Pokémon, Power, and Prison
For a nerdy kid, a Myspace post was the gateway to gangbanging
At nine years old, I was lame. I wasn’t handicapped in any way — just pathetically devoted to Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, which in my neighborhood, may have been an even bigger stigma than a physical disability. As a result, I was friendless. The majority of my classmates came from Forest Housing Projects, about 10 buildings, each 20-stories high, in the Bronx. I lived directly across the street, in a complex of five-story tenements called Albert Goodman. In Forest, eldest brothers and sisters often took responsibility for their drug addicted parents. In Albert Goodman, the majority of children had at least one competent parent — who, at minimum, could afford video games and trading cards — and I assume it was for that reason we were ostracized by our peers. By the standards of the Social Security Administration, we were all “poor.” But I suppose the distance between “five people in a two bedroom” poor and “I don’t know where my next meal is coming from because mom cashes in the food stamps for crack” poor is pretty vast.
I was lucky to be in the former group.
It was around this time that I discovered Myspace and a major revelation: With the perfect screen name, and a slight tilt on the brim of my Yankee cap in the profile pic, I could be whomever I wanted the world to believe I was. And I wanted the world — or at least the square mile that was my neighborhood — to believe I was “gangster.” 50 Cent defined it in “Heat”: “I do what I gotta do/I don’t care if I get caught… Motherf-cker, I’mma kill you/ I ain’t playing/ you hear what I’m saying?/Homie I ain’t playing.” In all actuality, I couldn’t even kill the Elite Four in Pokémon Silver. Looking back, maybe I was playin’. But my thirst for acceptance soon made the game real.
Back then, one could join a gang on the internet — and there were plenty of options, mostly designated with three-letter acronyms. I stumbled on a typical advertisement on the Myspace page for a group called S.I.O. (Swagger Is Outrageous — I know, corny right?) The rules for entry were simple: You had to show up for a meeting, and do some dumb shit like jump on other kids who weren’t “down” and snatch their Sidekick cell phones…