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Brian Havig

English 117




Humans are typically selfish and tribalistic. We can’t help it: it is simply the way we

have evolved as a species. That isn’t to say that we are always like this. We are an intelligent

species that has done something no other has done in the history of the planet. Some of us are

born into better situations than others. Richard is one example of this. He grew up in a poor part

of Oakland, exposed to a world that is foreign to many people. Despite all of this, Richard was

not a jaded criminal, but he was a product of the world around him. He made a horrible mistake,

one that he did not think would have the ramifications that it did. Humans are not inherently

good or evil, but instead a mix of both influenced by the people that are closest to them and the

environment that they inhabit.

While Richard’s high school wasn’t the worst in the city, it was not the best. Only “two

thirds of O High’s students made it”. (65) The other one third were victims of life in the city, or

individuals who gave up. Despite all the craziness of life, there are still those who rise above it

all and defy the odds. A persons environment poses a challenge to the direction of their life, but

there is a responsibility placed on every person, regardless of their upbringing. Rich or poor,

black or white, you are going to be faced with challenges that block your path and prevent you

from progressing, but what you do in the face of those challenges is up to you. Some challenges

will be harder than others: facing the murder of a close friend is much more difficult than being
unpopular at school. Given his harsh environment, Richard remains mostly intact, even though

facing difficult challenges.

Richard is described as “the funny one” and “the one who made people smile.” (82) The

desire to make people laugh stems from the desire to do good, to improve the lives of those

around you. By making those close to him laugh Richard attempted to do good through jokes

and harmless pranks. An evil person would not care about those around them, because an evil

person would be selfish. It could be argued that Richard was selfish and that by acting this way

he was attempting to improve his social standing, but this argument does not fit with the rest of

Richard’s personality.

Despite being the jokester, Richard wasn’t perfect. He struggled with school and had

multiple run ins with the law. He was sent away before returning to Oakland. You can see from

a distance that his environment was weighing down on him, effecting his mental state. It’s an

unfortunate truth of life that those with kind hearts will be exposed to horrors in the world. Each

person has their own struggles to overcome in life. How we react to these struggles is the

important factor. You can choose to give up when life has handed you a bad card, or you can

fight and overcome those situations. I believe that Richard was trying his hardest to overcome

his situation. He used humor to make those around him happier and in turn improved his life as

he experienced it.

Given the extra information provided by the book, I would have been more inclined to

treat Richard less harshly. We are given a close perspective that shows a struggling young man

who was pushed into a prank that went horribly wrong. The general populace and media did not

get this perspective. I remember seeing the “NO H8” movement years ago when this happened

and hearing about the event in passing. The movement was in response to a homophobic
individual who was to be tried with a hate crime. The book shows differently. It’s impossible to

know whether or not Richard is truly sorry for his actions, or if he is truly homophobic or not,

but given the background provided by the author it does not seem like it. Given that, his

sentencing is a difficult one. On one hand, he has priors and is only a year away from being an

adult, as well as admitting to being homophobic. On the other, he claims to not know what

homophobic means, and though he is nearly an adult (legally) is an eighteen year old truly an

adult? In the end I agree with the sentencing he was given. I feel like it was fair. The entire

situation was horrific and I wish it had never happened, but Richard made a stupid mistake and is

forced to live with the repercussions. The “prank” was horrible either way you look at it.

Richard should know better than to light a person’s skirt on fire. His friends pushed him to do it

and he should have said no, but he did it anyways and deserves his punishment.

Is Richard a good or evil person? Neither. I believe that Richard is simply a product of

his environment. He grew up in a bad part of Oakland, went to an average school and was

exposed to many horrible events in his childhood. There are those who despite all of this rise

above it all and escape, but I do not blame Richard for succumbing to his environment. He

shows through his letters to Sasha (if we assume that he is being honest) that he is truly sorry for

his actions and wishes that he could take back what he did. He is only human, and humans

themselves are merely animals, subject to selfish desires of survival and personal comfort.