Luis Rodriguez was two years old when his parents brought him from Mexico to the barrios of East L.A. By the age of seven he was a thief. By 11, a gang member. At 12, a drug dealer. When he was 18, he faced six years in prison for selling heroin, a fate he escaped. He’s been shot at and overdosed on drugs, been an addict and an alcoholic.
He turned his life around, and now teaches others to do the same.
He says kids join gangs because they feel powerless, rootless, helpless, hopeless and meaningless. To escape gang life, he says they first need to find their passion. For him, it was writing - for others it could be music, or auto mechanics.
Second, get help – no one can break free from gang life without help.
Find a cause bigger than yourself – family, community, church – something.
Find a spiritual path – Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, ancestor worship - it doesn’t matter what. To be healthy, Rodriguez believes people need spirit in their lives.
Finally, he said, learn to take responsibility for your actions.
And that was it. No push for more cops or taxes or government action. The causes of gang violence he saw as largely internal, and his strategies for escaping gang life came from within as well.
Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.