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Inner City Survivor: Catherine Jane K. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I interviewed
my mother, Catherine. She never talked about her childhood, but I knew that she grew up in a bad
section of Cleveland, Ohio. I was surprised how much I learned about my mother from
this interview.

Your childhood was very different
from your life today. Where did you spend your childhood, and would you describe it
as typical?

I was born in 1954. I spent the first 17 years of my life
in a one-bedroom apartment on the east side of Cleveland. I lived with my father, my mother, and my
baby sister Janet. My grandparents lived in the apartment on the floor below us and were a big part
of my life. It was not what you would want your childhood to be, and the worst part was

How would you describe your

I loved elementary school. It was designed for children
with high I. Q. 's. We sat at tables, rather than desks; we took notes, played with telescopes and
read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I loved it! I loved writing to NASA about Telestar. We
studied French, learned how to play musical instruments, listened to classical music, and learned
to dance minuets.


After sixth grade, I went to one of the only junior high and
high school combinations in the country. I used to love writing and science, and I hated math. It
was a normal high school experience, but then things started to

How did things

Well, the school always had African-American students, but
then some moved in who felt things should be different. Suddenly walking home from school was not
safe any more. I would walk home with my best friend, Suzy, and we'd have snowballs filled with
glass thrown at us because we were white. We would run into people's houses we didn't even know
just to get away. One day when we were running into a house, Suzy made it, but the fence stopped
me. About 15boys jumped me and started beating me with a steel bar. They punched me, ripped my
clothes, stole my underwear. Finally I got up and got away, but they followed me home, smacking me
and calling me "white b****. " They told me to leave the area because this was
their neighborhood now. I found myself living in Cleveland's ghetto all of a

Why didn't you call
the police?

My mother told me that the Christian thing to do was to
forgive and forget while turning the other cheek. She said that if I had a problem I should tell our
minister and discuss it with him. I was devastated.

What was
school like?

To give you an idea, we had bathroom ladies because so
many people were knifed in the bathroom. The doors were locked at all times, and we had armed
policemen patrolling the halls making sure order was maintained. No one was allowed in the halls
while class was in session. The knives in the cafeteria were removed because they were used
as weapons. Cherry bombs and switchblades were confiscated daily, and we had ID cards to get into

What happened at your high school that made it so

We constantly had riots between the blacks and the whites, who
were mostly Italian. Imagine a mosh-pit from hell, then multiply that by infinity - that is how
scary it was. During the riots kids would put cherry bombs inside trash cans that would explode and
hurt everyone around. The one-on-one fights were so awful some people lost ears!

Our school was so bad that the Cleveland Sixth Precinct moved down the street
so they could get there faster. There was even a button in every classroom that notified, not the
office, but the police! The riots, fights and overall behavior were so bad that the school had to
permanently close the cafeteria. When the riots got out of hand, the blacks called
"Puff, " a ghetto gangster; the Italians called Murray Hill and the Youngstown
Mafia, and the police would call the National Guard. The National Guard would come with these paddy
wagons and throw everyone in sight inside.

My worst memory is from my sophomore
year at our last football game. I played the clarinet in the marching band, and we lost the game so
the East Cleveland fans started shaking the band's bus with us in it. There was a mob out there, and
I still remember our director telling us to put on our hats incase the bus flipped. I was so
scared. After that game, we had closed football games where only the teams were allowed to be

Why didn't you move?

mother said we should all learn to live together in harmony. Out of chaos comes order. Plus, we had
no money.

What did you do to keep

Since my mom and dad worked all day, my parents could
not protect Janet and me. So my dad made some friends who could. Every day for three years, men in
motorcycles who never said a word to us would follow us home. I had absolutely no idea who these
men were, but they followed us at the same speed and distance every day. They did protect us
because I was never bothered again. I later found out that these men were the Hells

How did your dad become friends with the Hells

Well, my dad was a Mason, and one of the codes of the
fraternity is to help others when they are in need. One day while walking my grandmother's poodle,
my dad saw a Volkswagen bus stuck in the snow. He took her dog inside and returned with a bunch of
shovels. Dad and the men cleared the snow away from the bus and they thanked him. I remember asking
my dad who the men were, and he replied, "The Hell's Angels. "The next day when
Dad went for a walk, he saw one of the men he'd helped standing at the corner with his German
Shepherd. Every night they walked their dogs and talked. Dad must have mentioned how bad school
was, and the next day three motorcycles followed me home. Dad walked with him every night until the
guy was arrested for murder.

When did you finally

When I visited Suzy's sister in the Kitty Cat Café
and my mom found out I was there, she decided then and there that we were moving. Apparently Suzy's
sister had become a prostitute. I can understand why Mom did not want me there. Even though I moved
junior year, I graduated from that school. My dad would drop me off early in the morning, and the
janitors would leave the coal room door open for me. I would sit in the auditorium until school
began. I even went to my senior prom with a policeman to protect me. That policeman is now my

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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bhairavi said...
Jan. 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm:
This was a very nice interview! The thoughts, emotions, and questions posed are very nicely done! It was a good read..
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