I found myself wide awake at 2:30 this morning after 3 short hours of sleep. They don’t make infomercials like they used to, so I decided to read the final 40 or so pages of DTMS. I had been savouring them, not wanting the story to end.
There are so many things I find significant in this book. So many things that I’ve experienced in my life that parallel what Piri Thomas shares with his readers, yet the life he lived and the one I’ve lived thus far are completely different—or are they? From the Prologue to the final chapter, Thomas spills out his inner most thoughts: his yearning to belong in society; his quest for his identity, a relationship with Poppa; the loss of everything he knew due to a bad decision—the loss of 7 years of his life, the loss of Moms, Brew, Trina and probably countless others who didn’t make the pages of this book.
All of my anticipation of reaching the end of the book came to a head at the bottom of page 314, after he has been released from Comstock State Prison and is back in jail waiting to face his further charges. Thomas recalls, “I studied my new home. It was three parts concrete, one part steel bars—yellow bars, or were they buff? I chuckled. Green, yellow, buff—they were still bars underneath. I looked up and around and I saw that I wasn’t alone.” The notions of home, colours and layers of facades plays such an integral part in his story, in his life…in our lives. Home is such an important idea that he sections portions of the book off according to the geographic area he hung his hat at the time things were happening. Whether he was at home with his familia, couch surfing with strangers or incarcerated, home was where he slept. In fact he titled the book after the streets where he felt at home, and called them mean. I find this really interesting having lived on the streets myself. Sure, they were mean—the people who had homes were mean, but the homeless community of which I was a part was anything but mean. We looked out for each other, just as Thomas’ pals did for him.
Colour was a catalyst for so much of Thomas’ mental anguish. Within his family, it was never an issue. As a young child, living in El Barrio, it was never an issue. It was more important that one had heart, never mind the colour of their skin. And while it never dawned on him that he wasn’t white, Moms always called him ‘negrito’. Granted, I’ve been told by many of my Spanish profs that this is a term of endearment, but still. And in the end, skin colour is just an external layer, much like the layers on the steel bars of his jail cell. Whether they were buff or yellow—is that really the point?
I am sorry to end this book. I want to find out how Thomas went from this to the next phases of his life. I will have to search for his subsequent books and writings.
For my song this week, I’ve chosen one of the most poignant songs of my youth—“Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio. It was released about a year after I had been on the streets of Toronto, ‘shelter hoping’. The racial diversity was omnipresent in the shelters and I found my closest allies/ friends were Jamaican. Anyway, this song played on their ghetto blasters nonstop at the time. It became almost an anthem for me. The song’s opening words about sum it up for me: “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death | I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left”. Just like Piri Thomas, I reflect back on the stuff I’ve seen, the stuff I’ve done…stuff I’m proud of and stuff I’m not so proud of. I am where I am today because of it all. I’ve still got lessons to learn in life. Books like DTMS help me dig deeper at those events, providing me with new lessons and ways to look at things in preparation for the tomorrows.