Gangs Homeboy Industries Writers and Writing

Jumped In: Jorja Leap Looks at Gang Violence Through a Very Personal Lens

My friend Jorja Leap has written a wonderful new book called Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption, about her last ten years spent in some of LA’s most violence haunted neighborhoods, in order to study the causes and possible solutions to the gang violence that still claims the lives of nearly 5000 kids and young adults in America.

Jorja is a nationally recognized expert in gangs, violence, and crisis intervention, she is the senior policy adviser on Gangs and Youth Violence for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and has served in similar post for the mayor, for the National Institute of Justice, and more. Jorja brought her crisis intervention skills to post war Bosnia and Kosavo, and is on the faculty at UCLA.

She’s also in the middle of a five year study of the homeboys and homegirls at Homeboy Industries, and has another project at Jordan Downs in partnership with Mike Cummings, a gargantuan former gang member who goes by (and lives up to) the name of Big Mike. Once a fearsome and notorious gangster who helped found the Grape Street Crips, Mike now facilitates groups of men to discover in themselves a passion for fatherhood, with Jorja documenting it all.

In other words, she knows her stuff.

The book draws from all that expertise, of course, but the heart of it is something much closer to the ground, much more intimate, much more heartbreaking, tragic, joy-producing and transformative.

It is also a personal tale of finding her own deepest self in the course of delving into the lives of others. (Did I mention that right in the middle of her research Jorja, the tough girl who was never going to have kids, inconveniently fell in love with and married a widower LAPD Commander with a young daughter? For quite some time, both cop husband-to-be and gangster research subjects were horrified by the proximity of each other.)

But rather than give you any more generalizations, I’ve posted some (very rough) iPhone shot video clips of Jorja speaking at Skylight Books* on Tuesday night.

In the clip above, Jorja fields questions about any fears she had doing the research, and what cultural barriers she encountered.

In the clip below, former gang member Wilfredo Lopez, who came with Jorja to the Skylight event, gives his own perspective on some of the issues the book covers.

In the clip above, Jorja is asked what most surprised her in the course of researching the book. “I know just what surprised me,” she says without missing a beat. “Lesbians.”

In this clip, Jorja address a question about how one “pierces the veil of secrecy” surrounding gangs.

Here she talks about the difference between LA street gangs and organized crime.

*NOTE: Apologies to the wonderful and unmistakable Skylight Books for, in my fatigued haze, originally writing their name as the also wonderful City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.


Q: What does it take to get gang members and the like to open up? A: (Well, just listen)…

Above Jorja talks about love…and research.

Both Jorja and Wifredo talk about the vagaries of the legal system and the power of restorative justice.

So watch the clips…And if you’d like to know still more, check out this review of the book.

And then buy the book. It’s an emotional and informative journey into our shared city that you won’t want to miss.

All proceeds go to Homeboy Industries.

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