fuck it!”
We walked into the park, across the grass, not far from the road. A car pulled up, screeching loud enough to make us glance back just as two guys jumped out and walked toward us.
“Hey, Pappo,” one of them shouted.
As we turned toward the car, both men opened fire. I froze and watched as Pappo’s body jerked with each bullet that struck him. He was still standing, taking hits in rapid succession and screaming, “Fuck you, fuck you!” with each hit. He reached out and took my hand as blood from his wounds sprayed over both of us. He grabbed my arm and turned me back around forcefully, even as he was being riddled with bullets. “Fuck ’em, just fuck ’em,” he screamed as we turned our backs to the shooters, and he managed to take a few steps away from them as if we were just going to walk out of there. The shooters emptied their guns into his back, and his body jumped like a puppet on a string with each shot. The world around me stood still as I watched Pappo get murdered in slow motion. He fell to the ground, pulling me down with him as I screamed.
“Somebody call an ambulance! Now!” I kept repeating this until another car pulled up, and a couple brothers jumped out. They ran toward me, pulled me up and away from Pappo, toward their car.
“C’mon, you gotta get out of here, Bianca! Before the cops come.”
“No, no, I can’t leave him,” I tried to pull away from them. I was in shock and could not think about anything but trying to save Pappo.
“There’s nothing you can do. He’s gone. Let’s go!”
I was covered in blood, and they knew they had to protect me from a police interrogation. They dragged me into their car, and we drove off, leaving Pappo there, his life bleeding away, a dark pool seeping into the green grass as the sun went down in Humboldt Park.
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