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Violence, drugs, love and redemption in the LA gang life

Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love And Redemption by Jorja Leap
Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love And Redemption by Jorja Leap

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Gang expert and UCLA Social Welfare Professor Jorja Leap has transformed hours of orals histories and interviews with gang members, interventionists, police officers, parents and victims into an ethnography of gang culture in Los Angeles.

The result is "Jumped In," her new book that traces three generations of gang members and offers one of the first genealogies if LA’s most powerful gangs families.

"The stories that I tell in the book are not brief stories, these are people that i've spent four or five or ten years with," said Leap during her interview with Larry Mantle on AirTalk.

In her book, Leap examines the major black and Latino gangs breaking down their Los Angeles territories street by street, revealing their stories, their traumas and the cyclical reality of being born into a life of violence, drugs and guns.

"African-American gangs ... are very fragmented and shift very rapidly," explained Leap. "Thats in contrast to the brown, or Mexican, gangs throughout the Los Angeles area. These are gangs that are more familial, loyal, multigenerational -- some of them have very long histories dating back into the 1940s. Then you have Central American gangs like MS-13 that also have to be differentiated. MS-13 is a clique that broke off from the 18th street gang."

Leap captures the desperate problems facing many of these gang members ranging from domestic violence to mental illness, drug addiction to PTSD. She especially reveals the lives of female gang members and how homegirls get initiated into gang through gang rape or other forced sexual rites. But the story is not without hope.

Throughout the book Leap tells of her encounters with Father Greg Boyle and his work to intervene in the lives of gang members through Homeboy Industries and his “Jobs, Not Jails” program. Reverend Mike Cummings, a former “original gangster” turned gang interventionist also figures into the narrative.

“Big Mike” is the founder of Project Fatherhood, a street peace ministry that focuses on the role of fatherhood for neighborhood kids whose dads are absent because of gang violence and crime.

Jumped In excerpt


Jorja Leap, Author of "Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption" (Beacon Press)

Wilfredo Lopez, Former gang member, now works in domestic violence prevention for gang members, restorative justice and he teaches a creative writing class