JustUs: ‘Trying to Live I Lost My Life’
One man’s story of navigating life when surviving and thriving are at war with each other. A reflection on racism, poverty, and carceral systems which ignore humanity.
At birth, I was named Brandon Marlow Wainright. That is the name my mother used, as well as the teachers at school. On the street, my name is Dub, D to the U-B, or you can call me ‘Young Black King’. But on a serious note, let me tell you that 90% of people from my hood are considered failures. And I’m supposed to act like I can’t be part of the 10% because of the way you think of me and because of the choices I’ve made to survive the challenges I faced.
I have a young mother, young father, brothers and sisters at home. We barely have food in the fridge and only sometimes have running water. I’m surrounded by old heads and young’uns walking around with handguns, and they won’t hesitate to let me know what they think of my honor-roll-ass if I can’t fight.
School is kind of a sanctuary, if you will, or safe haven where I can be myself. I can be a nerd. I can be a thespian. I can do sports. I can do whatever I want while I’m in school because I’m living my life. This is how I want to live. This is how I want to live.
But outside of school I put on a whole other mask. I fight and I fight and I fight. I am Dub and me and my gang, we do what we do: big time shoplifting and small time drug dealing. Like I said, in my hood 90% of the people are considered failures and they are the people whose approval I need in order to survive. You might not like the guys I hang out with, but they are the only ones who have my back — and I have their back. I do. This is not the life I want to live, but it is the life I have to live.
Things become harder when I turn 16. I stand up for my brother against my father, and for that, I am out of the house. I am no longer his mouth to feed. From 16 on there isn’t anyone giving me a roof, clothes, or food. I have to do that with the help of my gang. I have to live — find a way.
But still I stay a star student, honor roll, state champ athlete… blah, blah, blah. Against all odds, I still kept my cards. I kept my cards. And by my senior year it is clear I am going to be part of that 10% that makes it. That makes it!: Status, money, cars. I’m heading for the NFL. I have full-ride sports scholarships. I am choosing the offers. I am even going to be prom king!
So with all this heading my way — despite all the obstacles I faced — did anyone ask me why, on January 12th of my senior year, I shoplifted major merchandise at six video stores in one night? Six in one night! Instead of working hard to prove what a terrible criminal I was, did anyone consider I might also have been a young man having a hard time and needing help? Did anyone sit in circle with me and say, “Brandon Wainright, what were you thinking — six stores in one night? You must have known you would get caught. For a few thousand dollars you threw away a $100,000 full-ride college scholarship. You were going to be part of the 10%! Why, Brandon?”
No, they didn’t ask. They charged me with robbery. They kicked me out of school. They made an example of me. Nobody acknowledged that I had to be the best at being Brandon Wainright, star athlete and star student, to make the 10% and thrive, and that I had to be the best at being Dub — to have shelter, food, and survive.
They didn’t acknowledge that I was locked in a terrible split that put surviving and thriving at war with each other. They acted like Brandon, the high school Vice President of Future Business Leaders of America, was a lie, and that I had finally shown my true colors — Black. As if I was, by nature, criminal. Nobody in the justice system or the school system cared enough to even ask why I did what I did. Nobody.
And if they had asked, the answer would not have been simple. It’s a long story. A long story. But let me just say, on that evening of shoplifting I was exhausted by the fight and I didn’t even care. You want to know why I didn’t care? Because that night I was hurting and I didn’t feel love.
You know why I didn’t feel love? Because I wasn’t getting it from my parents. They didn’t come to my games. They didn’t care that their son was on the honor roll. That I was going to college. That I had a scholarship.
And why wasn’t I getting that love? Because I was living on my own at 16 — away from the only home I had known. And because my parents were young, they hadn’t grown up with much love. And they were busy fighting poverty, fighting racism, fighting to survive, and tired of fighting with me and struggling with how to raise a young Black son in a place where the streets have so much power and a parent has so little.
Or, you can just knock it down to the fact that where I was raised, you’re either born with it or you’re born without it. No matter what you apply that to. And I thought I’d rather be caught with it than without it. I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. I needed money to live: for food, shelter, clothes on my back, and maybe to graduate looking nice in the prom king suit I was going to buy with some of that cash.
Yea, it’s a long story that society slams into one righteous move of the gavel. And you would have to actually care about me to understand.
Instead of any help and support dealing with the challenges I faced, I got a lifelong label as ‘criminal’ and more obstacles to overcome. I was already tired and the fight just got harder.
But to those reading this story right now, know that I’m not giving up. I now have two beautiful daughters, London and Anina, and a handsome, one-year-old baby boy named Nasir, which means “helper” or “one who gives victory.” So everything that I do from this point on is for my kids and for my family, so they will never go through what I went through. Regardless of what challenges they face in life, and all that is broken in the school system, the criminal legal system, and society, I’m always going to be here for them, whether physically or spiritually, I’m always going to be here.
Brandon Wainright (aka Dub) is a Motus Theater JustUs Monologist. He studied communications for electronic media at Winston Salem State University (WSSU) — a historically black college in North Carolina. His education in radio has allowed him to be a part of so many different cultures in America that it inspired him, after 10 years, to give back to the community in which he grew up. He is a son to a mother, a brother to a brother, and a father to a daughter. He is intent on supporting his community to speak up and challenge the status quo. Brandon hopes his work with Motus will provide him a platform to inspire those just like him to finish what they start.
COMING 2022: This monologue will be featured in season two of our Motus Monologues and Shoebox Stories podcasts. Listen to Season 1: UndocuAmerica by following the links below.
You can listen to more autobiographical monologues like this on the Motus Monologues podcast, here.
Or, hear prominent Americans step into the shoes of our undocumented neighbors, on the Shoebox Stories podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Brandon Wainright in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s JustUs Project: Stories From the Frontlines of the Criminal Justice System.