Gerardo Lopez

Benefitting Homies Unidos

Gerardo Lopez grew up in gang territory in Los Angeles, CA. At 14, he joined MS-13 a notoriously dangerous international gang. It took 13 seconds for him to be jumped in, but another decade before street crime and juvenile detention centers would be a thing of his past. Today, Gerardo “Clever” Lopez is a gang interventionist and Executive Director of Homies Unidos, a non-profit that helps at-risk youth avoid making the same mistakes by promoting peace and prevention.

In Today’s Episode

  • Growing up in “the hood” (04:17) 

  • Locked up. Life in Juvenile Hall (18:29) 

  • The moment Gerardo decides to walk away from his gangster life (22:37)

  • An unexpected helping hand and the power of sharing your story in a room full of strangers. (25:21)

  • Facing 48 years in prison and the day his case was dismissed and a prison guard told him “your free to go.” (35:10)

Wise Words

  • “So I ended up getting jumped into the gang, [00:17:30] and when I was getting jumped in the number one thing that I was thinking about, I had already counted down when the carnival was coming into town, when I could walk around that carnival and say that I'm from MS-13, right. To feel that sense of respect, power and pride, if you will.”

  • “Yeah man, they got a green light on you guys.” A green light meaning that they want to go ahead and take your life, they want to go ahead and kill you. Right, so during that time we were all like, man, we thought we would get that respect, power and pride within the gang, now we're starting to feel even more fear, we're feeling even more paranoid because now we just don't have MS-13 after us, now you have all those surrounding gangs after us.” 27:30

  • “Well, you know I did feel that emotion that remorse, especially the pain and suffering that it was causing my family. I remember there was times when there was gunshots in my neighborhood and my mom [00:33:30] would always come running out with her sandals and her nightgown to see if I had got shot.”

  • “And even having sometimes, well a lot of times, cell mates from people from different gangs that we go along with, or just different gangs and you start talking to these people [00:45:00] and their stories are not like the ones from El Salvador, right but their stories consisted of sometimes similar to my stories. They had a loving home, their parents worked two or three jobs, some of them didn't have a loving home, some of them their parents were addicted to drugs. The violence was just here in the neighborhood, a lot of after school programs left.”

  • “When we used to play baseball out on these fields [00:45:30] in these juvenile camps, all the gangsters were the best players. I mean they came from, I remember baseball was big back then, but then a lot of times these parks ran out funding or people quit playing baseball, whatever sport they played and went to gang-banging then.”

  • “I remember going to funerals and seeing moms crying and me sitting next to my homie and watching the casket of my homeboy that was right there, and a mom hugging the casket. Even like wanting to wake her son up. Right. And when [00:50:30] he was getting buried, she tried to jump in that hole right there as well, to get buried with him. Right, and I was all like, man homie, and I'm talking to my homie, it was like, "Man that's messed up right? I hope that's not me next time," right. And he's like, "Yeah."”

  • “If I was leaving the gang, if they were going to take that part of my life from me, I was willing to [00:55:30] let go of that part of the life, you have to go ahead and replace it with something else.”

  • “People can change, it is possible for persons to go ahead and live a productive life.”

  • “There's always somebody cares, and there's always somebody there to love you.”