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yovani's story

HOST: Now a story is from Yovoni Whyte. She's twenty years old and grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Today, she attends the New York City Technical College. As a teenager she was a gang member.

YOVANI: When I was sixteen, I was initiated into the Bloods. I wore a lot of red. I wouldn't wear a outfit if it didn't have something red in it. As long as I had something red on, it was okay.

Every morning I'd punch in at school and leave. Then me and my friends would figure out what we were gonna do for the day. If we felt like chilling, we'd chill. If we felt like robbing someone, we'd just do that too.

All you needed to say was, "I'm starting it." And the starter would just go up to the person and be like, "Give me your jewelry." And if the person don't give up their jewelry, the rest of us get involved. But the starter normally just takes it how she wants it. If she wants to just haul off and hit the girl, or just haul off and say give me your jewelry, or just snatch it from her, that's her decision. We just there to back her up.

Hello, I am talking with Eduardo Whyte, my brother. What's your age and what's your relation to me?

EDUARDO: My name is Eduardo Whyte. I'm eighteen, and this is my sister, Yovoni Whyte.

YOVANI: Okay, Eduardo, this tape is about my life, mostly around the age seventeen. Can you tell me what you think about it?

EDUARDO: Messed up. Where do you want me to begin?

YOVANI: What was worse thing I ever did?

EDUARDO: Damn, you did a lot of bad shit.

YOVANI: What do you think about me being Blood?

EDUARDO: It's good to me.

YOVANI: Do you remember the first time that I told you I was turning Blood?

EDUARDO: Yeah.

YOVANI: What happened?

EDUARDO: I was like, "Well, good," because I was planning on being Blood anyway, so I decided since she was gonna do it, I was gonna do it.

YOVANI: I started getting a record when I was fourteen for little stuff, misdemeanors. Then when I hit sixteen: robbery. Then I kept robbing people, kept doing a whole bunch of things I shouldn't have been doing. And when I was seventeen, me and this girl cut this girl in my school, and they locked me up.

I remember the day after very clearly, because I went to school and I couldn't go to none of my classes. It took like eight people to try to sneak me out of school because cops was all in my school -- they were searching for me everywhere. And then they came to my house like a week later and got me.

My mom bailed me out. She wasn't too mad. She would have done the same thing back in her day. My family loves to fight.

I'm going to interview my mother right now.

YOVANI'S MOTHER: Get out my fucking life. Get out.

YOVANI: No, I have to interview you today, mom.

YOVANI'S MOTHER: Get the fuck out of my face. Mother fuck you--

YOVANI: Ma, come on. I got to do this -- Ma, don't throw nothing! It's going to take ten minutes.

Growing up, there were two women in my life. My grandmother, who I loved. She raised me, she was everything to me. Then there was my mother. She was always hard on me. So look what happened; I turned out hard too.

Okay, I don't have to turn on the light. All right. Ma! God!

I heard when my mom was seventeen, she was just like me. She was violent. I don't know what weapons she used, but I used razor blades. I used to sneak them into school.

The little ones that's rectangularish, they come with like an envelope. You can have it undone and put it like in the gums of your mouth, down so the metal detector ring but when they're searching you, they not going to put metal detector over your mouth. So you can put it down in your gum, but you had to be careful with that, because if nobody knows you have razor, they hit you and you would bust your whole mouth. It just rip you open. But that's the best thing, because if you know how to carry it and you can talk regular with it in your mouth, they won't know -- somebody will think you just fighting and then you throw your hand, you just spit the razor right out into your hand and you cut them and they won't know what happened.

Everybody have to go through something to get accepted. You don't just turn Blood and be like, "Okay, you Blood, that's it." You have to get accepted everywhere you go, into every neighborhood you go. The neighborhood has to accept you. So you always proving yourself, showing that you can take care of yourself, you bad, you can stand on your own two feet, you can hold it down, whatever.

(To Eduardo) Why do you think that I first got into trouble?

EDUARDO: Because you was born.

YOVANI: Shut up.

Interviewing my brother Eduardo again

Why do you think I first got into trouble? Do you even know? Do you even think about it?

EDUARDO: Because following the wrong crowd.

YOVANI: Do you remember Maria and Danielle?

EDUARDO: Oh, Murder One and Murder Two? Yeah, because they always followed my sister. Everything she did, they did.

MARIA: Hello, my name is Maria, and I am seventeen, and -- oh, and this is my sister.

DANIELLA: Hello, my name is Daniella, I 'm nineteen.

MARIA: We live in Crown Heights and we went to Prospect Heights High School.  When Yovoni came to school, we just clicked and became good friends and robbing buddies.

DANIELLA: We started talking and we just got along right on that spot.

YOVANI: Maria and Danielle were Blood like me. But some of the older Bloods thought they weren't tough enough. So one day they made Maria and Danielle prove themselves by doing a robbery.

MARIA: I didn't thinking nothing of it because I'm always robbing somebody, so I just really didn't give a fuck. I just wanted to get it over with. And I remember they sent Yovani to the park to wait for us. A boy named Black, he gave me a blade and I took it from him, then, you know, they pointed to the person who they wanted us to rob.

DANIELLA: Well, actually, I approached the girl and I was like, "Give me your stuff." She was like, "What?" I started attacking her.

YOVANI: Maria went to hit the girl, and forgot she had the blade in her hand.

MARIA: I looked back up to see the girl I cut bleeding and holding her neck.

DANIELLA: My sister and I, we just looked and ran.

MARIA: And basically, I got caught like five days later.

YOVANI: Maria and Daniella got locked up. They were my best friends, so I had to look after them no matter what, even if meant going back to jail. Remember that cutting I did at my school? I never showed up at the trial, so there was already a warrant out for my arrest. I turned myself in. I was on Rikers Island for a year.

RICKY: My name is Ricky, and I'm your brother.My dad and your mom are girlfriend and boyfriend, I guess. Don't know what they are, but they are confused too, so...

YOVANI: How long they been together?

RICKY: Since as long as I can remember. I'm thirteen years old, so that's pretty long.

YOVANI: Do you remember anything that mommy or your father used to say when I went to jail?

RICKY: They didn't say nothing. They just forgot all about you.

YOVANI: Well, then how did you find out I was in jail?

RICKY: I asked my father, "Where was Yovani?" and he said, "Yovani is in jail." We never said anything else about it.

YOVANI: Damn. So they didn't mention me?

RICKY: No, not really. Not that I can remember.

YOVANI: Well, you're young and stupid.

When I came home I was really lonely. People was dead, locked up. I didn't have no more friends. Everybody I knew was dead or in jail. And I guess if I wouldn't have been in there, I'd have been dead too. When Maria and Daniella got locked up, Maria had a baby that was one. When she got out, he was three.

(To Maria) What do you think about being Blood or when you was Blood?

MARIA: Well, at first I thought it was, you know, real fun. Maybe I just wanted to fit in. But my ways just changed, because I know that being Blood got me into a lot of trouble.

DANIELLA: Half of the stuff all of us were doing, we don't do anymore.

MARIA: I don't know. I don't want to go back to doing the same stuff I was doing just to be known or whatever.

YOVANI: Now Maria and Daniella stay out of trouble. But my Brother Eduardo? He's still Blood, still thinking he's gangster, trying to act like I used to act.

(To Eduardo) Why did you look up to me?

EDUARDO: I guess because you was older and doing dumb shit, and I thought it was cool.

YOVANI: You looked up to me because I used to do dumb shit?

EDUARDO: We was kids back then. Come on now. What do you expect?

YOVANI: Do you still look up to me?

EDUARDO: No.

YOVANI: Why not?

EDUARDO: You're not keeping it gangster!

YOVANI: He's right. I'm not looking to rob nobody anymore, or cut them. I'm in college now. Maybe someday Eduardo will follow me there too. You might be wondering what changed. Partly I just grew up. But mostly it was my grandmother. She was everything to me. And she died while I was locked up.

When she got real sick, she started asking for me. My family told her I was away. When I finally found out, I wrote her a letter. But by the time it got to the hospital, my grandmother was already dead.

I was so upset, I tried to kill myself. But then I thought, "No, I'm just going to show her." Now I'm doing everything she wanted me to do before she died. She wanted me to go to school, now I'm in school. She wanted me to get a job, now I got a job. And I think that maybe she even would have wanted me to make this story.

This is for you grandma.

I'm Yovoni Whyte.

HOST: Yovani lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She attends New York City Technical College where she's studying fashion marketing.

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