We were gang girls. We walked around and we ruled the school. If somebody walked toward us and they accidentally hit us with their shoulder or something, we would punch them in the face.
I was raised in southern California. I came from a really good family. When I turned twelve my mom lost her job and so we could no longer afford private education for my sister and I.
In public schools the gangs dominated. Nothing about me was like anybody at that school. Because of that I was targeted and bullied. I was ostracized. After getting robbed, jumped, and being in a place where I didn’t have any friends I had to make the decision, in order to survive getting through at least twelfth grade, to be part of them. With that lifestyle came decisions to party, disrespect my parents, dishonor them, to lie to them.
At my school, it was me and about twenty girls that hung out together. We were gang girls and we walked around and we ruled the school. If somebody walked toward us and they accidentally hit us with their shoulder or something we’d punch them in the face. We would beat them up. We would jump them. When you have a problem with somebody, you take care of your problem. That involves assault and sometimes death.
I got pregnant at sixteen and had a baby by another gang member. You would think that would have slowed me down but I kept spiraling out of control.
When my son was seven days old, I put him with a babysitter and I went back to my lifestyle as normal. I was smoking dope. I was hanging out with my homeboys and homegirls. I was partying and doing things that I wanted to do.
My parents were in bed. I was in bed. Then the phone rang at probably ten or eleven o’clock at night. My parents’ pastor called and asked my dad, “Raphael, I locked the keys inside the church. Could you please come down to the church and open the door for me?” My dad got out of bed and asked my mom, “Do you want to go with me?” She got out of bed and then asked me to go too. We came back home. All of a sudden I heard my mom say, “Jose` turn the light on. Turn the light on.” I thought, what in the world is going on? In the forty-five-minute span that we were gone a rival gang came by my house and shot six times. Four of those bullets went into my parents’ bedroom windows and pierced their bed. I could draw a diagram out to show you where those bullets went. If my parents had been in bed that night they both would have been killed.
It came to a head in nineteen ninety-five when I came home and my mom said, “That’s it. You can’t do this anymore. I am actually enabling you.” I said, “Where am I going?” She said, “Cleveland Tennessee.” I did not want to go there. I turned around and walked back out. I went to the liquor store right around the corner by my house. I called the guy that I was seeing at the time who was a gang member. I said, “Hey, is there any way that I can stay at your house. My mom is making me move to Cleveland, TN and I don’t want to go.” He said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.” The problem was that he never showed up.
They sent me to Lee College during that time to get me away from everything. My son came with me every single day when I was at school and he sat on the floor. Sometimes my friends from the choir would come to get him and say, “Hey we will take care of him while you are in class. Give us some money so we can eat in the school cafeteria with him.” I could have a kind of normal college life with a child, or staying in their dorm room, or helping me with furniture in my apartment. If you compare between the gang members in California who were my “friends” and these people who said, “Hey we love you,” right away, I came to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. Being confident in knowing that I can go to God and ask Him things as my father.
My earthly father is phenomenal. My mom is. They’re just wonderful people. When I look back twenty-four - twenty-five years later, I see how God’s divine hand is on me. There is no way that I would have escaped that alive.