You may have heard of him because of his memoir of teen gang life, Always Running, which came out a while ago.
Now he’s brought his life story up to date, with another intensely frank and gripping book entitled It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.
He was in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 9 to talk about his book—and the issues it deals with.
When he was young, he said, “The only thing I could imagine was having the most beautiful funeral. I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory for the barrio.”
It’s crucial, he said, that we give young people something better to imagine.
He’s disgusted by our incarceration policies, noting that they have failed miserably to stop gang violence. “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem,” he said. “You can’t prison your way out of the problem. If you could, we’d be in great shape.” He said the recidivism rate in California is 70 percent. “It ain’t working,” he added. “It’s amazing how we keep doing this.”
And he’s sick and tired of people giving up on young offenders.
“Don’t blame the kids all the time,” he said. “They’re caught up in an environment they didn’t make. We created the environment,” he added. You want to change the kids? Change the environment.”
Poor students and students of color “are expected to fail,” he said. “And then we do everything we can so that they do fail.”
“Everyone is worth fighting for,” he insisted. “Everyone is valuable.”
His advice: “We have to fill the holes in their lives with caring, connection, love, and purpose.”
He also talked about drug addiction, his own alcoholism (he’s been sober for 18 years now, he said), and sexual abuse. His own father was a pedophile, he acknowledged.
His talk, like his book, was about second chances, about redemption, about imagining a better world through art and political action. And above all, about healing.
“Anything that is not about healing is not where it’s at,” he said.
His name is Luis Rodriguez. Go hear him speak, if you can. And check out his book, It Calls You Back.
It really does.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Why I Got Arrested in Madison."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter