Every person was born in this world with a certain purpose. Some people say you don't know your purpose until it's too late. I believe that because a lot of my brothers died under age 21, before they had a shot at life. This is the story of my life: 18 years of anger, sadness and mixed emotions.
Born on February 12, 1999, but my whole life it felt like I was here before that. They say the babies that come out not crying, looking around, are the ones most aware. That's how I was. I don't remember ever being a baby. I can recall it all from age 4.
Around then, my uncle James used to take me everywhere with him — to the barbershop, car wash, dice games, everywhere. He was the uncle every nephew wanted to have. When my dad was in prison, which was always, he was there. Speaking of dad, when I say dad, I mean my big sister's dad. That man took care of me from day one — that is what real love is.
My uncle got in a car accident and died when I was around 5. That was my introduction to pain. That was my first close loss. I was in a state of mind like, "What am I going to do now?" I felt like I lost both hands and feet. I felt out of control. So when I was around 7, we moved back to South Seattle. This is where my life took a turn for the worse some would say.
Editor's note: Shamar Slaughter, age 19, is currently incarcerated at Green Hill School, a juvenile correctional facility located in Chehalis, Washington. He is the nephew of Maurice Clemmons, who shot and killed four police officers in a Parkland coffee shop in 2009. He was killed by a Seattle police officer two days later. Slaughter is serving time for unlawful possession of a firearm and forgery.
I grew up on the block, so when l moved back it wasn't like being new. It was like a reunion. At first my friends were just cool at school. Then we started hanging out after school. We went from being friends to being brothers. It's like we had something in common. We all had one mom and no dad. We were the "man of the house" at an early age. At 9 years old I wasn't into sports. I was into the older kids in the hood. I was interested in what brought them so close together. They were like a brotherhood, like real family. I liked that. It was what made me feel like I was loved.
So at 9, I got put on the hood — pretty young, you're probably thinking. This wasn't like your average hood though. They weren't like “do this” or “do that.” They were like “when you're ready.” School was mandatory for the lil’ homies. It was go to school or get money. I was doing both. What's crazy is the fact that the homies started dying the same year I got put on. Six of them died in 2008. I got accustomed to death pretty early on in life, sad to say. I truly feel like if this stuff wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't have been the way I am. Losing the homies that showed me the way made me relentless and carefree.
This turned me into a man at 9 years old. I met my real dad before, but as far as being with him relationship-wise was never. Mom was always mom and dad. She showed me how to be a man and take care of business like a man is supposed to. My mother tried her hardest to make sure I had what I wanted. It wasn't that I didn't want it — it was that I have two sisters she had to take care of so I tried to lighten her weight. The person who also made me the hard worker is my grandpa. He never let me quit at anything.
That brings me to speak about my infamous uncle, Maurice Clemmons. Well, he never liked the whole idea of me being from the hood so he moved me to Tacoma with him and my cousins. Also, my grandpa had a house out there so it was cool to be away from the drama in Seattle but, I can't lie, I missed the hood and my mom. Deep down inside I knew this was for the better so I wasn't stressing.
Then one day I went home from school and everything changed.
My uncle killed four police. So they had me and my grandfather in the back of a police car for 11 hours straight, no food or water. They released me to my mom and sent my grandpa to Pierce County Jail.
Never once did I ask why my grandpa was going to jail because sometimes I don't like the answer and I don't respond too well, so I just don't bother to ask. Anyone in the world would help their family if needed and that's what my grandpa did.
Back in South Seattle, I was at home on the phone with a friend when my mom called. She was real calm and said, "Is the police there yet?" I went outside to find a SWAT Team and about 50 police officers around my house. I held my little sister’s hand at the door and they searched the house for my uncle. They broke things that no one could even hide behind. They did some real disrespectful stuff to my mother's house. Property was destroyed, things were lost, and all of it was done for them to find nothing.
This whole experience made me understand the meaning of loyalty. My family was loyal and supported my uncle even when he put all of us in harm's way. My family sacrificed it all because at the end of the day family is all you have.
I do want to say I am very sorry for the loss of those officers and their family. Nothing is more important than an individual's life.
The next morning the news lady was at my front door informing me that my uncle was shot down in the middle of trying to start a car. It's a lot I don’t get. They couldn't have just took him to jail with his life? I understand he took four lives, but a fifth life getting taken won't fix it, it just continues the cycle.
These incidents all occurred when I was at a young age. As you can see, I'm only 18 now but I feel 40.
Me and my friends got real carefree and were robbing everyone who got on the 106 bus. Sooner than later it caught up with us. My best friend and I were getting off the bus when he got shot in his arm. They claim he shot himself but I don't believe that. I was there and saw it all play out. We ended up going to detention. Little did we know we had been racking up charges for the bus robberies so we were all in there for different charges and a lot of them were related.
I spent 10 months in Alder Detention Center trying to beat my cases. While I was in there I learned how important time is and how smart I am. One thing I remember and won't forget from those 10 months is you are what you allow yourself to be. If you think you're a loser, get comfortable with losing.
I went to Echo Glen for 12 weeks. That was like camp, honestly. I was so young I didn't really take in what they were telling me. I was just worried about getting back to the streets. You would think a person would have a plan but honestly my plan at age 12 was to be the hardest [gang member] possible and you couldn't tell me nothing different. I got released and went right back to the hood. Ain't nothing changed but the date. More of the homies were out and I was in full effect.
But my older homies started beefing with each other, so it was weird because they were kind of like, "choose sides." This is when my mind gets messed with because I trusted them to never put me in the middle of their problems. But sometimes in the hood you gotta be on one side. You can't love both even if it has nothing to do with you.
I kind of got on my own mission and started getting money. That was my way of staying out of the way. Before you know it, I get caught up and get two years, back to Echo Glen. I was doing good at Echo, but Echo never really was like jail to me. It was more like "thinking time." I would really just think about my next option — what I could do to get money and stay out. At the same time, I was too young to get a job I liked. And at that moment I realized life isn’t about what you like. At times you have to do what you hate to get what you want.
So I went to Woodinville [Community Facility] and tried. I went to Northshore Junior High, played two sports, got rewards in both, and got out early. Everything was good. But what goes on inside ain't the same outside.
I was released from Woodinville around the same time a lot of the homies were released from prison. Things were cool at first. Then one night me and one of my brothers was walking out of a corner store when shots went off. They killed him. Two shots. Right next to me. His blood is still on my shirt at home. This ain't the first time I've seen it but it's the first time it hurt me like it was me that got hit.
Ain't nobody stand by my mom like me. She cried in my arms for hours asking "why?" He was only out of Green Hill [School] for two weeks before this happened.
Pain cuts deep. It's like throwing salt on an opened wound, if you know how that feels. I wasn't in the right mind state and got up in some trouble that landed me on house arrest for a while.
This all started a war. So, like I figured would happen, my house got shot up. My family lives here so I'm going to put them in harm's way. But then again I wasn't going to turn myself in. So here I am on the run in the middle of a war — when I say war, I mean shoot out after shoot out, fist fight after fight.
It got bad, but I got booked for being too loyal: I got away from a foot chase with the police, I went back for my bro because he was fresh out and it was all my stuff he got caught with. So I was just being a solid brother, honestly.
Let me just say it's hard to change when you're trapped in your ways. Once you become in love with something you keep doing it. I ended up with five years to serve and I was only 14 years old. I was thinking like, "Why would they keep sending me to the same place? It isn't even helping me, to be honest." They, as in the system, believes that by putting young kids away until they are older will make them change, but no, that's not logical. By putting somebody away for multiple years, placing them in a setting with people who do the same thing will only make them gain more ways to be a smarter criminal, get another hustle, and learn how to work around the system. Every teacher, counselor, or mentor have all told me to make a difference and change for the better. When have you ever met someone that made it without a team or support system? If you did that was rare. For me, my team was living in a way they were telling me not to live.
I served a year or two at Echo, then I went to Touchstone [Community Facility]. I was on track. I was in a mind state of right. I was doing good. I was going to school. I went to basketball camp. I was going to play basketball for the Olympia Bears, starting point guard, but when my stepdad got shot, things took a turn for the worse.
He lost three quarts of blood, they said. He was going to die. I've been dealing with death all my life. Over these 18 years I lost 26 people I loved. This is not something new to me, sad to say. My stepdad did not die, but I left Touchstone thinking he was going to die. Now I was back on the run.
Never once did someone step in and be like, "You need help young man, let me show you the way." It has always been "do this" or "you should try that." Why not take time and show the way?
I’ve been free for two birthdays and never seen a prom or school dance besides the Echo Glen Social. I never had a chance to be a kid, it just never happened for me.
I was on the run for six months, doing a lot just trying to enjoy the time I had left. I knew eventually I would come to Green Hill, I just didn't know when. When I got here it's like they were waiting for me. There's a lot of old faces and new, but overall it looked like a lot of people I could go to for support. Green Hill wasn't just a cage I came into. I learned and still I'm learning a lot from people here. It's all a process. If you want to grow mentally, apply yourself to these books they offer in the library. More times than not you fail from a lack of drive.
Somehow I got really sick during my stay here at Green Hill. It started with just throwing up blood and yellow stuff. Then I started throwing up something that looked like coffee grounds. The staff didn’t believe I was really sick, I guess, so they took away my privileges because I wasn't going to school. But it wasn't like I was up watching TV or playing video games; I was in pain lying in the bed. But they didn't care, I guess.
Then one day I had a seizure. It was the worst experience in my life. I couldn't control my body at all and there was nothing you could do to stop it. You just had to let it happen. This made me think about death. You would assume being in the hood and all that it would cross my mind, but never did it occur to me until now. I had a total of seven seizures before I was seizure-free, thanks to all doctors, nurses, and family by my side. I don't know what life has to offer me, but I know it has to be something good. Any doctor, any nurse, will tell you I ain't supposed to be here. I should have died a long time ago, but I'm here: healthy, walking and alive. I'm truly blessed.
I lose homies that I call my brothers all the time, two this summer and three last summer, not even counting the in between times. It's hard to say I'm going to change, but I know for the better, I have to. I don't want to die and I don't want to spend my life in prison. I'm young, so I know I still have a chance at life. I'm not as fortunate as some, but I'm not ashamed. The drama, the death, the pain made me who I am today.
I thought I would never write this story but now that it's written, now that the truth is out there, I can move on and ask myself, "What's next after Green Hill?" If I win trial, what's next? I can't be a statistic. I can't fail. I'm accustomed to pain and loss. It's time to win for once.
As crazy as it sounds, I wouldn't trade my life for nothing in the world. I thank God for allowing me to be me and I swear to bring my brothers back. I'll do whatever, but I know it can't happen. Thank you for reading this story.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. To submit a story or note one you've seen that deserves more notice, contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.616.2035.
Correction 3/8/2018 10:55 a.m.: The story has been updated to show the correct year the Parkland coffee shop shooting took place.