Michael is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Calipatria prison. This is his story:
“I was raised in poverty like many kids in my circumstances. My mom was an alcoholic and my father was an abusive drug addict. But my dad went away, and eventually me and my siblings were taken away by CPS (Child Protective Services) and placed in care.
My grandmother took us in before they separated us into different homes. My mom wanted to take us all back, but my grandma only let her take my little brother and me. We went with my mother to live in absolute poverty in a ghetto, a gang, and a drug-infested neighborhood. We lived in a trailer with no windows, just clear bags to make it look like windows. The roof and floor were caving in, and the doors had no handles because they’d get kicked in by the cops anyway. My mother would leave me and my little brother by ourselves for weeks at a time. Our main source of food was going to school to get free breakfast and lunch. On the weekends I’d take my brother to the park where they gave meals to the homeless every Sunday. Eventually, I had to start stealing to take care of us, to get clothes and food. My mom started staying home more often when I was about 10 years old. She didn't like that I was stealing to put food on the table. So she would kick me out. From then on I lived mainly on the streets.
I started using heavy drugs like crack and meth. I became what people called a crackhead at the age of eleven. My mom wouldn’t take me in, so I slept in bushes, under bridges, and in park restrooms. My homies wouldn’t take me in either but they’d give me a gun and tell me to take care of myself.
In the 1980s, many gangs started using more weapons and selling more dangerous drugs. In recent years crime has decreased, but there are still hundreds of gangs all over LA, from all different ethnic groups. Many children who grow up in gang neighbourhoods often feel forced to join, to gain friends and protection. Once you have joined, it’s hard to leave without being punished. Many high- ranking gang leaders have been sentenced to life in prison, but continue to run their gangs from inside.