The Company You Keep Short Story
It wasn’t until the cell door closed behind me that everything became a reality. My mother always told me, her advice in Spanish, “Muéstrame la compañía que usted tiene y te diré quién eres.” The translation in English—show me the company that you keep and I will tell you who you are. I seldom listened to her advice thinking that it wasn’t relevant to today just as so many of my friends felt when it came to the advice of their parents. Don’t get me wrong—I was always a good kid who went to school, got good grades and did my best. I had dreams of one day attending college and being the first in my family to graduate and receive a degree. However, the hood had a different dream for me, just as it does for many other kids. As the guard instructed me to turn around so that he could remove the handcuffs that were cutting off the circulation in my veins, I realized that I allowed the hood to win and I had become a product of it.
My name is Fernando Jerome Moore, a 16 year old junior in high school and the oldest of three in my family. My mother is divorced and she has always had to work several jobs to provide for us. I knew my father—he provided me with my middle and last name but that is about all that he gave me. He was in and out of our lives but he never stayed around long enough to make a contribution to the household. I was basically the man of the house and I took care of my sisters while my mom worked to put food on the table. School was never a problem for me and that was a good thing because my mother didn’t play games when it came to school and making good grades. She always said that getting a good education would solve my problems and take me to the next level in my life. All I had to do was study hard, stay out of trouble and opportunities would come my way.
I lived in a culturally diverse neighborhood but we all had one thing in common. Everyone was struggling to make it through to the next paycheck. There were several teens that had chosen to drop out of school and make their living on the streets. They were influenced by easy money and the fast life that kids hear about in music today. As my mother told me often, “Today’s kids are not cut from the same cloth as my or your grandparent’s generation. We had to fight for everything that kids take for granted these days. We had to fight to be able to go to school, fight to be able to vote and fight for basic rights like being able to eat at a restaurant. Kids these days don’t even want to go to school or put forth any effort. They want everything given to them when it is already there for the taking. They just have to put forth the work for their dreams to become reality.”
All of the talking that my mother did never fazed me. As I said before, I was a good student, helped around the house and even worked at the local supermarket for a couple of hours a day. I tried to help my mother make ends meet as much as I could. And then my junior year in high school came and that was the year that my mother said that I started smelling myself. As she said, “You think you are grown just because you have a little bit of hair growing on your chin and your chest. You better take heed and listen to me because I am always right.” I didn’t know how right she was until now as I sat here alone in this cold empty cell. I just wish that I had another chance to turn this thing around—to be at home again with my mother listening to her rant and rave about what I need to do with my life. If I could just have one more chance, I would do things her way.
I will never forget the day that things started to change in my life. The day after my sixteenth birthday, I started to get more attention from the young ladies. All of a sudden, I had a growth spurt, my pimples started to fade away and I started to develop my six-pack. I was handsome, tall and played all kinds of sports. I have to admit, the attention caught me off guard because I wasn’t the most popular guy in school but I loved it. And as more girls started talking to me, I started to crave for more attention. That’s why I began to pay attention to all of the “cool” kids in school. You know the ones that everyone knew and wanted to hang with. It didn’t take long for me to see what the difference was between them and me. They had designer clothes, school credibility, social status and some of them already had sex—at least that was the school rumor.
One day, I got my chance to become a part of the “in” crowd. It just so happened that I was tutoring a girl in my math class named Monica who was the sister of the most popular guy in school. His name was Tyrone but everyone called him Big T. He got his nickname because he was 6’5” and only a junior in high school. He looked and played like a professional football player. One day while studying with Monica, I asked her about Big T and she introduced me. One thing led to another and Big T and I became really cool. As the semester passed, I realized that I had to step up my game if I really wanted to be accepted by him and his crew so I started taking on more hours at the grocery store. They wore Jordans, Sean John, Rocawear and Forces and their clothes were off the chain. I had to work hard to try to keep up with this new lifestyle; but, it appeared easy for Big T and his friends to maintain their status.
Only several minutes had gone by since they placed me in this cell; however it seemed liked an eternity. As I sat there staring at the four walls, I tried to figure out where I went wrong with my life—how and when things got out of hand. It all started a couple of months back in March. I remember it was the 15th to be exact. I was at work packing an elderly lady’s bag when I glanced at my watch. I was ready to leave because I had a lot of homework and studying to do for a test. It was then that I spotted Big T and three of his friends coming toward the cash register. I didn’t know whether to hide or walk the other way. I wasn’t ashamed of where I worked but I didn’t want anyone clowning me because of it. I was just about to tell the cashier that I was going to the restroom but it was too late. Big T was the next person in line. I thought he had already seen me but he was too busy reading a magazine. As he looked up to pay the cashier it was then that he noticed me. He spoke to me as he normally did. He gave me a “pound” and said, “I didn’t know you worked here.” I answered, “Yes; for almost a year now.” He said, “That’s wassup”. He then asked, “What time do you get off?” I said, “In about an hour.” He asked me, “You wanna ride?” I told him, “Sure.”
Although I knew I had studying to do, I agreed to let Big T scoop me up. Now all I had to do was call my mother and let her know not to pick me up. I called and she questioned me for about five minutes. She didn’t understand how I was going to get home so I made up a story. I told her that Monica and her mother were grocery shopping and they invited me over for dinner because Monica got an A on her math test. I convinced myself that it wasn’t the whole truth but it wasn’t quite a lie either. I was going to be hanging out with someone in Monica’s family it just wasn’t her. That was the first time that I deliberately lied to my mother.
When I walked out of the store, I did not see Big T anywhere. I waited for about ten minutes and then I thought that he stood me up. Just when I was about to turn around and call home a slow moving black Tahoe on 24s with tinted windows caught my attention. The first thing that I thought was I was getting ready to become a victim of a drive by. As I moved quickly to the entrance of the market the SUV came to a complete stop. The passenger window rolled down slowly and just when I thought I would hear a gunshot, I heard, “Hey Nando, what’s up.” As I slowly picked my heart off the ground and calmed myself down, I began to laugh out loud.
Big T looked puzzled and asked, “What’s so funny homie?” I replied, “Nothing, I just thought of something that made me laugh.” I jumped in the ride and Big T explained that he was actually twenty minutes early but he was sitting in the parking lot. He said, “I had to get right Bro” and I could smell what Big T meant. I couldn’t get my seat belt on fast enough before the blunt was being pushed my way. I told him I was straight but he did not want to hear that. He asked me had I smoked before and I told him no. He proceeded to demonstrate how it was done and he passed the blunt over again. I coughed the first couple of pulls but then I got the hang of it. The feeling I had was crazy; I felt like I was on cloud nine. My thoughts were hazy and it was as if I was floating. Big T drove off and turned up the radio. As we approached the street that I lived on, Big T went right passed it. I wasn’t sure what was going on and just as I was going to point out that he missed my turn, I overheard him on his cell telling someone that he would be there in a few minutes. He pulled up to a house, jumped out of the truck and told me to wait here. He told me that he would be back in five minutes.
As I waited and gazed out the window, I spotted a few guys on the front porch. Then, a “crack head” walked up to the house. As the fellow nodded his head in agreement, they gave each other a pound. The money and drugs exchanged hands in the blink of an eye. A few seconds later another person walked up and I realized that I was at a trap house. I had heard many stories about them but had never been this close to one. My mother had always told me to stay clear of them for all of the obvious reasons. I thought about getting out of the car and walking home but my dazed state kept me staring out of the window. Mrs. Rodriguez, my mother’s best friend, drove pass the truck and did a double take. I slid down in the passenger seat because Mrs. Rodriguez would have pulled me from the truck if she knew it was me. The driver’s door opened and Big T got in holding a Gucci bag that he threw in the backseat. As we drove off to go to my house, Big T lowered the radio. He asked me how much money I was making at the supermarket. I explained to him that it wasn’t much but it helped out in the household. He then asked me if I would like to dress like him. He told me that I could make more money in less time if I worked for him. All I had to do was to pick up and drop off a bag—sometimes a Gucci or a Prada one. I told him that I would have to think about it before I made a decision. He told me that he understood and he gave me a hundred dollar bill. He said, “Maybe this will help you to make your decision a little faster.” I laughed and then jumped out of the truck and went into the house.
When I got in the house, my mother told me that Mrs. Rodriguez had stopped by and told her that she thought she saw me in a Tahoe. She then took one look at me and moved in my direction. She questioned, “Have you been smoking?” I laughed nervously as she moved closer. As she sniffed me, she became outraged and started speaking in Spanish really fast. She popped me upside my head. “So now you are lying to me and hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. I began to apologize but she did not want to hear it. The disappointment on her face said it all as she yelled at me to go to my room. All she kept telling me was that I was going to be judged by the company that I keep and not by the person I was or could be.
On the night that brought me to this jail cell everything started out normal. I was working at the supermarket when Big T stopped by. He asked me to take a ride with him and I agreed. I told my supervisor that I would have to leave a little early and he was okay with it as it was a slow night. I got off of work and Big T waited outside for me. As I hopped in the truck, I noticed a Prada bag on the backseat. I didn’t think much of it as we drove off. After my mom had gone off on me, I began to realize that I was headed down the wrong path and wanted to talk to Big T about his offer. I told him that I had thought it over and even though it seemed like it was easy money, I would not be able to work for him. As we were talking, Big T ran a red light by mistake and a cop car was behind us. The sirens startled us and instead of Big T stopping, he continued to drive faster. I begged him to stop but he kept swerving in and out of traffic trying to shake the cops. Suddenly, he went the wrong way and we were surrounded by cops with no where to go. There was a cop by the driver’s door telling him to turn the truck off, put his hands on the wheel and not make any sudden moves and one on the passenger’s side telling me to put my hands slowly in the air. We did as we were told and got pulled out of the truck and onto the ground. They started searching the truck and found the Prada bag on the back of the seat. They opened the bag and placed its content on the hood of the truck. When I saw the contents, tears ran down my face. There were a couple of pounds of weed and a brick of cocaine in the bag. The cops proceeded to read us our rights and placed handcuffs on us.
When I arrived at the police station, they allowed me to call my mother because of my age. I was then fingerprinted and a mug shot was taken of me. My mother finally made it to the station and the cops started interrogating me about the drugs. After several hours, she found out that I was going to have to spend the night in jail and then be transported to the courthouse the next day so that I could be arraigned. As I was daydreaming about this mess, the officer opened the cell and let me know that my mother and a lawyer were in the visitor’s area. The lawyer said that I could face several years because of the drugs that I was caught with. I told him that I didn’t know that the drugs were in the truck but he said it would be hard to prove unless Big T took full responsibility for the drugs.
It was time for court and as I went in front of the judge and listened to the prosecutor, I knew then my mother had been right the entire time. I was being judged by the company that I kept instead of the good person that I was. My mother sat in the front row crying; she knew she was about to lose her child for a long time. She couldn’t figure out where she went wrong. As the judge’s gravel hit the desk, tears began rolling down my face. The lawyer assured me that he would fight for me to the end but I knew better because we couldn’t afford his fees. All of this time, all I had to do was listen to my mother. All I had to do was be happy with what I had and make the best of it. I knew after riding in the truck the first time that Big T was into drugs yet I chose to ignore it because I was still trying to find a way to be down with him. I still wanted the things he had without paying for the consequences. I never thought that I would be guilty by association. If I was asked today was it all worth it I would answer, “No” without hesitation. No it wasn’t and it never will be worth it.
Big T was sentenced to 25 years while I was sentenced to 5 years. The only thing that the jury saw was the company that I kept and not the fact that I made a big mistake. The judge asked me if I had any last words before being taken away to serve my sentence and I answered, “Yes, your honor. If there is anything good to come from my bad decision, I would like to say be mindful of the company you keep. Realize that decisions come with consequences and they could affect the rest of your life.”