Read an Excerpt
Their Bullet, My Life
"The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice."
Entering the large assembly room, the motor of my powered wheelchair humming in my ears, I could feel the eyes of every boy, all local gang members, staring at me. I wondered how they would react to my computer-activated voice. Would they listen to what I had to say? Would they understand the violence and pain they were causing?
Could I really make a difference?
"Hello, I'm Cruz Carrasco," I began. "As you can see and now hear, I am unable to walk or talk by myself. I wasn't always in this wheelchair, and once I could speak as well as any of you. In fact, up until I was seventeen years old, I lived a life probably very similar to yours. My dream then was to play pro football. I loved it! I started as a sophomore for East L.A.'s Roosevelt High School Rough Riders and was soon their star running back.
"By the time I was in the twelfth grade, UCLA had offered me a full scholarship, and I was ready to take it. I was going to be the first college graduate in my family. I promised my mom I would buy her a big house with a pool when I was a star. And then, without warning, my plans and dreams were literally blown away. I don't remember that day now, so what I am going to tell you is what my family and friends have told me.
"November 4, 1986, was a normal school day. After football practice, I headed home, had dinner with my mom,
and then went up to my room to do my homework. I heard one of my football buddies calling to me outside my window. My friends knew Mom couldn't hear them back there. I sneaked out the window to go for a ride with him on his new moped. If I had asked my mom, she wouldn't have let me go. We rode around and stopped to hang out with another football buddy at his house, even though we knew his neighborhood was heavily infested with gangs and drugs. Unfortunately, before we arrived at my friend's house, a bad drug deal had gone down in the neighborhood. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would walk by myself, talk by myself, have normal vision or live the life of my dreams.
"Once the gang realized the cocaine they had bought was really soap, they came back, armed with a .44-caliber Magnum, driving down the street and spraying bullets into the neighborhood. In sheer panic, we started to run for cover. My two friends fell as bullets ripped through their legs. My terror was ended abruptly when a bullet exploded in my head.
"For the next four and a half months, I lay in a coma,
machines feeding me and making me breathe. There was not much hope that I would recover. Can you imagine what it was like for me to awaken to the helpless horror of what had become of me?
"The two years after the shooting are a blur to me now.
I do know that, throughout the seemingly endless year and a half that followed, I was in rehab; my mother refused to give up on me and vowed to eventually bring me home. Her determination was contagious, and in spite of my suffocating despair, I clung to hope.
"I was nineteen when I finally returned home. I had not become the college football hero I had dreamed I would be. Instead, I was having to start over from infancy, physically.
I was filled with grief over the life I had lost. It was agonizing to realize that my friends had all gone to our prom and graduated from high school. Some had gone on to college; some were working; some were living in their own apartments; some were even married with kids.
Once home, my mother did what she knew how to do best: She loved me. She enrolled me in a program for disabled adults, and I finished high school. But I still couldn't communicate or move my own wheelchair; I was trapped in my own body. I was filled with anger and frustration. I realized that Mom's love wasn't enough. It was then that Zoe came to work with me.
"Zoe began as my occupational therapist and became first my friend, and then my partner in life. With Zoe, I finally had someone listening to my dreams rather than focusing on my disabilities. Zoe made sure I received the voice-output computer to speak with and the power wheelchair so I could get around independently. Once I realized I could again interact with people, I wanted to find a way to keep what happened to me from happening to anyone else.
"That is why I am here today, eight years after I was shot, to let you know about the effects of the choices you make. Before you make those choices, I hope you will take the time to think about how they will affect your life and the lives of the people around you. They never caught the guys who shot me, although I did learn a most painful truth: One of the men in the car was my best friend from elementary school! I never dreamed that the boy I loved like a brother would take away my life as I knew it. I'm sure he didn't, either. What a cruel result his choices and mine made on my life. While I had been pursuing football,
he had joined a gang. I never thought it was cool belonging to a gang, but I did think it was okay to be friends with gang members. I never realized that simply associating with gang members would change my life forever."
I spoke for about fifteen minutes and showed them a video of myself before and after the shooting. When I was finished, they shared with me that they had never met someone who had been affected by gun violence like I had. They knew they had affected a lot of lives through their violence, but they had never seen the true impact of their actions. When we were finished talking, they all came up to shake my hand. I was filled with hope.
A few weeks later, I received letters from some of the boys thanking me for coming and vowing to get out of the gang. Some even said they wanted to look for a more peaceful way of life. I was ecstatic. What had happened to me finally had some meaning. I would never play football,
but I could make a difference in young people's lives.
In May 2000, Zoe and I adopted a child. As I see the wonder and hope in my son's eyes, I dream of a future when the only gun violence he will know about is the cause of my disability. I'll never be the same as before, but we all have to be the best we can be. When I look out into the audience during a presentation, I hope that this won't happen to any of them. I beg them, "Please stay away from guns, drugs and gangs. Stop the violence! It is the only way we can all live together in peace."
-Cruz Carrasco and Zoe McGrath