American Hustle

Most nights during the early summer of 2011, Chukwuemeka Ene would slip out the back door of a bungalow in Jackson, Mississippi, and make his way to a nearby convenience store. He didn’t mind the Deep South’s steamy heat; it reminded him of the climate in his hometown of Enugu, Nigeria. Ene was seventeen years old, but at six feet three inches tall, he might easily have been mistaken for a man in his twenties. This was particularly true when his broad features took on a brooding expression — and in Jackson, he wasn’t smiling much. Back at the house, two younger Nigerian boys were waiting for him to return with the three loaves of white bread he ritually procured during these expeditions. The boys slept together on the floor of the living room, with one pillow shared among them. Formal meals were limited mostly to sporadic drive-throughs at fast-food restaurants.

That left Ene and his companions — lanky teenagers whom I’ll refer to by their nicknames, Max and Collins — perpetually hungry. They had arrived in the United States just a few weeks earlier, hoping to be groomed for college athletic scholarships, and their days were spent on intensive basketball drills and pickup games at the Jackson YMCA.