Last year, on March 21, 2016, 15-year-old Latee Smith was shot on the West Side of Chicago. He’d barely survived. But as soon as he got out of surgery, his mind kept racing around one theme: killing the person who nearly killed him.

The Washington Post documented Smith’s journey — from his hospital bed to a home in suburban Bellwood, where his family moved after a fire destroyed a Chicago home where they were living — in a comprehensive profile published Aug. 11.

“Now, in his bed, Latee could think of little else — ‘revenge, revenge, revenge.’ He would borrow a pistol, steal a car and go at night,” John Woodrow Cox writes. “He would find the rival gang member who’d shot him, poke the gun out of the window and, for the first time in his life, pull a trigger.”

Last year, there 73 juvenile homicides — the highest tally since 2001, according to Chicago Police Department data. Since 2000, there have been over 1,000 juvenile homicides in the city. 

The Post piece details what happens when a homicide is averted and the juvenile returns to the struggle of survival. As he tries removing himself from the streets where he nearly died, Smith encounters a whole village of people who open up a world of alternatives beyond the ones (“either dead or in jail”) that he was dealt.

Below, Cox describes Smith’s dilemma once he’s out of the hospital: 

“He knew no world but that one, with its tangle of gangs, entrenched culture of retaliation, and relentless cycle of carnage and incarceration that had left many children like him convinced they have no future, no way to escape.

“But on that final day in the hospital, Latee wondered if he was wrong. What if he could somehow defy that fate?

“‘I was going to end up in jail or end up dead,’ Latee decided, ‘so I had to do something.’

“And what he had to do was change everything: Who he spoke and listened to. Where he went and when. What he did before, during and after school and on the weekends. How he approached almost every decision of every day.”