“Give me a half pint of Kamchatka.”
Those words would haunt Deon Price for years. When he was 7, walking to the store with his mother was a treat. Once there, she’d buy him Now & Laters or some other candy. But his joy would drain away when she’d ask for a bottle of liquor.
Under the influence, Deon’s pretty, warm, charismatic mother would morph into Ms. Hyde.
Youth life skills coach and Daily Republic columnist Deon Price has written a book, “Raised in Hell: A Nonfiction Family Dramedy” (iUniverse.com 290 pg, $19.99, ebook $3.99) The book is a memoir that reveals how Price developed his passion to improve the lives of children as his life’s work.
Born the youngest of nine children being raised on public assistance by an alcoholic single mother in South Central Los Angeles, Deon Price details a life of despair and deprivation. He tells the story of having to go to three different neighbors to acquire the ingredients to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He and his siblings lived in a home with little food, the power often out, with gunshots outside and police helicopters above.
And just when you think you know the parameters of the story, Price swerves and describes how his life intersected such 1970s horror stories as the Symbionese Liberation Army and Jim Jones and the People’s Temple.
He was at ground zero when the crack cocaine epidemic hit with its accompanying gang violence.
In a particular heartrending scene, little Deon meets his absentee father for the first time when his father randomly shows up at a family function and takes him over to his house. Once there, Deon overhears his father’s live-in girlfriend ask, “Who is that little boy?” only to hear his father reply, “I’m not sure. I actually found him on the street by himself.” Its one thing to be abandoned by one’s father, but to finally meet him and hear him deny his son must’ve lacerated Deon’s soul.
And when his mother is jailed after committing a shocking act of violence in a drunken rage, the children are sent to foster homes.
Amid the dire straits of his upbringing, Price writes that playing basketball was a bright spot and turning point. It gave him confidence. Making it onto a team, his coaches instilled discipline, teamwork and taught him how to carry himself as a representative of the team and his neighborhood. It’s the same thing Deon Price does now with young people.
Authors will send me their books to review and most of the time I pass because I don’t relate or they’re not very good. Even the first version of “Raised in Hell” was grammatically suspect, the hallmark of self-publishing (which I know well). Price re-edited the book and it’s much better. But the content was never in doubt. I was engaged from the start.
The book reminds me of Nathan McCall’s “Makes Me Wanna Holler,” another engaging book depicting the struggles of a young African-American growing up in suspect conditions.
“Raised in Hell” is funny, chilling, heartbreaking and uplifting. It’s a book that not only should teens and parents read but teachers, counselors and law enforcement, too.
With what Fairfield faces in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods and shocking violence, this book arrives at the right moment. You might’ve been raised in hell but you don’t have to become a hellraiser. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at [email protected]