Beneath The Surface of Baby Red

by Michael D. Johnson

My name is Michael Dwayne Johnson and I am a thirty-six year old man incarcerated in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations. My convictions are first degree murder and second degree robbery and my crime is gang-related. I’ve been in prison since I was sixteen years old and I have served a total of twenty years and five months.  That’s approximately seven thousand four hundred fifty days of hell and a whole lot of thinking, crying and begging God for mercy. However, this whole experience has taught me a few things;

1) The gang lifestyle isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

2) No one deserves to be subjected to the abnormal behavior of gang members and no one deserves to lose his/her life nor property by the negative actions of gang members.

3) The gang wasn’t worth one bit of my time nor was it worth my devotion.

I sincerely regret that I took the life of an innocent man. I pray that someday God will ease the pain that I have caused his family and friends to suffer. I accept the consequences of my actions as I am not in the position to expect to be forgiven; however, I am in the position to make amends for the wrongs that I have caused on innocent people.

The Article

This is an article about the tragic consequences of a gang lifestyle and the intangible image of a gang moniker that I have given expectations impossible to bear. Beneath the surface of Baby Red is an in-depth insight intro to who I am as a person and what I have portray myself to be, all within the intangible image of my gang moniker-Baby Red.

The Core of Acceptance

People usually desire things that they can’t have or never had.  However, the desire to be accepted doesn’t always stem from being deprived of acceptance.  Sometimes a desire to be accepted can be triggered by some other form of emptiness or a voice in need of fulfillment in an area that’s not related to deprivation of acceptance.  The best example I can give is a gang CULTURE.  In some less fortunate environments- such as South Central Los Angeles, Compton, and Watts, like many other so called “ghetto” environments, are dominated by gangs and have been gang infested longer than the life span of some adults.

Imagine being a child raised within an environment such as this. What type of person would you become? What type of role models would you have? What would be the nature of your beliefs? Who and what are most likely to influence you the most? If gang membership is a dominant force within your environment then that would make gang membership normal within your environment. The normality of the gang membership is what makes it conducive to a cultural viewpoint and can easily manipulate the way a child perceives the world., his or her lifestyle and future as well. What if the child doesn’t want to be accepted by the culture of his or her environment? For most children that are raised in gang infested environments, it’s almost inevitable that they will become gang members.

The Intangible

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a crime infested environment. I lived on South Figueroa, between the parallel streets of Manchester and Century Blvd.  South Figueroa is one of the worst streets in America.  For years it has been known for its criminal activity.  Drugs, prostitution, gangs and other crimes. If you can name it, Figueroa had it. Gang murder was constant in my neighborhood.

I’ve seen six dead bodies of people who were close and important to me before I reached the age of fifteen (In between ages eight and fifteen.  I’ve attended six funerals within a seven year time span.)

1) The death of my father by way of suicide

2) The death of my half-brother’s father by way of cancer and frequent drug use and four other deaths were by way of gang violence.

Two of those individuals were shot down right in front of me, and one of them died in my arms when I was ten or eleven years old. After seeing the events that I’ve witnessed as a child, I developed a desire to be just like individual gang members that were known to be survivors of the constant ghetto conflict-the gang wars, street fights, but most of all the gun shots that my family and I had to hear from the unstable walls of our home every night. The gang violence was every day in my neighborhood. It was the culture of my environment and although it was violent, the gang members showed me a lot of love while I was too young to understand the true characteristics of love.

I remember the older gang members giving me money to buy food when I was hungry among other things-such as teaching me how to fight and to stand up for myself when getting picked on. It was like the older gang members picked up where my father left off and the gang became my extended family. As the time progressed my relationship with the gang became stronger. The gang became a part of who I was and before I knew it, I had adopted gang beliefs.  I accepted myself as a gang member before the actual gang accepted me as one. However, eventually my gang characteristics became so apparent the gang members gave me a gang moniker, “Baby Red.”  I became Baby Red from Westside Hoover Crip Gang, in representation of the 94th street Hoover Crips, but most of all, I became my gang name and Michael Johnson no longer existed.

I gave my gang name expectations that I was going to have to live up to.  Expectations that were conducive to the gang code and functions of the gang.  To establish respect, never punk out, defend the gang at all times for whatever reason, never snitch, and be the toughest Hoover Crip on Hoover Street. My gang moniker became the foundation of my gang representation, and I was willing to defend it at all cost. No one was going to disrespect my name nor was anyone going to disrespect my gang. I became a full-fledged street criminal that acted like an animal needing to be trained. I became notorious.

In April of 1994, I robbed and murdered an innocent man for, at the time what I had believed to be a gang retaliation against a man that has a past conflict with one of my deceased “homeboys” who had lost his life to violence, only to find out that all he (the innocent man/one I killed) was doing was traveling to a video store to rent videos so he and his mother could watch movies together.

That was twenty years ago and twenty plus more years will never be enough to make up for the crime I’ve committed. I could only imagine the hurt and pain that I’ve put this family through and every day I wished I could rewind my life twenty years backwards; He would still be alive, His mother would have the memory of having her son at home that night watching videos with her and I wouldn’t be writing this article twenty years later from prison (for The Beat Within).

A Message to The New Generation

Don’t come to prison!  Nothing is truly worth a man or woman giving up their freedom.  I’ve been locked up behind these walls since I was sixteen years old. I am now thirty-six years old. I’ve been in prison twenty years and five months, approximately seven thousand four hundred and fifty days.  I’ve thought about my crime and how horrible I was every day for approximately seven thousand four hundred and fifty days.  I’ve destroyed and given up so much; All in representation of a street gang and a gang-name, “Baby Red,” (an intangible image) something that I can’t see, touch or feel.

A name is something that I can’t hold in my hand.  A name is something that I can’t sue to validate my level of education, an Intangible Image. It’s easier to just SAY NO TO GANGS!