My students will kill for any detail from my life. Lincoln Ramirez cares more than most.

He always to know if I have a man. He wants to know where I live. He wants to know who I went to the Junior Prom with. He wants to know if I get drunk on the weekends with my friends.

            “No. Do your work.”

            “Yeah right. Why you lying to me?”

            “I’m not lying to you. Do your work.”

            “Why not? It’s cool Ms. Smylie.”

Lincoln Ramirez is charisma. He’s good looking, he’s witty, he knows that if he puts his arm around you you’ll end up telling him he can turn it in tomorrow. He spends time in the principal’s office for making his class laugh and passes his class because he sits next to kids like Michelle and Joel and convinces them to help him.

            “Because it’s against my religion.”

            “What’s you religion. You a Jew?”

            “I’m a Mormon.”

            “Mormon? Mormon!?! What the hell is that? It sounds like a curse word from Harry Potter.” At this point, he’s laughing. “Yo, Michelle, Ms. Smylie’s a Mormon. Don’t that sound like a curse word from Harry Potter?”

Of course I’m laughing but still feel duty-bound to foster an attitude of tolerance. Maybe?

            “Lincoln—you can’t say that about a person’s religion.”

He concedes. Cocks his head to one side, spreads his legs, hangs his arms, and tries not to laugh.

“All right. What’s Mormon?”

            I do my best. “It’s kind of like a Christian. It’s a type of Christianity.”

            The next day in class Veronica raises her hand to ask if I’m wearing make-up.


            “She can’t. It’s against her religion.”

            “Lincoln, it’s not against my religion.”

            “What’s your religion?” Pedro asks.

            “We’re not talking about it right now.” (In other words, I’ve lost control.)

            “Smylie’s a Mormon,” Lincoln says. And here we go:

            “What’s a Mormon?”

            “It’s a sect of Christianity.”

I’m trying to figure out how Lincoln Ramirez, who has been trying to read Down These Mean Streets for three months and can’t get past page 12 knows what the word ‘sect’ means.

             “It’s like a small group in a big group. Like you know how there are the Bloods, the big gang, and then the Piru, the small gang that’s still a part of the Bloods?”

I’m laughing again. Lincoln continues: “So the Christians are the Bloods and the Mormons are the Piru.”

As simple as that, Lincoln has enlightened the class on the similarities between the Mormons and the Piru. For those of you who still aren’t sure, Piru is a gang, based in LA. Their name? Actually an acronym: Pimps in Red Uniforms.

Of course, I’m trying to get the kids to focus again, but it’s a lost cause for about the tenth time this week. Because in the corner, Lincoln and Karen are holding up theirs hands in the shape of an inverted W.

“Mormuuuuuuuuns,” they call out. “West side Mormuuuuuuns.”