By Peter Rubinstein
The first time he was shot, he didn’t feel it until he noticed his ankle dragging behind him as he ran down the street. Pariss Goins was sitting inside with a girlfriend when the bullet came through the window and pierced his foot before ricocheting off the wall into his girlfriend’s head. But the next three times he was shot since that day were different, he said. They burned like fire.
Goins has remained at the front lines of Chicago’s deadly gun violence epidemic for more than 20 years. His perspective on the issue comes from a lifetime of experience in the city’s complex gang culture. Only recently has 41-year-old “P-Lord,” as he’s known on the streets, found guidance towards a life and opportunities on the other side of the game.
Goins was raised by his grandparents in the near North Side Cabrini-Green projects, where he had everything he could ever want, he said. If his own unit was locked, or if he needed food or a place to sleep, Goins said he could knock on any of his neighbors’ doors and be provided for. He and his friends had money, girls and a community supporting them, he said.
“When they tore down those buildings, to them they were just tearing down bricks. But they was tearing people’s lives down, they history,” he said. “They split families apart.”
The impact of Cabrini-Green’s demolition in the late ‘90s on Goins was mirrored by the forced migration of several gang chiefs from local penitentiaries to out-of-state Supermax prisons.
Before their expulsion, Goins said, the gangs in Chicago lived by codes of honor and structure enforced by the leaders who ran the operations from within nearby jails. Today, “no mobs in Chicago have structure anymore,” he said.
Instead of an organized system, Goins said the gangs have splintered into independent, hostile groups that draw more inspiration from rap videos than veterans of the game. Drive-by shootings and the murder of innocent bystanders are now the norm, he said.
Goins himself became a victim of the new wave of gun violence stemming from today’s gangs at 25 when he was shot for the second time. He was hit in the side from a moving vehicle in a drive-by while walking on the corner of California and Jackson on the West Side of Chicago, he said.
“He shot me right in front of the police,” he said. ““That’s the way of life for us, to tote guns.”
The nearby officers chased after the vehicle, Goins remembered, leaving other bystanders on the street to tend to his wounds and call an ambulance.
Goins took his third bullet to the arm at 27 after he was robbed during a drug sale, he said. But none of his previous scars remained more visible than the final time he was shot four years later.
Goins was mistaken for his brother, and was shot above his right hip from someone inside a car, he said. The .40 caliber bullet lodged just under his skin, he said, and he could feel it cooling off from the blast. 10 years later, and Goins said the bullet still gives him pain.
”When it’s summer, when it rains and the moisture gets in the air, it aches,” he said. “All my wounds do. It hurts like hell.”
Despite racking up substantial hospital bills from his operations and rehabilitation, Goins said he never cared to pay them.
As Goins waits to return to prison for the third time for a drug distribution charge, he said, his hope for the future of gun violence in Chicago remains dim. Until the city’s splintering gangs establish peace and order between them, the death tolls will continue to rise, he said.
“It’s going to stay the same until someone in one of these mobs get together with someone in another mob, and they sit down and put some structure in these shorties,” he said.
Even in the wake of rampant shootings and the unwelcome transformation of his community, however, Goins has found strength among his family and local activists to push onwards. The bullet in his side rests as a physical reminder of his past, one that will stay with him as he continues to educate young people around the city of a way of life he has been able to survive, he said.
“God got me here for a purpose,” Goins said. “I just got to find out what that purpose is. I haven’t found out yet.”
This video contains explicit language.