One Student’s Journey to Hell and Back

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">BONNIE SCHINDLER
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Gang members usually end up in two places: one being a jail cell. The other is buried in the ground. But this former gang member ended up somewhere different – at GCC.

Mariano Garcia, 22, a sociology major, was about 13 when he joined a gang in his Hollywood neighborhood and started on a six-year journey to hell and back.

“I joined because I had low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, and I was not socially active,” Garcia said.

He was a shy boy throughout his life and his heart was “too sweet and so people took advantage,” of him, Garcia said of himself.

Eventually, he became tired of that sweet personality and hid behind a wall of anger by age 13.

At first, he watched the fellow gang members commit crimes and fight. Then, he was initiated when he committed his first act. After being jumped into the gang by fellow members, Garcia had the task of shooting at rival gangs.

“I did not really care who I hurt. My personality trait was if I am going to do something, I am going to do it to the fullest,” Garcia said. Despite his hard edge attitude, however, he did have boundaries.

“I was never mean to old people [or] young kids (who did not have anything to do with the different neighborhood gangs), or people that worked around the neighborhood,” Garcia said.

In fact, he enjoyed the company of the older people and respected their knowledge. “They [older generation] didn’t do senseless crimes – they had done their time,” and they knew where I was going to land if I did not go to school, Garcia said.

The wisdom of the older generation may have been the only thing that helped him graduate from Cresenta Valley High school, and “even that was by the skin of my teeth.”

Garcia said. “I always promised myself that I would at least graduate high school. At one point, I almost didn’t make it, but, I would not let myself go like that,” Garcia said. With a diploma in hand, and an independent attitude, Garcia did something most teenagers cannot wait to do, move out.

“I moved out of my house right when I turned 18. The time spent on my own was the worst years of my life, because I ruined friendships, partied every day and became addicted to rock, [crack cocaine] meth, and cocaine,” said Garcia.

While no one ever plans on getting addicted, Garcia and his best friend, at the time, made a pack to “beat the crap out of each other” if either of them became addicted.

That was easier said than done, as he became addicted to crack first, and then used cocaine to get off crack and then ecstasy, PCP, and crystal to get off cocaine.

“We spent easily $25,000 in two years on drugs, and to do this, we came up with so many schemes,” Garcia said. He sold his personal property, including his brother’s things, he stole cars, and eventually, he continued the drug rotation, by becoming a drug dealer himself.

Garcia began selling crack and marijuana to pay the bills and feed his habit. But a drug deal up north shone a light for Garcia. “I went up to Big Bear to sell, because I could sell less for a higher price. One of the buyers paid their bill in acid tabs,” he said.

That night, he took 1 1/2 tabs and drove back to Los Angeles. On Oct.15, 2000, Garcia called his parents, as he could not even drive home, the tabs were too strong for him to focus. Upon waking up at the hospital, he vowed that he would never do drugs again.

In his parents’ arms, Garcia allowed his strength to break through his weakness for drugs. “My mom should get the gold medal for all she has done for me. She put up with me, even though I hated her for a long time, she never abandoned me,” Garcia said.

He no longer wanted to be an addict and he was welcomed back into his parent’s home.

In his first year clean, he had none of his old friends and low self-esteem. “I didn’t know how to be normal, and self-doubt and depression kicked in for the first year.”

Nevertheless, he slowly overcame his depressed state once he joined DCM Power, a car club in which he is the Los Angeles representative, enrolled in GCC in the spring 2001 semester and set goals for himself.

While people may join gangs because they want to conduct life in an anti-social perspective, Garcia plans to use his knowledge as a tool in the classroom.

As a sociology major, he is considering teaching the subject to those in need. Garcia said he always remembers those teachers who taught only from the books, but he feels with his added experience, he can relate with students and become a mentor.

Garcia said, “That is the meaning of life; when you help humanity, change a life.”