Nearly a year ago, we met a 14-year-old boy from Boston we called David. He’d recently been arrested for a violent outburst in school, and he talked about smoking marijuana to deal with the stress in his life.
“Other people think it’s wrong but like when I’m high, kind of, I feel just like I can get through anything," he said then. "And it eases my stress instead of, like, punching stuff.”
At the time, David said he was working on trying to set his life on a better path. We caught up with David and his family to see how things are going these days.
“The biggest challenge is he’s 15 years old now,” said his mother, Diane. “So it’s not like when he was younger, I had control over all of that. I don’t have that control anymore.”
Earlier this year, David was suspended from school. “Yeah, I got caught with weed," he said. "Not that fun.”
A teacher could smell marijuana in his bag and searched it.
“I know that what I did was wrong," he said. "I failed. I messed up and I got suspended. I haven’t seen a suspension in a long long time.”
And he said he learned a lesson. But it’s not the lesson his mom hoped he would get.
“Yeah, never bring weed to school," David said with a smile. "Hide it. Wait until you get out.”
He’s just learned how not to get caught. “Like to be honest, I still smoke and everything," he admitted. "I go to school sometimes high, but like the teachers don’t notice it.”
David acknowledged some of the people he’s hanging out with are up to no good.
“Like, drug stuff. Weapons. And just like messing around in school and stuff," he said. "But I don’t really sell the drugs. Sometimes I hold stuff. But I don’t move the drugs. I just give it back to that person or owner.”
Diane says David’s especially vulnerable to bad influences because he has an intellectual disability.
“He’s on the higher end," she said. "But it has caused a lot of issues, a lot of issues for us. And it took me a long time to just get him the services he gets now.”
Some of those services came after David’s father left, following an incident of domestic abuse that David witnessed. “[David] had to come and get him off of me," Diane said. "And this has made a lasting impression on him.”
Last summer, when we first met David, he was in a program at the Mattapan Teen Center for at-risk kids. The program continued through the year, but David says he lost interest. “I got caught up in a lot of stuff. Like, I started hanging out with friends again when school started back up.”
“I have to save my son from the streets," said Diane. "Because the streets are going to eat him up and he’s very vulnerable. He wants to be looked at in a certain way by everyone. But this is not what I want for my son. I want better things, I want greater things for him.”
Some people have suggested she just move to a better neighborhood, but she says first of all, she can’t afford that. “Second of all, why should I have to move out of my community with my children to get better schooling, and to get better things? I should have the same things that these other cities and towns have.”
Despite all her concern, she says David’s into something new that she’s actually happy about. A few family members have a recording studio, and invited David to try out rapping.
“My uncle’s like ‘I want you to do that,’" David said. "So I was like, ‘man, that’s going to be hard, I can’t do that.’ Said ‘you got to believe in yourself.’ And it took me like a couple of days because I was slacking, but once I got the hook down and the verse, it all came to piece, and it was nice. I like it.”
David pulled out his phone and brings up the video. “I worked real hard on this song,” he said as it started playing. On the the screen, David raps while he and his friends mess around on a basketball court. “I was kinda shy at first, but then I got through it,” he said.
“I have no clue what’s going on in it," his mom said of the video. "I just know he looks positive. He sounds very positive. I’m actually very proud of him.”
“Now, I’m just trying to focus," said David. "Work on the studio, work on my schoolwork and stay out of trouble.”
And, having gotten a glimpse of the alternative, that’s what his mom is hoping for, too.