Author and former gang member Luis Rodriguez talked about his struggles to overcome heroin and alcohol addiction as well as his family struggles after abandoning the Las Lomas gang.
Rodriguez spoke in a packed Morgan Auditorium on Oct. 4 about his autobiography “It Calls You Back.”
The book was chosen for this year’s “One Book, One University” experience, for which the freshmen writing classes read a common book, that they can then discuss beyond the classroom setting.
“(The book) is about the struggles a man or woman has for the rest of their lives,” Rodriguez said. “The chain kept pulling me back.”
Rodriguez explained that it is hard for gang members to leave that lifestyle because the “madness” of it, keeps calling to them.
“Many gang members suffer from post dramatic stress disorder on the same levels as soldiers who arrive home from war,” Rodriguez said.
He described gang members as having this unexplained rage, which they only know how to manage through gang violence.
Rodriguez also shared his son’s experience who, like his dad, became a gang member and was sent to prison.
Rodriguez read a letter from his son Ramiro, which explained that, while in a gang, he was selfish and angry without knowing why.
“Any pain or anger should be used in a positive way and to do good,” Rodriguez said.
Freshman psychology major Diane Cabrera said she was captivated by Ramiro’s story, specifically when he fell victim to violence and landed in the hospital.
“No matter how many voices are telling you the right thing, you always listen to that one small voice telling you the bad thing,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera said she saw some parallels between her life and Rodriguez’s in “It Calls You Back.”
She said her cousin is a former gang member, and she has lived in Norwalk, San Bernardino and Fontana – all places depicted in Rodriguez’s book.
Rodriguez said that he is still trying to fix his relationships with his son and daughter that were damaged due to his addictions.
“(Rodriguez) helped Ramiro, and Ramiro helped him become a better father,” freshman psychology major Cynthia Granados said.
Rodriguez said that even though some children come from a tight-knit family, the community in which they live can pull them into gang life.
Regions like South Central Los Angeles have high murder rates of up to 70 murders per 100,000 people.
“La vida loca is a decision that is sometimes made for you,” Rodriguez said.
Art is what ultimately put Rodriguez on the right path.
After breaking into and tagging a youth center, a youth leader complimented his work instead of turning him in.
The youth leader later gave Rodriguez the opportunity to help draw murals in Los Angeles.
“I believe the arts are the single most important way to change lives and communities,” Rodriguez said.
Currently, Rodriguez visits juvenile halls, helps in youth groups and visits prisons to help gang members lead a better life.
“Luis Rodriguez makes the journey seem possible and not a fairytale,” said Jolivette Mecenas, assistant professor and writing program director.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.