By Chef Cinthia
Imagine waking as a 12-year-old in the early morning to get ready for school like any other kid, except you're in a tight car next to your mother and siblings.
You must find a McDonald's bathroom to freshen up as best you can, hoping your peers won't notice the smell of your clothes and bully you relentlessly for it.
For someone we will call Kevin, he realized that his life was not like what the other kids at school experienced and started to compare himself because this was no imagination for him.
We've enjoyed getting to know Kevin over two years in our culinary program at a juvenile hall in Orange County.
He's the son of an immigrant Mexican mother who came to the US with two kids and was pregnant with Kevin with the hopes of a better life, leaving behind an impoverished and violent existence. Little did his mother know of the life that was waiting for her. She made the journey as a single mother. Alone and without help. When she arrived, she had expectations and dreams of something more, as we all would, but she traded one struggle for another.
In a part of the city where the Pacific Ocean waves collide with gang violence that pollutes the streets, a beautiful, delicate, and premature baby was born in Torrance, California. His mother tried to give her children a safe and stable home. Still, she struggled with mental illness, poverty, and the innumerable wrong selections of very violent relationships that led to domestic violence. They constantly moved after each eviction uprooted them once more.
Kevin was exposed to a gang-related lifestyle early on, mostly from his uncles. They were gang members and drug dealers whom he came to idolize, people he was supposed to have no hesitation in trusting. One of his brothers is spending time in prison; fortunately, the other brother is doing well. I know it is cliche to say that it is a cycle. Still, it truly is.
At the tender and vulnerable age of 13, Kevin was initiated into a local gang in Westminster, CA. He expressed that this was so he could control his life for the first time. Even if the life he chose were dangerous, and he'd have to face consequences later on, at least it was a glimpse of control.
He was incarcerated at the age of 16 and has been behind bars for the past 5 years. He is now 21 years old.
Kevis is not the first youth we've encountered in our program who hasn't had an easy start to life. Often, youth who don't have direction in life or anybody around them who cares enough to prevent them from learning about life the hard way. Trauma can lead people to behave in harmful and destructive ways, leading to wrongdoings that could end in bad situations.
We've been training this young man since October of 2021, and the Kevin we've seen is much different than the version of him that society recognizes. He is kind, patient, attentive, and incredibly artistic, and he loves to share his creations with us. During culinary training, he always wanted to make sweet delights, which helped him remember things better, such as measuring ingredients and following cake recipes precisely.
He sketches beautifully and artfully, paints and writes poems, and loves to listen to Tupac.
To be Continued.....
Sketch by Kevin.