BH: One of the great things in the movie that I think is very powerful is when Luis is holding that little baby; you’re smiling as broad as the day and that’s a really great shot. Was it a problem that most of these kids were black and you guys are Hispanic? Like, who are these guys? Was that an issue?
AL: It’s never been an issue. To me, when I first went, of course I had that in there. I was telling myself, “What am I doing; what am I getting into, man?”
It’s Alabama. And in our culture and where we come from, the streets and all of that — you’re already created a certain way. So of course you’re created to be a racist.
You’re created to be all of these things. And that’s the way you grow up to be, of course. But at the same time, we know that was a false belief and it’s misguidance, so you’re being misled, in other words. So, as for me coming into an African-American community, I didn’t know what to expect, to tell you the truth. At the time, I’m glad I really had a relationship with God. I left it in His hands, that I was seeking His guidance and His power in me, to lead me to do the work He wanted me to do for Him.
BH: It’s funny, when you say that, it kind of reminds me that maybe you’re talking about, when you were younger Fr. Greg was in your life — you were still in gangs and in that life — but maybe you’re the Fr. Greg to Anthony.
AL: [Laughs.] I don’t know about that… I’d say the one who is really Fr. Greg to Anthony is John. He’s the one that’s there, committed; dedicated all his life to these kids, to that community, to Anthony. He’s the one who’s there, walking with them through their hardest times. He’s the one who’s seen these kids go through the different stages of their life and the roughness and everything. For me, I’m hoping I’m able to be more like a big brother and I’m able to touch his life as a big brother and to show him the love that Fr. G has shown to me.
BH: That reminds me of what Luis was saying, how Fr. G. doesn’t give up. [Laughs.] I mean, my point is, it sounds like, to me, what I see you guys saying is, “We don’t give up on you. Because you might give up on yourself, but we’re going to be here to keep telling you not to.”
AL: Exactly; you’re going to give up on yourself before we do. In reality, I want to have a heart like Fr. G; I want to have a heart like John, and Delores, his wife. And I heard Hebrews 13:5 say something like, “God will never give up on you.” I might, but —
BH: That’s a great point.
AL: That’s a beautiful point because, in reality, we still have our own issues we have to deal with.
BH: Sure; you’ve got a wife and kids and all —
AL: That, but on top of that, the shit that was exposed to us.
AL: I mean, we still have to deal with that… some of the things we’ve seen and done; that’s probably something we’re going to carry with us for the rest of our lives.
BH: Is treatment available? Help and therapy and things like that?
AL: Yes, I’m in therapy right now. I’m doing all that. [Laughs.] I don’t think I would’ve talked about my stuff when I was younger. You don’t show weakness; you don’t say shit; you don’t talk about anything. You don’t snitch. All of that plays a part; it plays a big role in our culture. So for me to come back and start talking about my stuff, I’m really doing some deep — it’s really, even some stuff, just thinking about it I started breaking down and weeping like a little kid.
There was this one time when I couldn’t even talk anymore; we had to call it off. There was another time, I went back to my Mom and tears just started falling from my eyes. A lot of the stuff she exposed me to and a lot of stuff I had done to her as a child, and stuff she had done to me as a child. This was stuff I had never talked about it my life. But I know now that — and this is where we use our experience, with the kids in Alabama, with the kids in Homeboys — it’s okay to talk about your stuff. You can’t hold it in. It’s not weak; you need to. It’s only going to get you to the next level; it’s only going to make you not do the things that you don’t want to do, whether it’s steal or rob or do drugs. It just becomes poison to you, venom. This is what we tell them. And for us, Fr. G knew already, he knew all along everything like tattoo removal and family therapy and all of the classes we have, AA, the 12-step classes, the NA classes, the anger management classes, the domestic violence classes; you have all these resources in one place. And it’s all connected to the lifestyle that we’ve led.
BH: It’s interesting that we grew up as men thinking that as men you don’t show emotions, you don’t share your feelings — you said”I love you” to this kid; to one of your brothers. It’s sad that as men we are taught that that’s weak; it’s hard to get people to see past that.
AL: It is. I want to tell you this story, but don’t take offense to it. A friend I grew up with in the hood, he was trying his best to get out, but I remember we were driving to get something to eat once, and I had my girl in front sitting beside me, and my girl called up my daughter. Both my son and my daughter wanted to talk to me. She passed the phone to me but I was driving so I had to watch out… I was blowing kisses to them, telling them that I love them… and I’m telling them to blow me kisses and that I can’t wait to see them. When I hung up, he (my friend) got all serious with a depressed look on his face. Something had happened. I turned around and asked him if everything was alright; he had a tear coming down his face and he said, “Man, what you just did to your kid — I’ve always wanted that in my life.” I tried to get him to talk about it, and he said, “I tried doing that with my Dad.” And I tried doing that with my Dad. Just last Christmas, I bought him this bomb-ass present and I knew he would love it. I went up to him, giving him my present and I’m hugging him and I’m about to tell him, “Dad, I love you.” I was about to give him a kiss on the cheek, but when I went to kiss him, he pushed me hard. and I rolled on the floor.
BH: Wow. That hard?
AL: Yeah, and he said, “What the heck are you doing? He was already crying. He said, “Did you turn on me?”
BH: “Turn on me?”
AL: Yeah, like —
BH: Oh, like become gay or something?
BH: To kiss your father? That is so messed up!
AL: It is.
BH: God, it says a lot though, right?
AL: He’s telling me this, and he’s crying at the time, and I thought, “Man.”
BH: He’s got a lot of work.
AL: And he said, “You know what, I never had a dad either.” But you know what? I don’t have to let that consume me. It doesn’t have to be that way with my own kids.
BH: And it sounds like you’re not.
AL: Do you have kids too, Luis?
LC: Yes, I have three kids in high school.
BH: How’s it going with your kids? Are you still pretty close to them?
LC: I pay child support, so hopefully, God willing, I’ll get visitation rights. I don’t want to just fight with my ex-wife. I’d rather see them when it’s my time to see them; I don’t want to fuss and fight about anything, but I deserve to have a relationship with my kids. Hopefully after leaving here, New York, I talked to Fr. Greg and I’ll be hopefully starting the process of getting visitation rights with a lawyer. I’m 35 right now, and there were times (maybe recently, maybe nine months ago) when I started to see my dad. But he’s doing heroin, and I just couldn’t — and then the resentment, like, “Why wasn’t he there when I was young?” — and he was asking me for money, and I just started getting angry. So it’s better for me to stay away. Now if he were to get into a program and get sober, I’m sure we could work through this, but he’s got to do that with himself.”
BH: You mentioned God, Augustin. Is the notion of spirituality a big part of Homeboys and is it a part of what you’re doing here?
AL: For me, in my own experience, at first spirituality wasn’t that big a deal for me; I finally told myself in ’04, when I was back in the county jail, facing some time and I had a new case, when I told myself, “This is it; I’m done.”
I remember telling myself, “What am I doing, man? I started re-playing my life. I started just telling myself, “Man, who has really been here for me and why am I really wasting my life?” And I’d already had my kids, so I started thinking about my kids and I just started thinking, “Man, what am I doing to them? Here I am — I grew up with no father, and I’m doing the same thing to them.”
I remember talking to my 3-year-old daughter on the phone and it just blew me away. She said”Daddy, I miss you and I love you.” Especially when she said”I love you,” tears just started flowing down from my eyes. I knew what she was going through because that’s what I went through. My Dad did a lot of time and this was the same thing I was going through.
So this feeling just came inside me, and I promised her that time I would never do this to her again, no matter how much time I got, this was it. So my spirituality wasn’t big at the time; at the time it was more about what I was going through. But it was God working in me too. I didn’t know that at the time; now I know that. So the first person I called after that was Fr. Greg. I knew him in juvenile hall when I was fighting a big case when I was younger. So I met him, and even when I got out, I got to know him
and he was just there for me. I’d ask him to come see me on this day, and he’d come see me and pray with me; he’d do all that. The first time that he told me he loved me I was very uncomfortable because in my own head… he was showing me love; love that I had always craved. So here I am getting it from this white man, and I’m not even getting it from my own mom.
He wanted to hire me, but at the time I was very active still in my gang, so I always gave him that respect but this time I was ready. I called him and said, “Hey, Pops, I’m ready. This is it, man; I’m tired of this lifestyle right here.” And the first words he told me were, “Wow, my son, you just made my day.” He said, “I’m glad you called; I’ve been waiting for this call for a long time.” And he said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, son, but you’re going to have to do some time. What I want you to do is stay focused. I don’t know how much time you’ll get but I’m going to be praying for you.”
I was facing all this time and I was ready to take my deal and my lawyer came in and said, “They couldn’t find the proper paperwork so they’re offering you 16 months with half.” That works out to eight months time in prison. That had to come from somewhere else; of course God. I mean, stuff like that never really happens. [Laughs.] So when I got out, I went to Homeboys the next day. Fr. G didn’t hire me on the spot like he said, but he wanted to see how committed I really was. They gave me a gift card to buy some clothes and he just told me, “My son, I want you to keep calling me.” So I kept calling Fr. G for a month, and I was leaving him messages every day, and I remember this one message I left I said, “You know what, Pops? I’m really tired of being at home, I’m going really crazy here, and I’m tired of watching Days of Our Lives.” [Laughs.] I said, “You need to fire one of those fools and get me in there!” So, he called me back laughing and said, “You start July 11th.” So I’ve been there ever since.
BH: Luis, one of the most powerful things I got from the video was from the beginning where they quote you saying, “What you deposit into the life of the youth of today is what you’re going to withdraw out of it. Do they know how to make relationships? Do they know how to communicate? Do they know how to keep a friend? Or are they gonna hate and murder?” That really struck me as a spiritual statement. Can you talk a little about your experience that informed those words?
LC: You know, there are times when kids come up to me when I speak at high schools and junior high schools, there are young girls that come up to me and they start crying and say, “My Dad’s on drugs and I don’t know what to do,” or, “My brother’s on drugs and he just got a case,” and I tell them that the only thing that got me through… you know, God leads us to this point, we live through this life of turmoil and going to prison, this sick and demented lifestyle that gang violence brings, and crack/cocaine/heroin, we get to this point where we literally have to cry out to God, like, “God, this is not the life I was asked to come into; this is not the way life should be.” And you literally just start to pray. So I lay hands on these individuals and I will say, “Look, I will fail you, I’m only temporary, but I know that there is a God and He sent His son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for your sins and whenever you think that you’re in trouble or you just can’t go forward anymore, you just go to your prayer closet and you just start pleading the blood of Jesus Christ on you and you just ask, “God help me.” Tell Him to forgive you of any sins that you remember and to wash you with His blood and to change your ways and that you want a better way of life. And eventually you will orchestrate, in some way, somehow, your future. But He’s going to shape you and mold you also, to be a man of character, to be a man of order, a man of structure, a man of discipline, and it’s not easy. But eventually you will be his hands and you will be his eyes and you will be his feet for the next person that comes with no hope in his life. And it’s not literally like shoving Jesus Christ in peoples’ throats; eventually people will come to you. All you have to do is be an example. Walk it and not talk it.
BH: But isn’t the gang like a family on some level?
LC: Supposedly, but that’s all a lie. A member my own gang stabbed me in the chest because I got into a fight with one of my older homies from my gang, and because I got the best of him, he ended up stabbing me in my chest and almost punctured my lung. What kind of stuff is that? You’re willing to die for your gang and kill your enemies, and then something like this happens. It really got me confused. I would put a gun in my waist and I would go to do harm — literally — to my enemies, but when that happened — when I got stabbed — it really confused me and I became more of a drug addict. Most of the time I found myself doing drugs and then I became a dope fiend and then I just started robbing and stealing just to get by.