Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.

by Danielle S. Allen

Hardcover, 2017





Liveright, (2017)


Publisher Annotation: Michael Alexander Allen, baby cousin of an extended family, was first arrested at fifteen for an attempted carjacking. Tried as an adult and sentenced to thirteen years, Michael served eleven. Three years after his release, he was shot and killed. Why? Why did this gifted young man, who dreamed of being a firefighter and a writer, end up dead? Why did he languish in prison? And why at fifteen was he in an alley in South Central LA, holding a gun while trying to steal someone?s car? (3zsCuz(3y smeans both (3zscousin(3y sand (3zsbecause.(3y sDanielle Allen grew up with Michael and, in 2006 when Michael got out of prison, was cousin-on-duty, shouldering the responsibility to support his fresh start while juggling the demands of her own promising academic career. In this Ellisonian story of a young African American man?s coming-of-age in late twentieth-century America, and of the family who will always love Michael, we learn how we lost a generation. 256pp., 35K… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member froxgirl
This is a stunning personal saga of a life gone wrong. The author's cousin Michael, despite trying mightily, is unable to wrest himself from domestic and street violence, despite loving help and care from the author and his family. One of the most remarkable chapters is Michael's written description of his brief time as an inmate firefighter, working on California wildfires, where he truly finds his purpose. In this dual work of biography and sociology, Ms. Allen provides what is, for this reader, a brand new description of gang and drug dealing life in LA, which she defines as the "parastate", where the public's demand for narcotic escape and the white power structure's fear of men of color merge to create the over-incarceration for non-violent crimes that persists and ruins communities to this day. She also explores the shameful conduct of prosecutors who only want easy, plea-bargaining cases to try, resulting in police efforts in solving difficult murders reduced.

Michael's mother, who tried to stabilize her family via marriage and transplantation across country for work, ends up getting caught up in the maelstrom. This is both a personal and political recounting, a must read for anyone who supports Black Lives Matter, and even more critical for those who are on the fence.

Quotes: "Here is one of the differences between my hell in prison and Dante's Inferno. The souls in the Inferno are called by name."

"Deterrence dehumanizes. It directs at the individual the full hate that society understandably bears towards an aggregate phenomenon."

"Once gangs turn predatory, they often prey on their own communities. Like taxing authorities, they come to see their communities as a source of extractable revenue."

"There were few rewards for virtue when it briefly flashed in his unforgiving world."
… (more)


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