What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption
By Jorja Leap
Beacon Press (MA), Hardcover, 9780807044568, 217pp.
Publication Date: March 6, 2012
List Price: $26.95*
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When Jorja Leap began studying Los Angeles gang violence in 2002, she encountered a myriad of proposed solutions to the seemingly intractable “gang problem” and set out to discover what was really going on. The stakes—then and now—could not be higher: a child or teenager is killed by gunfire every three hours—and homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four.
In Jumped In, Leap brings us stories that reach behind the statistics and sensational media images to the real lives of those stuck in—and trying to escape— "la vida loca.” With the eye of an anthropologist and a heart full of compassion, this small, tough woman from UCLA travels some of the most violent and poverty-stricken neighborhoods, riding along in police cruisers and helicopters, and talking with murderers and drug dealers, victims and grieving mothers.
Through oral histories, personal interviews, and eyewitness accounts of current and former gang members, as well as the people who love and work alongside them, readers come to understand both the people pulled into gangs and those trying mightily to forge alternatives and help their community. In delving into the personal lives of current and former gang members, Leap aims not only to find out what leads them to crime and how to deal most effectively with gang activity, but also to hear the voices of those most often left out of the political conversation and to learn from leaders who offer a different kind of hope, through community outreach and jobs programs.
As she forges lasting friendships in this community and becomes immersed in others’ triumphs and tragedies, Leap’s personal and professional lives intersect in sometimes incendiary ways. With a husband in the Los Angeles Police Department and a daughter in adolescence, she faces plenty of family dilemmas herself. Ultimately, Jumped In is a chronicle of the unexpected lessons gang members taught her while she was busily studying them, and how they changed her forever.
“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)