Ex-L.A. gang members carry a message of hope to a small Alabama town
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: Just me growing up, I didn’t have a relationship with a dad, and my mother always worked 9-5. I was the middle child and I was always being left alone by myself. I never really made relationships. You could say I’ve been shaped and molded into the person I am today …in a sense where… sometimes I don’t like to talk. Sometimes I don’t like to make relationships with people. I put up a wall because I’ve been hurt in my past so I won’t allow people to hurt me. So basically for me it’s like…today I can say I have a voice and in my past, it was like, if when I was a victim of child abuse I didn’t know when to call 911; that kind of damaged me in some ways. In some ways it made me bitter; in some ways it made me ungrateful. It made me very hateful towards family members or also even to God, because I lived this life. But I have to accept it and embrace it today; that that’s what happened and I have to learn from it. So the best way that I can deal with it is to give it back to the youth. So that they do have a voice today. That if they’re being molested, if they’re being abused, then they can pick up the phone and speak to somebody: a police officer, a schoolteacher. Because there were times growing up where I couldn’t even make relationships with my own friends because of what I experienced in my own life. But in some ways I thank God that I went through it; I’m alive today, and I can give back through my yesterdays, through my sufferings, through my incarceration, through being homeless a large period of time in my life. Just being disowned by your mother; the feeling of rejection from your own mother, it does something to you. It literally does something to you.
Sometimes I don’t feel like talking; sometimes I’m not comfortable in my own skin. But what Homeboy Industries has provided for me is — you know, I can speak to a therapist instead of going the easy way out and going back to prison or using drugs. We have a 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous; it shows us that we have a disease.
Luis Colocio:There were times growing up where I couldn’t even make relationships with my own friends because of what I experienced in my own life. But in some ways I thank God that I went through it; I’m alive today, and I can give back through my yesterdays, through my sufferings, through my incarceration, through being homeless a large period of time in my life.
So, I see this youth of today, and if we don’t communicate with them and if we don’t express ourselves to them and in every way show them that there is love… and it’s just experiencing playing basketball with them, experiencing arts and crafts with them, and taking the time to just be there. The hurt and pain and things we saw in our life — it doesn’t have to be that way for them. I know for me, I always was home by myself, or if my Mom took me to someone else to take care of me, they left me in a room and I remember these cold rooms and the people would be outside drinking alcohol or abusing drugs. But nobody ever came to me or communicated with me or embraced me, or comforted me. At Homeboy Industries, we try to do for our co-workers and also we go and speak to junior high schools and high schools, to let them know that they do have a voice today. We let them know that there are good people out there and I think the most important thing is praying for them.
I was an everything addict; I did heroin, I did everything. I didn’t care. I was under the influence of substances that controlled me, that filled this void of loneliness, of betrayal, of abandonment. And I still have these character defects, I still have these issues — but I know that I can overcome them as long as I don’t pick up and use, as long as I wake up every day and acknowledge that I am nothing without God. I have to have this relationship with God and just be grateful today with the little I do have. Thank God I’m not where I used to be; maybe I’m not where I should be, but I’m here today and I’m sober 2 1/2 years. You know at the age of 14 years old I was selling crack cocaine. In the projects of East L.A., crack cocaine became an epidemic in 1984 and 85, and that was the thing to do and it just turned my life around. But see that — cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, heroin, methamphetamines — that comforted me. That encouraged me in a way that I could go on. But once those drugs came out of my system, I had to go and rob and steal and do what I had to do to stay under the influence of that drug that comforted me, that made me feel good — which I couldn’t get from my mother, my own brother, and in my own gang.
BH: What happened to help you get sober?
LC: I was going back to prison and then I saw Fr. Greg Boyle on the news going back to the county jail, and I thought, “Man, this man doesn’t give up.” I used to see him as a youngster; he was carrying the cross in the projects in East L.A., with all the mothers against police brutality against their sons. And so when I was locked up, going through all that stuff as a youngster, and then at the age of 32 at that time, going back to prison, I thought, “Fr. Greg, man, he’s still really making an impact in the community, he’s still really affecting the lives of the gang members, because I saw one individual that works in a bakery and I knew him all my life, and how he prospered and was able to give back to his wife and kids financially. Because when you’re a felon, no one will hire you. Fr. Greg gives you that opportunity.
BH: What do you hope people will see and learn from this when it gets to a broad audience, and what can people do to help?
AL: There’s a message I want to put out there. First of all, when you look at this video, it’s showing you that anything is possible. Here we are, two gang members from LA, who are going to Prichard, Alabama, and making a difference with these kids and being able to touch these kids in ways that even their own parents aren’t able to.
Here’s this couple who — John Eads, a Caucasian, and his wife Dolores, who is Mexican. John was a CEO of a top hospital, getting paid good money. In reality, we have no business over there, and he has no business over there. But my message is when you do God’s work, anything’s possible. And there’s nothing worth the feeling you get inside when you do that work. And even if you don’t want to do work like that, there’s ways you could help out, because it takes funding, of course, or even taking the kids places or buying them food to keep the ministry going, Homeboy Industries; it takes funding. One way or another, try to find a way to support God’s work.
Luis Colocio: If I can save somebody’s life though the suffering and the turmoil that I’ve gone through, and literally tell them the uncut story, I believe that here at Homeboy Industries, that we’ve done our job.
LC: I’ve got homies who are still active gang members and I tell them that they’re in my prayers, and I’m sure that they’re grateful. Even though they can’t or they won’t pray to God, they can see me, and they’ve seen me in my worst, and they see me today and I’m blessed. I’m drug free. I’m grateful to Fr. Greg Boyle, because without Fr. Greg Boyle I wouldn’t be here in New York today, I wouldn’t be in Alabama. When I go speak to these kids and I tell them the seriousness of going to drug houses and seeing men having sex with young girls and the perversion of it — I tell the youth of today what really happens, but I don’t tell them stories; I tell them what I’ve been through or what I’ve seen with my own eyes: the evil and corruption, the sick-minded people that are out there in these drug houses. And I was one of them. And I let them know that I lived this life for you, and you don’t have to live it, and if you do, this is what you’re going to get out of it. And when I tell them the raw and uncut version of what I’ve lived through and what I’ve seen — literally, men being tortured in front of me in different dope houses — and I had to act like it didn’t phase me, but I know it did. But this was the life that I wanted. Who knows, maybe someday somebody’s not going to like what I say. But if I can save somebody’s life though the suffering and the turmoil that I’ve gone through, and literally tell them the uncut story, I believe that here at Homeboy Industries, that we’ve done our job. This is serious; I have a young 15-year-old daughter, God forbid she gets on drugs or a man manipulates her or deceives her. I have two sons, and I think about these things. So I go to God and I ask Him to protect them, but I have to realize that they have their own free will, you know? I’m also doing this for me, because when I speak, it’s like therapy for me, when I speak to junior high and high schools. But I’m also speaking for some parents who don’t tell their kids the real deal of what happens out there in real life at 2 or 3 in the morning, or at 12 p.m. in broad daylight — this is all around the clock, seven days a week, 24-7, the dope game, the gang violence. And it leaves you in a wheelchair, tortured, murdered, raped or in a penitentiary for the rest of your life. And I see a lot of youngsters getting the short end of the stick. They’re in for a murder, and back in the 80’s or late 70s, they could fight it down to manslaughter and get it down to seven or nine years; now they’re getting 25 to life. And what they say in the rap music — it’s all untrue. It’s all a dead end. Some of these youngsters never experience life or the love of a woman; that’s no kind of a life. So what Homeboy Industries gives us is life so that we can give it back, out there on the streets.
Originally published September 30, 2010.
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