The School of Hard Knocks, an excerpt from the book, Man Up

by James R. Metters Jr.

When I was free on the streets I had a problem with people telling me what was right. I hustled in front of churches, disrespected evangelists, and mocked my elders.

But now, irony had me in a strong headlock; I wanted to listen. This was a strange mental shift for me and my home boys who were used to me acting a fool. And when I really switched up a lot of the homies started hating.

“Eh Jay, what’s up baby boy…where you going?”

“I’m on my way to chapel.” I answered.

“Is that right – the chapel hun – well, I’m on my way to smoke a blunt!” My so called potna said, patronizing me. Normally, I would have cursed him out and started a fight, but I had to stop worrying about what others thought about me and how I wanted to live my life.

Besides that, many dudes were not doing anything significant – just wasting time: reminiscing on the past, drinking pruno (homemade wine), and smoking weed like he’d said.

The church was pop’n! The sermons that were being preached were good and funny. They compelled me to see the error of my ways and the potential for something better. The preacher shouted, “Y’all wasn’t out there running the streets… The streets was running you…ran you right in here so you can listen to me!”

Everyone laughed, his words run true.

I went to church on the regular and managed to get back in school and complete my General Education Diploma (GED). It took me a minute, but I did it. From there I wiggled my way to college which was something I never thought I would do.

Rather than hanging out, playing cards or watching TV, I studied which taught me the importance of sacrifice, patience, and discipline; byproducts of success.

The streets have a religious way of keeping cats confined to one geographical location and that is on a street corner. As gangsters we hug and protect the block when we don’t own a house on the block. That is funny because when I open the college books the pages took on the appearance of wings.

Reading took me places I never thought I could go. Through the subject of humanities, I’ve visited ancient and modern civilizations that existed before physical time began. And right now today though same cultures do not have the blessing of our resources, but they managed to make it without pushing weight (drugs) and killing one another.

In another class, the business environment, I toured the Federal Reserve in New York City where gold bullion is stored and billions of dollars are printed for circulation. That is who I should have robbed, I thought.

I also soaked up the knowledge surrounding Monetary Policies, Micro and Macro economics, social paradigms: democracy, communism, and socialism. The business get down taught me that selling crack cocaine and designer jeans showed the same business principles. However, one is illegal and the other legit, but they are both a hustle. In addition, if I sold crack the police would chase me; if I opened up a store and sold designer jeans the cops would be sworn to protect me, that’s the big difference!

Getting involved in church and investing my time in those books taught me the real game. I was on! To help with frivolous street dreams, I told myself. I started plotting and planning how to make something positive happen.

Considering all things there is much more I can say, but I will end it like this. The School of Hard Knocks has a camp and is full of fools. Many of us were dropouts who did not understand our potential and had seriously misinterpreted what it meant to be men. The things I learned in the streets did not produce positive results; on the contrary, street knowledge made life much harder than it was meant to be. No matter how much I partied or how much money I made, I felt it on the inside, something was missing.

After landing headfirst in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) it was a miracle, I finally came to see the light. In 2005, 2007, and 2009, I graduated with A’s in Religious Studies, Liberal Arts, and Social Sciences. I was on top of my game.

No matter what happens in my life I have learned that hustling in the streets is never the right option. If the only job I could find was flipping burgers, cleaning toilets, or bagging groceries, I would do it. Even though I was in jail I was done with this that stupid stuff. Success is and obtainable goal for everyone, but I could never grab hold of success taking classes at the School of Hard Knocks.