What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption
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About the author
Jorja Leap has been on the faculty of the UCLA Department of Social Welfare since 1992 and has served as a lecturer, researcher, and consultant. A recognized expert in gangs, violence, and crisis intervention, she has worked nationally and internationally in violent and postwar settings. Dr. Leap is currently the senior policy advisor on Gangs and Youth Violence for the Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Jumped In tells the story of the gangs of Los Angeles in the words of the gang members themselves as well as the people who interact with them on a daily basis--trying to arrest them, control them, and help them. There are priests and police officers, murderers and drug dealers, victims and grieving mothers, and other assorted characters, often partnering in unlikely ways. Jorja Leap's work draws upon intimate material, from interviews to eyewitness accounts, telling the deeply personal stories of current and former gang members who span three generations, as well as the dilemmas Leap herself faces as she struggles to adjust to marriage and motherhood--with a husband in the LAPD and a daughter in adolescence. Jumped In is a chronicle of the unexpected lessons gang members taught her when she was busily studying them. Ultimately, it is a book about attachments and commitments, loyalties and betrayals, drugs and guns, sex and devotion.
When Leap began studying Los Angeles gang violence in 2002, she set out not so much to provide a solution but to find out what was being done and who was doing it. The stakes couldn't have been higher: a child or teenager is killed by gunfire almost every three hours--nearly eight times a day--and homicide is the primary cause of death of African American males between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four. During her years of research, this petite white woman from UCLA gained the trust of gang interventionists and access to their inner world. She sat in the living rooms, stood at the crime scenes, and drove through the housing projects. Through the oral histories, personal interviews, and eyewitness accounts of current and former gang members, readers come to understand gangs and the forces that pull people into them.
First we get the lay of the land: the genealogy and geography of gangs and sub-gangs, territories within territories. But the centerpiece of the book is really the stories of those people who live "la vida loca," as well as the experiences of those trying to make things better. These stories are told in Leap's candid first-person voice, as she introduces us to gangland residents such as Tray, a young father trying to go straight who is nonetheless felled by a bullet, and Joanna, a third-generation gang member, who speaks of forbidding her mother to sell drugs around her baby granddaughter. We also ride along with Leap and Big Mike, a former "original gangster" who now does street peace ministry. We see the successful "Jobs not Jails" program at Homeboy Industries and learn that former gangsters make good paramedics and firefighters, accustomed to dangerous situations as they are. With an anthropologist's eye and a compassionate heart, Leap offers not a prescription for solving the gang problem, but a gritty yet hopeful portrait of violence and redemption.
; March 2012
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Title: Jumped In
Author: Jorja Leap
In the press
“This is a bullet-train of a book. Jorja Leap writes about gang members with objectivity and compassion. Her descriptions of her private life are a fusion of dead-on honesty shot through with humor. A remarkable read.”—Leon Bing, bestselling author of Do or Die
“Jumped In…sprints way past scholarly and educational, aiming for the outright transformational.”—UCLA Today
“…Raw and engaging…must-read, an eye-opener and heart-expander.”—The San Francisco Book Review
“Leap, a professor of social welfare at UCLA, crafts a fascinating if troubling ethnography of gang culture in Los Angeles… There is much to admire about Leap’s study: its novelistic style, how well the dialogue conveys the inner lives of Leap’s interviewees, the mosaic-like organization.”—Publishers Weekly
“Why are nearly five thousand kids and young adults still shot to death each year in America—and what can be done about it? Jumped In is the haunting, funny, tragic and revelatory tale in which Jorja Leap takes us into the heart of these questions. Leap’s frank and enthralling personal narrative introduces us to a parade of cops, gangsters, homegirls, drug dealers and unlikely heroes, each in possession of a fragment of the needed answers. We watch as Leap’s own existence is fundamentally altered by these often deeply intimate encounters. And, in accompanying her, we too emerge humanized and wiser for the experience.”—Celeste Fremon, author of G-Dog and the Homeboys, editor/founder of WitnessLA.com and The California Justice Report
“What makes Jorja Leap a gang expert is not just her years of experience and indefatigable research, but her heightened reverence for the enormous complexity of the gang dilemma. Jumped In gives us a window into a world of a sub-grouping of the poor who few understand and too many demonize. Her view is both “aerial” and “in the weeds” while always staying heartbreakingly compassionate and true. Her work gives me hope.”—Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., Founder and Executive Director, Homeboy Industries
“Dr. Leap uncovers the good, the bad, and the ugly reality facing the Los Angeles Police Department, the thinly staffed county departments that provide social services, and the school districts that attempt to educate children who emerge from often dysfunctional families. The journey of Jumped In will put a reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride from indifference to sorrow to sympathy for this portion of society so many Angelenos comfortably drive past.”—Lee Baca, sheriff, Los Angeles County
“Leap’s strength is her comprehensive investigation into organic campaigns, community initiatives, research, and political maneuvering to decrease gang activity.”—VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)