By Ben Hsu
When I moved to Calgary in Grade 7 the first person I remember meeting was Keith. While the other kids in class were getting to know me by looking at me while pretending not to be looking at me, Keith tried something bold and daring: he talked to me. Talking led to having lunch together, which led to us finding out we lived in the same community, which led to us becoming good friends by the end of the first week.
I thought Keith was cool because he had a lot of friends, many who were older and did cool things. As it turns out, they were part of a gang that beat up other kids for a couple of dollars. Or, just for kicks, sold packs of imported cigarettes out of lockers and stole things from the teacher’s desk or the 7-Eleven. It never crossed my mind, before I met Keith, to join a gang. He wanted to hang out with me and that was cool.
In Grade 10 Keith got expelled and dropped out of high school. But by then I was cool enough to start my own gang with some of my other cool friends. Together we did even cooler things, like beat other kids up for a couple hundred dollars. Or, for territory, extort money from other kids who sold drugs out of their lockers. And we stole things from cars or homes just for kicks.
It never crossed my mind, before I met Keith, to pursue a life that for many of my friends led to jail, drug abuse, or their name being engraved on a tombstone beneath dates less than 30 years apart.
Keith had influenced the direction of my life within one week by simply talking to me, wanting to have lunch with me, and introducing me to his friends. He didn’t explain to me what his gang