I just finished reading Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Life in LA by Luis Rodriguez. It is a memoir that Rodriguez started when he was 16 and is about his life growing up as a member in one of the most vicious gangs in LA. It is a window into a life that I am very glad that I never had to experience. His feelings of neglect, isolation and rejection come tearing off the pages as his life spirals downward and he decides to leave school to join a gang full time.
His battles with drugs, alcohol, inhalants, violence, abusive police, racism, rival gangs and most of all, his family, are constant reminders about the life Rodriguez once lived and eventually escaped.
At first, his decision to join a gang baffled me. It is evident from the beginning of the book that Rodriguez is smart kid. It is also clear that he wants to be successful and will work hard to improve his chances at success, but for a long time, he does not. He falls into gangs, drugs, crime and depression.
Its scary to think how easy it was for someone as brilliant and talented as Rodriguez to succumb to the gang lifestyle, even when he was smarter than most of his peers. He was talented enough to do well in school, but did not. What does this example say about kids with lower intelligence or talent levels from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds? If the smartest kid falls into gangs, the outlook must be even more dismal for the other, less talented kids.
Rodriguez’s thesis is that all kids, even smart kids, who feel isolated will try to carve out an existence for themselves. In many cases in poor communities, the only niche available is gang life. Rodriguez argues that the solution is creating opportunities and bringing disadvantaged kids in from isolation. After reading the book, I think that I gained a new perspective on how many people in this country continue to feel on a daily basis.
I would highly recommend reading Always Running.