By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
A bullet ripped into Brad Braxton's body but left him standing, waiting for the next bullet to end his life. He put a hand on his gut wound and tried to keep his balance so that he could die standing up.
The second bullet never came. The shooter ran.
Brad stumbled toward his friends, who were up the street outside Pierre's Supper Club, near 22nd and Downing. One was arguing with a police officer from the gang unit who knew Brad, an original gangster with East Side Trey Deuce Gangstas, by his first name.
Brad told his friends that he'd been shot, but they thought he was joking -- until more shots rang out. The officer wanted him to lie down and wait for an ambulance, but his friends loaded him into a minivan and headed for nearby St. Luke's Hospital. He tried to stay calm and alert on the ride. He kept asking the driver what street they were on, how much further it was to the hospital. Growing up gangster, Brad had been with friends who'd taken bullets. And being shot at was nothing new; it comes with the territory. But this was the first time he'd been hit.
Doctors said the bullet had bounced off Brad's hip bone and ricocheted through his bladder, scraping his colon along the way. He was transferred to Denver Health, where the bullet was removed and Brad was stapled shut about thirty times.
People who hadn't seen Brad in years popped up to visit. Brad had always been the kind of guy who visited friends when they were in the hospital; now they came to him. Relatives stopped by. And the school where he works sent flowers.
Brad spent five days in the hospital after the August 19 shooting, and between visits, he had plenty of time to think. He'd already been to gangster destination number one: prison. He'd been in and out of jail since he'd turned eighteen, and he'd done five months of a four-year sentence for drug charges in Cañon City before his sentence was reconsidered and he was released on probation five years ago. Now here he was at gangster destination number two: the hospital bed. Gangster destination number three is final: There's no coming back from the grave.
"Every gangsta got his day," Brad says. "We either gonna be shot, stabbed or do your time in prison. We all know that. There's something in store for every last one of us."
Today Brad is 34 years old. He has a family, and a future with a job he loves. The homeboy's a homeowner. A substantial citizen.
Some of that substance made the difference between life and death. Doctors told him that if he hadn't recently bulked up to 215 pounds, the bullet might have torn right through him. Then his wife would have been a widow and his two daughters would have been fatherless. And the 167 inner-city kids he helps after school at the Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives program would have lost both a friend and a mentor, one who knew what he was talking about.
"I was just telling the kids the other day, 'Don't join a gang, because everything you do in a gang eventually comes back to haunt you. And if you ever stop banging, that doesn't mean the gangstas you did things to are going to forgive and forget,'" Brad says.
He knows who shot him. He thinks the young black man took aim for one of two reasons: He feared Brad, or he was intent on taking out a Trey Deuce. Or both.
Just as there are three gangster destinations, Brad knows of four ways to deal with someone who wants him dead.
The first option -- going to the police -- isn't an option. Brad has no faith in the justice system. And even if he did, he lives (and could die) by the code of the street: no snitching.
Second, Brad could order his shooter murdered as easily as you could order a pizza. He's at the top of the power pyramid in his gang, a position he earned over the years. All the younger gangsters in his hood are trying to come up, and they'd love to put in work for the OG. But Brad is a man who takes pride in doing his own dirt. And he says he'd never order someone killed, because he's never killed anyone.
That's the third option: murdering the man himself.
"If I want him, I know where to go get him," Brad says. "It's not necessary that I even need to get him; I could get his buddy. That's what they did to me."
Or Brad could do nothing and leave the younger gangster's fate to the street, which would inevitably lead him to one of the three unavoidable gangster destinations.
Just like Brad.
The Curtis Park projects were already tough when Brad was growing up. Every night, there were fights, gunshots, drug deals, stabbings, sometimes murder.
He was about twelve when a trucker parked a trailer filled with thousands of cans of tuna at Larimer and 33rd. Brad and a couple of cousins broke in, grabbed as much tuna as they could and started handing it out in the hood. They ran back for more, and sometime during the second distribution round figured out that they could make some money selling the canned fish. So they returned to the trailer. But this time, Brad got caught.