Gangs Life and Life Only

LA Homeboys – Then & Now

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Last night I was going through scores of old snapshots
for possible use in a new edition of my gang book, G-Dog and the Homeboys. The photos were all taken around fifteen years ago during the time I was researching the book, and they brought back a torrent of memories. All of the young men and women were in their teens or early 20’s when the camera caught them. Now they’re in their 30’s. (If they’re alive, that is.) Some have since gone to prison. Yet a lot have managed to steer clear of danger and have made good lives for themselves.

Just for the heck of it, I figured I’d post a tiny sampling of the photos here, together with notes about what those photographed are doing now.

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Street name, Cartoon. Wild, funny, with a cyclone of a temper in his youth. Now he’s a working man and enthusiastic father who, last time I saw him, was horrified to find himself dealing with a dating daughter.

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Green, at the center, was at a young homeboy’s funeral in this photo. An unlikely gang leader who tested well into the gifted range before he dropped out of school, he was the king of fast and funny street patter. I always felt if Green could just make it to adulthood without something horrible happening, he’d be okay. And he is okay. Better than okay. Once he started working, there was no stopping him. He is now a husband, a dad—and an associate producer on a long-running, very popular network TV series, the name of which you would assuredly know. Eventually he wants to direct. (He’s also in the midst of writing his own feature script. Naturally. )

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As a teenager, Stranger got his eye shot out by an enemy homeboy. As a consequence, he was so cynical and angry back then I wouldn’t have bet on him changing. But now he’s the nicest of men—a working guy and soccer dad. When I saw him a year or so ago, he told me that he was even writing a little poetry.

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Kali, Moreno and Termite were three of a quartet of best friends. Here, they are sitting in front of the casket of the fourth friend. The dead boy, Edgar, was called Triste—Sad Boy. He was a sweet-faced kid whose eyes often did seem sad when his face was in repose. He had recently confessed to his girlfriend that he wanted to be a cop. There were bad months, way back then, when I wondered if Kali and Termite would live through the weekend, their actions were so personally reckless. But they did make it. Only Edgar did not.

I remember it rained the morning of the late Spring day Edgar was shot.
But then the sun came out, and walked to the little corner store to get ice cream. He was killed by boys he had known all his life. Edgar’s was the first death between two gangs that had traditionally been friendly. Now there have been more deaths between those gangs than I’d want to count.


Kali is married with three kids on whom he dotes.
He has great industrial job (something about gas storage) where he keeps getting promoted. Last year he was over-the-moon happy when he and his wife finally bought a house of their own.

Moreno is a working man
and a born again Christian. He is working on getting his own trucking business. He was married, but he and his wife have divorced.

Termite has lived in the US since he was three, but is not a citizen.
He has three kids, two step kids, a common law wife and two years ago, he and his brother started a sub-contracting company in another state that specialized in framing houses. He likes watching the history channel and Bill O’Reilly. He was deported this year, due to a felony conviction that occurred when he was 19. He is trying to start over in Mexico, and hopes that his family will be able to join him. Thus far, it’s been difficult.

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Once a gang shot caller (but more level-headed than most), Cezar—gang nickname “Piolin,” which translates, in all seriousness, as “Tweety Bird’— is married with kids, and has an excellent union construction job working for the city. He is studying (no kidding) to be an evangelical pastor.

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Titi was quite the hard-head back then, with a sometimes hair-trigger temper, and nerves of ice. Yet, he was a natural leader, and the type that, had circumstances been different, would have made a great military man. He struggled a lot when he got out of prison a few years ago. Much of it had to do with the fact that his baby brother was shot and killed while Titi was locked up, and he was beset by roiling emotions about it.
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Now here he is as one of the new Homeboy Industries bakers. (FYI: The Homeboy Bakery is having its grand opening next Tuesday.)

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The day this photo was taken, Grace and Danny AKA Stranger, had just baptized their daughter, Beatriz. (I drove Grace to the hospital to have the baby a month before her sixteenth birthday) Grace is now a successful production coordinator for the TV commercial industry. She was married, but has recently separated. Danny is serving life without possibility of parole for a murder he didn’t commit. Beatriz, who is also my god daughter, turns sixteen next month.

26 Comments

  • Celeste writes ….Danny is serving life without possibility of parole for a murder he didn’t commit.

    ******************************

    Have you ever met a cholo who said he committed the murder he is accused of? I still remember the family and friends of the kid charged with the Cheryl Green murder in Harbor Gateway, saying “the 204st kids aren’t that bad and not killers”, and a few days later Christopher Ash, (a possible snitch to the Cheryl Green murder) turns up dead with 80 stab wounds and his throat slit. Ah yes I’m so sure they are all innocent nice guys.

  • Celeste, you wrote, Danny is serving life without possibility of parole for a murder he didn’t commit. You did not write, Danny said he didn’t commit the murder. I wonder if there isn’t something left unsaid.

    Terrific post. Any way you look at it, these are not uncomplicated life trajectories. I look forward to your new book.

  • Thank goodness. When I saw the pictures, I thought this would be another installment of “American Voices” from people you met in conservative towns.

    It’s great to hear about gang members whose lives turned out okay. What made the difference for them that didn’t help those whose lives are still in turmoil?

  • Woody I’ll bet that a Jesuit Priest named Boyle might have had something to do with their lives. Just guessing.

  • rlc, I’m aware of Boyle’s influence, and I admire him for that. However, I suspect that there are plenty of kids whom he did try to help who didn’t turn out so well. Celeste could make this a post of hundreds of success cases if there were no failures.

    There is some difference, as I speculated, between those whom Celeste featured and those who dropped through the cracks. It’s nice to honor those who overcame their problems. It’s also nice to figure out what happened to those who did not, so that something else can be done for them or those like them.

    I wonder what is Boyle’s “success rate” and how that compares to those kids who did not have his influence or had different influences.

    In accounting, we learn to measure and analyze to determine what business strategies produce greater returns and which ones flop. A scorecard for social programs might do the same, and its results would give credit where due and would redirect activities towards those that work best and away from those that do not.

  • Great photos. It’s great to see how many of these men managed to turn things around. Certainly puts the lie to so many of the premises of our current criminal justice system. Now if we can only get them to never start joining gangs and causing trouble…

  • LA Res, it probably wasn’t fair for me to simply write “for a murder he didn’t commit” without further explanation.

    And you’re right about everyone being innocent in prison. I remember one time I was talking to an older homeboy with a fairly hard core background, and I brought up a mutual acquaintance who’d just been arrested on a drug charge. I said something to the effect of , “but he says this time he really was innocent of the charges.”

    The homeboy, whose name is Robert—street name, Creeper—smiled his wolfish smile and said in the smoothest possible, irony laced tones , “Celeste. Everybody is.”

    It’s always Robert’s voice that I hear in my head when I listen to someone telling me about how they really, really, really didn’t do it…..when I know they really, really, really did.

    But some cases are different. Danny’s is one of them. It’s a very long, very sad story that I’m going to write about in the future, but the short form is: I know for sure he didn’t do it, mainly because I know who did do it. (He’s serving Life Without too.) I also know who Danny was with at the time, and why he could have been nowhere near when it happened, and so on.

    Much of the problem was that Danny had a public defender who simply didn’t give a damn and believed him to be guilty and basically didn’t put on a case. But, again, it’s a long story.

    *********

    Woody, RLC’s right, all these guys had lives affected by Fr. Greg Boyle. On the other hand, you ask a reasonable question—since Fr. Greg touches a lot of lives, and not all of them end up well, not by a long shot.

    It’s too long to answer here, but I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing just such issues, looking at patterns of who makes it and who doesn’t—since I’ve known so many of these guys over a decade and a half or more, I’ve been able to draw certain conclusions. If I have time, I may post about a little of it tonight. (Today I have to run off and do an interview.)

  • Ooops. Woody, you and Mavis posted while I was writing mine.

    It’s tough to quantify the success rate with lives like these. But one can certainly analyze patterns of what works and what doesn’t.

    Thanks Mavis. And yeah. We need to intervene better and earlier.

  • In accounting, we learn to measure and analyze to determine what business strategies produce greater returns and which ones flop. A scorecard for social programs might do the same, and its results would give credit where due and would redirect activities towards those that work best and away from those that do not.


    That sounds like a gr3at idea, Im’a gonna tri that in Irak.

  • Getting off the subject, I just want to congraduate all the people of Big Bad Ass SOuthEast Lynwood. Yesterday election was a ass kicker that I am still rubbing my eyes with disbelief and joy.
    I just wish the people of LA and the County could get together and do some ass kicking on the COunty Supervisors, specifically MS. YUM YUM donut – Molina.
    WAAAAY to go Lynwood!!!

  • Maywood, BellGardens and Cudahy need to step up to the plate and take care of election business-get their sorry ass politicians OUT!!!

  • This is a great post!! Thanks for informing us on what happend to these fellows and its great most of them are doing well. So when does your new book come out?? By the way can anybody get the Fox Undercover clips they had done the undecover report on like these 9yr olds in the tortilla flats gang and then like 12 yrs or so later they showed them now and it was a sad sad outcome cant think of the name but does anybody know what i am talking about???

  • I thought little Chucky from Compton-TF got whacked out in Arizona by his own homies…..for burning his homeboys in SE-LA.

  • yup poplock it was chucky! and some other kid is there anyway to get any of those links from fox undercover on that???

  • By the way i love to see more old skool pix like that are all those from father Boyal book?? and are you doing before and after shots in your book of some of these homies or is it just for the blog?

  • In what I remember, Chucky stole a shipment of dope and maybe a gun or two from the big homies and tried to play the part as senor innocent. Once they figure him out, he took off-out of state to hide, found, and smoked, by of course, his own homies.
    I dont remember the details – I have to remember so much.
    You can probably ordered the episode from LA CAL News 11.
    The life after that report is actually a good tool and story to use for a scare straight or a law enforcement gang class.

  • Thanks for explaining the Chucky reference, Poplock. I see now it was in answer to Lea’s question.

    Lea, I am going to put some photos in the new version of the G-Dog book. But, regrettably I can’t do before and after photos as all the names in the book were changed at the insistence of the attorneys for the original publishers. (The book was first published by Hyperion. The two subsequent versions are from University of New Mexico Press.)

    Anyway, we do intend to include photos, which is why I was going through my files. But although the Epilogue of the book does tell what’s happened to the main characters in the narrative, all these years later—I won’t be able to link the stories to the photos. Bummer. But there you have it.

  • Thanks Poplock for refreshing my memory on that story on Chucky i do remember his other homie got life in prison and one of the guys mom died of overdose something like that.But i remember seeing the original undercover report on them and chucky and his homie were like 9yr olds with tats on thier stomachs and stab wounds already it was pretty distrubing how they grew up.I am going to try to look for that report thanks..
    Celeste thats too bad if you cant do before and after shots but whatever you have i am sure will be great! I am looking foward to it.

  • I loved this page, and the information on it. Great job, I just wished Funny would have been a part of it…long time friend that I think about on and off.

  • Celeste sorry if this is inappropriate but what happened to grumpy and puppet from the 60 min video back in 91 or 92. I know grumpy was one of the characters in your book(which I purchased 2 copies because I lost the first one back in 97). Thank you and your book has truly been inspiring.

  • Hi Celeste, I hope all is well. Woody I’m one of many successful stories that was touched by the grace of god and G Dogg. I’m forever grateful and so Is my family. Everyone in these pics were or are still my friends. Father Boyle was the best thing that ever happened to Boyle Heights.

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