Television is not like life.
OK, so you already know that. You’re well aware that situations don’t get wrapped up in 60 minutes or less, that hospitals aren’t like fraternities, and that nobody’s relatives are that weird.
You also know that crime isn’t anywhere near as clean as it is on TV, and gang-bangers don’t dance for the cameras.
Yep, that’s television for you, but what would life be like for someone in a real urban gang? Author Jorja Leap wondered, too, and in her new book “Jumped In” (c.2012, Beacon Press, $26.95 / $31.00 Canada, 240 pages), she shares what she learned.
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, Jorja Leap worked with gangs.
She was a social worker then, operating from Martin Luther King Hospital in South Los Angeles, and green as grass. Twenty years later, better-armed with a Ph.D., a faculty appointment at UCLA, and experience in “violent environments internationally,” she decided that she wanted to “figure out what to do about violence that was occurring close to home.”
Specifically, she wanted to work with gangs again.
Most people, says Leap, believe that gangs predominantly consist of Black males, and that there are two major gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. She discovered, however, that there are hundreds of different gangs and when one disappears, another appears in its place. Hispanic gangs account for about half those in L.A. and the number of girls joining gangs is on the rise.
Doing the job she was hired for (evaluating prevention and intervention programs) meant immersion in gang culture, but it wouldn’t be easy. Gang members, both former and current, were extremely mistrustful. They wanted assurance that Leap wasn’t an informant or a member of the LAPD.
She wasn’t. But her husband was.
As the summer of 2002 progressed to become one of Los Angeles’ bloodiest seasons, working with gangs began to overtake Leap’s life. She craved working the streets, though her husband–who knew the danger she was in–wanted her at home. The situation was complicated by Leap’s initially-unsettled status as stepmother, and the contrasting fact that gangs often become temporary family for children whose parents are drug-addicted, jailed, or both.
As you’re reading this review, I’ll bet you’ve got a “typical gang member” ensconced in your mind.
And you’ve probably got it wrong.
By busting myths and shedding light on little-known angels in the City of Angels, author Jorja Leap gives readers an inside look at what’s going on in the streets of one American metropolis, which is simultaneously chilling and hopeful.
What makes this book unique, though, is that Leap intertwines private confessions with research, until her two lives oddly mesh. I didn’t fully appreciate the personal bits, in fact, until I saw how they served to illustrate two diverse (and divergent) worlds so perfectly.
This is not an easy book to read, but you won’t be able to put it down, either. If you’re interested in the dynamics of gang life or what can be done about the crime that follows it, “Jumped In” is a book to pounce on.