I Was as Old as an Eighth Grader the First Time I Went to Jail

Lesson to be learned here is don't break into houses on mescaline.

Feb 21 2014, 7:10pm

Uncle Rick is a 49-year-old man from Detroit, Michigan currently living with his sister and her husband on a one acre piece of land approximately 20 minutes outside of San Antonio, Texas. It’s a slow, sparse part of the state. That’s good because there are not a lot of people in the area. And that’s good because that means there’s a less likely chance that he will kill somebody.

I suppose there are two Uncle Ricks that exist. There’s the Good Uncle Rick, whom I grew up underneath, the biggest and toughest of a family of six brothers and one sister. Good Uncle Rick’s first instinct always seemed to be to protect, which he was very good at because he was carved out of granite. Nothing made you feel safer than being with him. Having him behind you was like having your own personal terminator.

But there’s also the Bad Uncle Rick, whom I only ever saw glimpses of before I moved cities. Bad Uncle Rick’s first instinct always seemed to be to destroy. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve watched the reverb of his past life vibrate his current one, the more interested I’ve become in learning about Bad Uncle Rick. Crimes and criminals are involved, felonious and malevolent. Jails and prisons and police officers and police chases are involved. Drugs and drug using and drug dealing are involved. So on and so on and so on.

This column will be about that. There will be music embedded into it for you to listen to while you read, a specific soundtrack for each particular story offered by Uncle Rick.

Have you ever tried to mescaline? Mescaline is a hallucinogenic. I started doing it with my friends when I was about 13. The dealers used to call it "Orange Microdot," but I don't know if that's actually medically accurate. I don't figure young hooligans are all that great at psychopharmacology key terms, but I don't know. I know it was $5 though. You'd get one pill for $5. That's all you needed was one to get gone. It's also all you needed to nearly get killed, I found out.

My friends and I didn't have jobs, so to get the money for it—to get the money for anything, really—we started robbing houses. I should've been in school, right. But, man, I was double promoted in school twice so I was only 13 when I started high school. I'll never forget that first day. I had a gun with me as I walked to the campus. I used to take it to middle school no problem. But when I walked up on the high school I saw they had officers and drug dogs and all this shit. It was a whole different level. So when I saw all that I panicked. I bent off and stashed the gun in a vacant house and then went back.

I walked in and it was like, "Oh shit, man." I was a little kid and all these other guys are big fucking guys. I went to my first class, sat down, looked around, and was like, "Nah." I raised my hand and asked to go to the restroom. It's funny to think about now: Here I am getting into drugs and carrying guns and robbing homes and fighting and I still raised my hand to ask to go to the restroom.

But I asked to go and the teacher let me and I just got up and walked out of the school. I never went back that whole first year; not once. I knew they'd send letters home about attendance so I just always intercepted the mail. I didn't get caught until near the end of the school year.

Anyway, so since I'm not in school I'm hanging out with these three guys—a 17-year-old, an 18-year-old and another guy about my age. And like I said, we didn't have jobs so we started robbing houses.

We'd walk around the neighborhood and try to pick out houses where no one was home. The trick was though that you had to find three or four houses next to each other where no one was home so you didn't have to worry about the neighbors seeing you. If we thought we found a good home to hit, we'd send one of the guys to the door to make sure. Like, I'd knock on it real loud, bang on that thing to see if someone would answer. If no one answered then we'd know it was a go. If someone did answer, I'd just be like, "Oh, hi, ma'am. My friends and I were wondering if we could shovel the snow from your walkway for a couple dollars. A pretty lady like you shouldn't have to do that sort of thing.” Every once in a while they'd actually say yes, which is just crazy. We were gonna rob this house and now we're good Samaritans shoveling snow for old ladies.

When we'd find an empty one, we'd break in through the back. Nobody really had alarms back then. I never understood that. If you live in this crime-ridden, dying neighborhood get an alarm or a dog or something.

So we'd go in these houses and we'd only look for jewelry or money or drugs. That was important. You couldn't walk down the block in Detroit carrying a fucking TV. You'd get picked up real quick. So it was always jewelry, money or drugs. Everyone always hides everything in drawers, so those were the first places we'd look. We'd destroy these fucking houses looking for stuff. One guy stands outside lookout and the other three just rip the place apart. I can't imagine what that has to feel like to come home to. I didn't care about any of that back then though. It'd take 20 minutes and we'd have that place peeled all the way back.

Whatever we found, we took to this drug dealer in the neighborhood and he'd buy it from us. We probably sold him all kinds of expensive shit for cheap. We didn't know any better. Shit, I wasn't able to see the world past my own arms. What did I know about selling necklaces?

We maybe hit five or six houses before there was any blowback. We go into this one house—we're all high on mescaline, is why we were fucking up. We took it and then just went in without bothering to check it out first. We hear some noise so we charge out of there. We're back behind in the alley and we just start hearing shooting. I'm kneeled over next to a telephone and I hear this shot and then the telephone right near my head just fucking shatters a big chunk out. The bullet hit the pole. It almost blew my fucking head off. I could've died right then and there; high on mescaline in an alley at 13.

We burnt off running, ran straight for a vacant house. We escaped. Or, at least we thought we did. This all happened around winter so there was about a foot of snow on the ground. We were so high we weren't even thinking about it. An hour later we walk out of the house and it's surrounded by police. They followed our fucking footsteps in the snow right to the house. Let me say that again: THEY FOLLOWED OUR FUCKING FOOTSTEPS IN THE SNOW RIGHT TO THE HOUSE. It was like a bad movie.

We all get arrested. They throw us around. I'm posturing all tough, right. "Get off me! Get off me! Do you know who I am!? Let me go!" What a thing. I get locked up and sent to Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility, which is basically this very terrible jail for youths. All of a sudden I ain't so tough. I'm 13 so it's fucking scary in there. I was in there for a few days before my mom finally took me out. I remember we had a public defender for me. He tells us how he just represented a kid who got five years in jail for robbing a paperboy. Turned out, the kid that got locked away robbed the paperboy with a fucking snowball. Like, I don't even know how you do that shit.

So my mom, she'd already had enough. My dad was into all the gun running and drugs and tied in with some real nasty dudes. She was nervous we were all gonna follow him. We probably were. My oldest brother already was. So after she heard that guy talking about five years, she decided to go. She packed us all up. We moved down to Texas right after that. It's very different. I'm getting in fights with people who are actually just trying to be nice to me. Like, I didn't even know how to process that. Everyone was always working an angle in Detroit. In Texas, people were nice.

I don't know what ever happened with the case with robbery. We just moved. My mom never said anything to me about it and I sure as shit didn't ask. I never did any real time for it. That was cool. Unfortunately, in the years that followed I only became more familiar with the country's correctional facilities.

Shea Serrano is a writer living in Houston. He's on Twitter - @SheaSerrano