Luis Aroche's life could have gone in a decidedly different direction had he stayed committed to a life of crime. The former gang member now works for San Francisco Dis. Atty. George Gascon as an “alternative sentencing planner,” coming up with substitute options to keep offenders from making return prison trips.
An article in the Los Angeles Times details Aroche's story, starting with losing his friend, Carl, to gun violence. “Carl was playing on the swings and got shot, and died, ” Aroche told the paper. “Kindergarten. He got found lying in a pool of blood in the park. He was my desk buddy. He would go with me to the bathroom. And now, Carl wasn't there.
“That was my first experience of loss and I didn't understand it. To this day, I don't understand it.”
By the age of 12, Aroche was living in San Francisco's Mission District, at a time when gangs and cr@ck had taken precedent . He started cutting school, got tatted up, began drinking, and was eventually incarcerated. “We would learn how to iron our clothes using a comb, ‘cause that's how you iron your pants in prison,” he said of his stint in Pelican Bay State Prison. “You iron it with the teeth of the comb…and then you put it underneath the mattress.”
The son of a Salvadoran mother who worked as a chambermaid at a local motel, and a Puerto Rican father who was a security guard in the Navy shipyards, by the age of 15, Aroche was still drinking and getting arrested on a regular basis. One night after getting drunk, he was attacked and his friend was slashed with a machete. “I remember some guy grabbing me and hitting me with a crowbar and stabbing me in my stomach,” he recalled. “I could feel the pierce of my stomach, just ripping me open…And I thought, this is it. This is it. This is my life.”
At 16, he was arrested for trying to steal a bike while the owner was still riding it, and was sentenced to 18 months in custody. He ended up staying for two years due to bad behavior.
A year later Aroche received a letter from his already incarcerated brother who was slapped with a life sentence for ordering a hit on a fellow gang member leading to the death of another man. “I sat in my bunk, tripping. Oh, my God. So that means 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, if God allows him, 80, 90 years, he's gonna sit in that cell. And that woke me up.”
After Aroche's release his probation officer told him that he could either get a job or risk being picked up again, and at 18 he turned his life around.
Today he looks over the files of other law-breakers and decides if there are other opportunities to help them. “With my street knowledge and my education, I can see someone and say, 'This person's a bad dude. Based on his rap sheet and history, this person's not safe to go back to the community.' I can also know what can give somebody a second chance.”
Photo: LA Times