The Life of a South Central Statistic

My cousin became a convicted felon in his teens. I tried to make sure he got a second chance. What went wrong?

Consider the visible surface of Los Angeles. Underpasses, bridges, alleyways, delivery trucks, service entrances, corner stores, mailboxes, water towers, exhaust vents, and the streets—in the nineties, at least, all were covered with graffiti. Few can read that graffiti. I couldn’t then, and have only now begun to learn how to decipher it. But it’s a language that represents a world. It records deaths and transactions, benefactions and trespasses, favors done and owed, vendettas pursued. Laws and punishments. If you can’t read that graffiti, you have no conception of the parallel universe, all around you, that is fundamentally at war with the legally recognized state. It’s a regime with its own rules and penalties—in effect, a parastate. Michael grew up there.

Read more from Danielle Allen, former Professor in the School of Social Science, at the New Yorker.