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Start Thinking

My car door was tagged. The mark was on the passenger side, so I may not have spotted it right away. It was made with a brown marker — probably a Sharpie. It was the sign of a local gang.

The discovery left me feeling doubly violated — someone vandalized my property, but more than that, they violated my security. I am Teacher; Maestra; Miss. I am the one person, when our pod was broken into two years ago, whose room remained pristine. The vandals trashed all three of the other rooms, spray painting the walls, breaking furniture, destroying books — and in my room they took the VCR, the TV, and every pen and pencil in my desk, but they destroyed nothing. They left a note on my white board that read, “You were cool.”

A few years back the teachers all walked out of their classrooms at the end of the day to discover their tires had been slashed. My car was among the few untouched. I am liked and respected in the neighborhood. I am known as fair, honest and kind. Knowing I was respected left me feeling immune. And then I discovered the tagging on my car.

I said something to my students. Richard piped up, “That’s good teacher. The gang, they like you. You are under their protection.”

I said, “That’s bad, Richard. That mark on my car could get me killed. When you put on one gang’s colors, you put on a target the members of every other gang wants to shoot.”

All the kids immediately looked at each other and started murmuring. One of them said, “I never thought of that.”

My response: “Start thinking.

To those who love me: the car door has been cleaned.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Oh Quill, I had no idea things are that rough where you teach. I guess I am naive in a lot of things today.

    I think you do a great job and are a wonderful person.

  2. Wow. This doesn’t seem quite real somehow. I always imagine you in a sort of a happy places, you know, lots of trees, something like the Shire.

    Am glad your car door has been cleaned.

  3. Brian — I tend to forget, too. Oh, I am careful about leaving the neighborhood before dark, and keeping doors locked, but I have always felt insolated from the reality — which is at best niave, and at worst, delusional.

    Jenn — geography lesson: Nevada is sand and dirt and cement and grime; however, my heart lives in the Shire.

  4. Gee, Quill, this has go to be pretty disturbing for you. It shouldn’t take that much courage, just going to work. But, then again, you’re a teacher.

    Good luck, and be careful.

  5. Al — I never thought of it in terms of courage. I have always tended to think in terms of caution (where I park, how I act). And since this is where I’ve always taught, the tiny increments of rising danger didn’t make an impression. Interestingly enough, I’d already started thinking about, and acting toward, making a change.

  6. it’s such a violation and/or personal affront to have some stranger mess with your belongings and/or space. since you’ve been spared these indignities in the past, i can absolutely see why that marking was so unsettling for you. maybe it was just an honest (or careless) mistake? i hope so.

    now you’ve got me worried. stay safe, Quilldancer! xox

  7. I live in what is known as a nice area, but my car was broken into and the cd player stolen just the other day. The cost to me was £60 for the window (with insurance!) and I haven’t replaced the cd player because my insurance excess is £175 and the player only cost £120. Whoever stole the cd player will probably get £20 for it. Do I bear a grudge, yes, do I wish extreme harm on the perpetrators, yes. And the main reason I’m upset is because I have no music in my car, which means I have to listen to wifey and kids prattling on.

  8. Wow, that’s pretty scary. I remember having cops in the school telling us to be careful with gangs and to be mindful of not wearing gang colors but when I was in school it just wasn’t a huge deal as the gangs weren’t really in the town yet, or at least active but now they are beginning to become a major problem. I wonder what they teach the students in school now? Maybe I should ask my siblings.

  9. Neva — I am suspecting that the person who tagged my car, like my students, thought they were doing me a favor.

    Bazza — shame on you! I’m telling!

    Silver — what we teach them and the reality they perceive are two different things. In too many instances refusing to join the gang further alienates the a child from his/her own family — which is why s/he joins a gang in the first place …. These are not just kids. It is generational.

  10. gangs are really scary stuff. you are right being protected is not so much better. i’m so sorry and i’m so glad it has been cleaned out. my dad died 9ish yrs ago and he would be heart broken to know how bad the gang situation is here in Calgary. he moved us here for a couple of reasons and the peace and safety was one. hon, not a wk goes by that the news don’t talk about another gang related execution or such..the gangs are running this city and their signs are everywhere..even in the most freshly painted and still not finished grocery store down my block..

    i wish there was a way to make you safer. you and all the other teachers and kids. poor students that grow up in these areas and think nothing of it.

    humanity sometimes stinks hon. i’m sorry. yeap, you got kicked in the teeth. kiss it better.

  11. hmmmm…..
    This is why we moved where we did. Living in Downey, in Los Angeles was getting waaayyyy too hairy for my family.
    Now I live, well, in the Shire :))
    Remember, the road goes ever on and on….
    Moving where we have has in no short measure, saved our lives.

    BTW, my baby brother lives in Vegas, and works at a Poppa John’s Pizzaria. I worry about him all the time.
    Take good care of yourself.

  12. I will keep you in my prayers. You continue to be a hero to me!

    I have too often lived in the heart of gang neighborhoods, aka low income housing. I now live in a tiny town. But the scariest thing of al, the shire is no longer the bastion of safetry from gangs that once was. In times like these I have to work real at NOT letting my natural paranoia take over!

  13. Chana — life has nop guarantees, even in the nicest neighborhoods.

    Rachelle — I think food service in any city would scare me — too much potential for robbery.

    Jan — you’re right. Evil not longer contents itself with dark places.

  14. Charlie — gang violence is something you’ve not adressed in your essays on your visit to our South. Will it be in the book, or have you (I hope) no first hand observations?

  15. I am also thunderstruck to learn you’re teaching in an area where gangs are a reality. In my head, you were there teaching, inspiring and loving your students amongst sun filled classrooms with views of rioting gardens. I believe you’re right though, the marker thought he was doing you a favor because his view of your world was as narrow as mine.

  16. Kat, I teach in North Las Vegas. My school is 100% free lunch. The majority of my students are second language learners. We are Title One subsidized (which means our students perform below an excepted norm on standardized reading tests)but we may be heading to the end of that because last year we made #2 on the list of Top Ten Most Improved Schools.

  17. You live in a high risk, life threatening area!! Your school is in lock down for good reason. You have been lucky so far. Come home!! Your school room has been vandalized, your house has been robbed, your car has been trashed!! None of which has happened to me or anyone I know in this area. The kids in Spokane Valley need good teachers!! Come home. I love you. Caryl

  18. Wow, glad the door mark has been removed. I am in the city, yet on the periphery. Time for you to move your name on that list we spoke of earlier…Teacher go to the top of the list and protect yourself. At a previous job I started to become ill. My doctor asked why I was staying and I replied: “I thought I could be of help.” The doctor replied without hesitation: “You can’t help everyone!” Some people really donot want help. Please take care of yourself!!!

  19. I never realized that Las Vegas was this rough, though with all the casinos and gambling I guess Vegas can be rough.

    Like Chana was saying, Calgary can be a really rough town as well. I live in a good area but a couple of years ago a street over a gun was fired into the house a couple of streets over. There are certain areas of Calgary that I won’t go into at night.

    Calgary has changed in the last 10 years that I have been here. It is getting that you need to travel in pairs at least at night. I don’t like being on 7th Ave waiting for the C-Train by myself at night. Very Scary.

    I am glad you are safe, and will ask God’s Angels to keep you safe.

    Blessings for a safe day.

  20. Gangs don’t think. I was lucky when I taught there were no gangs associated with the school. I did have one student try to turn me into a pincushion with a switchblade but he was on his own. I was v ery proud of my ability to handle my class. Studnets that got D’s in behavior always behaved in my class. So one day I asked one of them why he was so good in my class. His answer ” I have to rest someplace”. So much for my pride.

  21. I love you and I’m glad you washed it off. For what it’s worth, I got robbed at the convenience store I worked at in Spokane… but it does sound like you’re in a maybe bit more unsafe place. Be safe.

  22. Quilly – When I moved to Vegas I had an apartment on W. Charleston BLVD. It seemed like a nice neighborhood and it was close to Red Rock Canyon. I loved it there for the first couple of days. Then there was gunfire in mid afternoon. I watched young mothers running outside to snatch their children from the sidewalks as the choppers swarmed overhead and officers rushed in on foot – their guns drawn. That happened every day and night for the next several days. I broke the lease and moved to Henderson. I’m back in Michigan now and still like to visit Las Vegas, but I don’t miss living there. I know it can be scary… I hope you are able to make some changes and get somewhere safer.

    I’ll be keeping you in my prayers.

  23. I’m sure the message you passed on to your kids – about the OTHER gangs – will be repeated. Good job!
    Now, be careful and stay safe, we love your blog 😉

  24. I have lived in a lot of places in my life, but none of them where I’ve had fear for life and limb. In many of them, people don’t even lock their doors. I’ve been fortunate.

    I knew you were special before. This story just makes it more so.

  25. Pauline — most of the mark has been removed. I think my feelings of security have been permanently marred.

    Silver — boy did you pick a bad week. I’ll try to rmember to come by tonight.

    Bill — I don’t know that there are many safe places left in the world, but I do know that some are safer.

    Dr. John — their view is very narrow.

    Brooke — I lived on Spokane. I know there’s crime there. Plenty of people who live here can say nothing bad ever happened to them — I am just not one of them.

    Rob — sounds like a scene from my first week here. I didn’t break my lease though. I stuck it out for a year then moved to a private, gated condiminuim complex. (Where I no longer live $$)

    Dabich — that’s my prayer.

    OC — this entire week has been liuke riding an emotional roller coaster. My stress at work the careening down hill curves, and my personal life a slow climb to a new height.

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