Free Study Guide for There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

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The first crisis for Pharoah in January 1988 is the death of his two goldfish. It is hard for him to deal with, but at least it is a tragedy he can handle himself. The next problem becomes the overcrowding in the apartment when LaShawn, the oldest sister, moves in along with her boyfriend, his brother, and their two children, Tyisha and Darrell, who becomes known as Baldheaded or Sir Baldheaded by Pharoah. LaJoe is concerned about whether LaShawn can care for her children, given that she smokes Karachi, a potent form of heroin, and takes amphetamines. The crowded apartment is hard on Pharoah, because he can’t concentrate on his schoolwork. Then, there is the cat and mouse game played by the CHA and the homeless people who take over some of the vacant apartments. This creates upheaval outside their apartment and adds to LaJoe’s pressure. She can’t sleep and has persistent colds and headaches. Her temper grows shorter and that affects Pharoah as well. Then, to add to the problems, Terence is arrested for armed robbery, and the Department of Public Aid threatens to cut off her benefits when it says it has evidence that her husband is staying with the family.

The problems with Terence stem from the fact that he grew up during a difficult time for LaJoe and Paul, her husband. Paul had backed out of his wedding to LaJoe and was blocked from seeing her after that by her mother. Nonetheless, they saw each other surreptitiously and eventually moved in together. Not long after, Terence arrived, and the dream began to fall apart. Paul had also fathered a child with another woman, and he was born within a few days of Terence. LaJoe found out when the two mothers were viewing their children in the hospital nursery, and the other woman said the father of hers was Paul Rivers. Add to that Paul’s heroin addiction. In spite of staying married to LaJoe for seventeen years, a rarity in that neighborhood, he couldn’t seem to overcome the drugs. LaJoe was torn - she wanted to kick him out, but she also wanted her children to have a father. So, Paul began to stay home infrequently, and when he was there, the tension was thick.

In the midst of all these problems, Terence only wanted to fit in and be accepted by his peers. He was somewhat of a mama’s boy, but when she gave birth to her youngest five children, LaJoe could no longer give him the same pampering she had before. He didn’t take the rejection well. In fact, when he was ten, he just left one day, and she couldn’t find him. He had become a “salesman” for Charles, a local drug dealer. Terence began earning as much as $200 a day, and Charles sort of adopted him, setting him up in his own room and giving him his own television. He also taught the boy to shoot a .45 revolver. Terence then dropped out of school in the seventh grade and was recorded as “lost.” By the time LaJoe learned where Terence had gone, she was no longer able to win him back. She even went to the police, but even when they brought him home, he only stayed for a few weeks and then left again. Paul even went after his son and challenged Charles face-to-face over the boy. Terence was so overwrought by the challenge between his father and Charles that he “lowed down” and stayed at home for the most part after that. However, he couldn’t be kept home all the time. Sometimes, he would just disappear. LaJoe and Paul lost him to the neighborhood.

Terence still kept track of his family, even once restoring $500 his mother had had stolen. The rest of the children loved him and missed him, and so his guilt sometimes drove Terence home for a few days. Eventually, he grew tired of belonging to Charles. This occurred when he stopped his mother as she went to the store on the bus. He asked her for money, but for the first time in his life, she told him no. That made him decide to come back home. However, returning home didn’t end his troubles. He continued to shoplift and break into video games with his friends. He briefly joined the Disciples, but turned his back on them when none came to visit him while he was in detention. He also became a father to a little boy nicknamed Snuggles. By the time he turned eighteen, he had been arrested 46 times.

For six months, from the summer of 1987 through January 1988, fifteen taverns reported robberies in the 19th Police District. The thieves concentrated on video poker games, which the police considered nuisance crimes when no one was hurt in the process. Two young black males came into Lawry’s Tavern on January 15. They planned to rob the video machines and brought a screwdriver to pry them open. When they saw three new customers, they thought they might be the police, and so stashed the screwdriver behind a radiator and then left. The police stopped them at the door, discovered a set of keys to other video machines, and recovered the screwdriver. One of the boys was Terence. This was a serious situation for Terence, because he was now an adult, and the penalty would be much stiffer. Two weeks later, four black males robbed Ann’s Longhorn Saloon, and one of them was identified as Terence. This bar had been burglarized five times on the last two years. When the boys tried to pretend they were just there to play video games, Ann knew what they were planning. She told them she had already called the police. By this time, they had managed to pry open the machine after cutting a padlock with bolt cutters. They loaded their pockets with around $200 in change and started for the door. When one of the patrons got up as if to stop them, one of the boys, Johnny Adams, pulled a knife to warn him off and nearly stabbed the man in the back. Three days later, after Ann Mitchell identified him from a Polaroid photo taken earlier, Terence was arrested again at home for armed robbery.


The author examines in this chapter Terence, Lafeyette and Pharoah’s older brother, as one of the problems which contributes to the overall tension of the house. His story, however personal to the other characters, is typical of a young black male in the inner city of Chicago. Young men like him grow up in an atmosphere of hopelessness where jobs are non-existent and easy money can be made through crime. He is a statistic, and yet he is also a lost human being who makes do on a daily basis and never looks to the future for anything. His potential is also lost - to himself and to everyone around him who may have benefited from what he has to offer his community.

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