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ariel's story

HOST: Our first story is from Ariel Corporan. He was born in the Bronx and is now twenty-two years old. Ariel goes by the nickname Asun.

ARIEL: Asun is like my alter ego I guess. It's this person who is cool with everybody in the streets, and everybody in the streets knows him.

I always felt like my family wasn't my family. I always felt like the outcast. I was always different.

As a little kid, I wouldn't want to come home. I would go to school. After school, I'll go to a park, then instead of taking a bus, I walk home, and it'll take me hours and hours to get home, and I loved it.

As far back as I can remember, I never felt close to my family. My dad left right after I was born, and my mom and I never understood each other. We're opposites in every way. She's a very strict. I've always been more of a dreamer. She's probably the most serious person I know.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: Where's your questions?

ARIEL: Describe me as a kid.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: I have to answer this? When you were little...you were a good kid. You were quiet, and you did as you were told. I used to like to dress you up like a little man and show you off.

ARIEL: I grew up in a rough neighborhood. My mom wanted to keep me out of trouble, so she made me stay in the house all the time. She was trying to protect me, but I felt trapped. Things got real bad when she married my stepfather. I was seven.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: At that time it wasn't easy to find someone who was willing to take on all of that responsibility for somebody else's child.

ARIEL: Did you guys discuss, like, the rules, regulations, or boundaries that, you know, he would have to, like, follow being a stepfather?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: No.

ARIEL: No. He had like total freedom?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: No. He was your father. And your father wasn't around.

ARIEL: When my stepfather moved in, I became a prisoner in my own house. At first I escaped into a fantasy world. I'd play hand-puppet games or lock myself in a bathroom and race cockroaches up the wall. But I got older. The more he kept me in, the more I wanted to leave. If I managed to escape, there were consequences.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: His discipline got a little out of handů

ARIEL: Exactly. That's what I want to know. Did you guys ever talk about that?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: What are you talking about? What do you mean did we talk? What did we talk about?

ARIEL: Like, "Don't hit my kid so bad," or something. Did you ever say nothing?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: There was one time when he beat you up very badly in the bathtub, and I talked to him because he got out of hand. But there's no list of rules and regulations. There's no, "Oh, hands off. That's my child. You can't touch him."

ARIEL: But didn't you think that was harming me in any way?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: That time when he beat you up like that? Yes.

ARIEL: Oh, but I got beat up real bad.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: He was disciplining you and punishing you and he was doing it for me. There were times when I felt that he was overly strict. But he was doing a job. He was doing the job of a father.

ARIEL: Did it work?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: Obviously not.

(Music)

ARIEL: I started to rebel. At home I was a nobody. I was alone, and I was weak. Outside of the house, I created a different me.

After my freshman year of high school I got locked up for smacking some kid and taking his book bag. I didn't even like the book bag, I just took it just to be a bad ass.

I was in Lincoln Hall. It's a juvenile facility called Lincoln Hall, in Lincolndale, New York. I learned from all these other juvenile delinquents how to be a delinquent, how to be a criminal, how to be a thug, how to be a drug dealer. By the time I got out of there I knew everything I needed to know about drugs: where to get them, where to push them, how to push them, where to stash them.

When I got back from juvenile detention, I started hustling. I was seventeen.

I was in school -- in a high school called Truman High School -- and I met this guy there in the cafeteria. His name was Harold. He told me to call him Biggs. He was a drug dealer. If you would have seen the roll of money this guy pulled out, you would have like melted. So of course I asked him about it. You know, "How can I get down? How can I get that kind of money?" And he said, "You could come work for me. We could make this money together. You can come to my block instead of going to school, and you could sell crack. You know how to sell crack?" I played it off like, "Yeah, I've hustled before, you know." I didn't know nothing. I didn't know nothing about the business. But I knew that I was determined to learn, and I was determined to be part of this inner circle, this forbidden family.

(Music)

I just started hustling, First day there, he was out there with me to let me know who the customers were. You know, like, "Sell to him, don't sell to him, sell to him, don't sell to him." And I was getting -- I was getting pretty far. I was doing it good. Like the bundle was gone in less then an hour. That night I came home with about eighty bucks. And that was like my first time hustling. I was like, "Wow, I'm a drug dealer now."

I would leave my house at seven-thirty in the morning -- to go to school supposedly. I'd be at the spot by nine. I was the hand-to-hand guy. I did the hand-to-hand sales, and I sold three-dollar bags, five-dollar bags, and somebody next to me sold the ten-dollar bags of dope.

After a few weeks, I got made a manager.

For a person like Biggs to give me authority, give me respect, to say, "Okay, I think you could handle this business right here." And for me to make money, and for me to meet people that think I'm cool -- that was hot. I needed that.

You know how many times my mother told me I ain't shit, I ain't going to be shit? And I told her, "You know, I'm just leaving." You know? So I did it. I moved out. By the end of the night I had a room. By the end of the week, I had a whole apartment. At the age of seventeen.

My first employee was a guy named Kareem. He went by the name of Knowledge.

Knowledge and I became real tight. He was older than me, and I looked up to him.

He had like a funny beard, he had like a goat -- it wasn't a goatee, because his mustache and his beard didn't connect yet. But his beard was like pointy and he had a funny mustache, and he had these eyes. His eyes was real. He could see right through you. He was twenty-one years old. He just came out of doing a five-year stretch, so he was real ganstafied, and he acted that way.

So Knowledge started coming to my house every morning. I would go under the mattress or under the rug where I had the crack stashed, pull out like three, four bundles, give him two and keep one on me. And I'd stay in front of the stoop talking to him a little bit until he starts getting customers. When customers start coming on the block, I'd send him around the corner. I'd stay in front of the building, where I am away from the crack and away from the crack dealing. And I'd just sit there.

I was tall. I had a nice little chain then. People started to recognize me. I looked different. I was different face on block. They knew I was different there. They knew I had to be hustler.

(Music)

I had it all. It was like a dream. I felt invincible.

Here it is: October 15, 1997. The year's almost over. I haven't been to school in a little while, and I'm almost out of crack.

Me and Knowledge was just kicking the breeze, and we sold a couple of slabs that were left, when this guy comes up to us and he's like, "Where's the crack out here?" He was short and stocky, and he was kind of well built for a crack head. He was clean cut, which is not the norm. I looked at Knowledge, and Knowledge already knew. He was like "No, I don't sell crack. Go down the block."

The dude's like, "No, you all sell crack. Let me get two slabs. I know you got slabs." Now we call crack slabs. Crack heads come, "Let me get a hit. Let me get two hits." They don't say slabs; we say slabs. And Knowledge was telling the guy, "Look, we don't sell crack, B." This guy was insisting too, like, "I know you sell crack. Just give me my two slabs," even though we told him no like three thousand times. And Knowledge was like, "Look, man, I don't sell crack. Get off my block talking all that nonsense" The guy sits down on the stoop a couple of feet away from us, so I moved over a little bit. And I saw them arguing. And they go at it. And the dude is on Knowledge. And Knowledge got him in a full nelson, and he's trying to reach for his gun. So when he went to reach for his gun, I reached for his gun, too. I reached for his hand. His hand clutched the gun. He was pulling it out. When I seen him pulling it out, I pushed it in. I think when I pushed it in, that's when it went off.

When that gun shot went off, in the blink of a second a whole bunch of other cops started shooting at us out of nowhere.

Two vans pulled up. A car and a fat guy with a gun that was right there on corner, shooting at me. I mean right, right in front of me, shooting directly at me. I saw the smoke coming out that barrel.

I saw the gun. I just saw the gun. I saw holes of the revolver around barrel. I saw his hand clutching trigger. I saw his white fingers. It seemed like something out of a Bruce Willis movie. He was just running at me, shooting at me.

And I got shot in my leg. It felt cold. And then I felt my hot blood on my skin, which was getting numb. Then I got shot again. And I kept my hands up: "I'm hit. You shot me. I'm shot!" So some cop comes up to me, puts handcuffs on me, and drags me to the corner. And they were still shooting. They were shooting at Knowledge.

When I turned around, I saw Knowledge, and Knowledge was bleeding out his neck. And Kareem looked up at me, and he was crying. He was saying he can't breathe. "Hey, Asun, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I'm ain't going to make it." He was dying -- he was dying, and he was telling me he was dying.

(Music)

One hundred and seventy-two shells were recovered. No weapons or drugs were found, and I was sent to jail anyway. My lawyer told me to plead guilty to armed robbery and assualt to avoid trial.

When I came home from Rikers, I'd lost the apartment I was living in, my clothes were in bags, and I had no money. But it didn't matter anymore. The incident had changed me. This tough drug-dealing character I'd created for myself died the minute Knowledge did. I was ready to just be me, even with my mom.

My stepfather's not around anymore, but my mom's just as hard on me as she ever was, especially about the incident.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: It would upset me tremendously to hear you talk about it as if it was somebody else's fault. Yes, they shot at you from behind. But you were not supposed to be there.

ARIEL: Do you feel lucky?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: You should feel lucky that you're alive.

ARIEL: I have three jobs now. I have a girlfriend I'm about to marry and a beautiful seven-month-old baby boy. And me and my mom? We'll keep working on it.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: I got to go to sleep.

ARIEL: I still got to ask you more questions.

ARIEL'S MOTHER: But I got to go to sleep. I'm sorry, its one o'clock in the morning, and I got to go to sleep.

ARIEL: Can we finish this some other day?

ARIEL'S MOTHER: Some other day, but I got to go to sleep.

ARIEL: Cool.

(Music)

HOST: Ariel lives with his girlfriend, Leilani, and their ten-month-old son, Dei-Jean, in Brooklyn. He works for an outreach coordinator on Rikers Island.

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