Sanctuary

For a century this inner-city church has served as a refuge. But its most important mission has always been outside the walls.

Barry learned that the hard way. When he got out of prison, his mother bought him a blue hat. He'd always liked blue, and he didn't know it was the color Crips wore to identify themselves. But when he walked through Five Points one day to visit his aunt, four kids began following him, cursing and gesturing. When he went inside his aunt's house, they were still there. Barry's aunt had to explain that the boys were probably Bloods, who wore red, and he was wearing blue in an area they claimed as their turf.

"I better leave," he said. "They might have gone to get a gun." And sure enough, when he was a block from her house, he looked back and saw the boys turning the corner, hurrying to lie in wait for him.

The lesson hit closer to home when he got a call from eleven-year-old Galen's teacher. He'd threatened her, said he was going to put a bomb in her car. Did Barry know that Galen was wearing his pants low with a red scarf hanging out of the pocket?

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No, Barry said, he didn't, but now he was going to beat the boy's butt as soon as he caught him. At that, he saw his son bolt out of the house. It was the dead of winter, but Galen had taken off without a coat or shoes.

A belt in his hand, Barry tracked his son down to a friend's house. The other boy's father came to the door. He saw the belt in Barry's hand and nodded. "You got to do that. I just got done whuppin' mine for tryin' to get into this gang thing," he said.

Galen was ordered up from the basement. He was shivering from cold or fear or both. As they started walking back to the house, the boy still without any shoes, Barry started feeling sorry for him. He knew how hard it had been for him to stay out of trouble; if anything, it was harder these days. The gangs were recruiting kids right out of elementary school, promising them things their parents couldn't provide but drug money could--like the latest $100 basketball shoes and sports jackets.

Barry decided to have a man-to-man talk with his son instead of whipping him. He explained what it had been like in prison, what it was like for young gang members when they arrived. "They keep their pants pulled up tight," he said. He wanted something better for his son.

Galen tried to explain how his gang was set up to protect the neighborhood from other gangs. If you were weak, the others would take everything, including your life. Barry said he understood, but that didn't give kids the right to create their own little "governments of violence."

When payday rolled around, Barry took Galen shopping and spent $250 on two pairs of sneakers. He got a white pair. Galen wanted a black pair with red marks on them.

Although they were married, Barry and Galen's mother weren't getting along any better. His wife's mother thought Barry was too hard on Galen and suggested that the boy come live with her for a while. Wanting to keep the peace with the woman he loved, Barry agreed.

One day when he went to visit Galen, he spotted the boy running down an alley. He discovered that Galen was acting as a lookout for his uncles, who were breaking into a neighbor's garage.

He told his wife, but she refused to believe him. The argument got heated. Suddenly, she picked up the phone and dialed 911. Barry couldn't believe it--she was reporting him for domestic violence, and he hadn't touched her. The police arrested him anyway.

Over the next four years his wife reported Barry fifteen times, almost always after an argument about Galen's growing involvement with gangs. Each time the charges were dismissed when Barry's wife refused to show up for court. And as soon as he got out of jail, Barry and his wife would get back together.

Then came the day in 1992 when Barry found a loaded gun in his stepdaughter's diaper bag. The baby's father was a Blood. A few days later Galen came by the house, accompanied by a gang leader known as "Scrappy," and asked for the gun.

Barry gave it to Galen. But that wasn't enough for Scrappy. "You owe me $100," he said. Galen backed Scrappy up.

Barry felt a chill run up his spine--not from the gang leader's threat, but from the fact that his own flesh and blood was choosing sides against him. The two boys left, but Barry knew it wasn't over. He went out and bought a gun.

The boys soon showed up again, one evening when Barry was leaving the house with his wife. "I want my $100," Scrappy said. Galen stood silently behind him.

"Here's your $100," Barry responded, pulling his weapon. He fired a shot into the air, which froze the boys long enough for him to take off running. Then there was the sound of shots being fired. He would never know if Galen was trying to hit him or just putting on a show for his homie.

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