Gangs and Prison Life: A 15-year-old Santa Barbara boy is dead. His life is over. A 14-year-old is accused of his murder. If convicted, his life will never be the same. Police have also charged four other suspects in connection with the older boy’s death: two 16-year-olds, one 14-year-old, and a 13-year-old.
The town is stunned and shocked. There are hard lessons to be learned here, and one of the teachers is an inmate at the Lompoc federal prison camp. Michael Santos, who is doing a 45-year jolt for selling cocaine, is dedicated to trying to keep at-risk youngsters from making bad choices during their teen years that can lead to crime, drug addiction, prison, and death.
In his latest book, Gangsters and Thugs: Consequences That Hustlers Pay, Santos shares stories of inmates he met while doing hard time, and he wants to get it into the hands of anyone who’ll benefit from the lessons, including kids who were or could have been involved in last week’s fatal stabbing in downtown Santa Barbara. Gangsters and Thugs “is a workbook written specifically for at-risk youth who are enmeshed in and/or flirting with the gang-thug culture and lifestyle,” said Santos, whom I wrote about in this column last September.
The stories aren’t pretty. Former gangÂ-banger Lamont spends his prison time in total darkness: A rival gang’s bullet left him blind. Jose dropped out of school and is doing a 20-year prison sentence. He bitterly regrets his foolishness. Jimmy partied instead of studying and was shocked when the Air Force turned him down. Selling meth instead of working sounded good to Jimmy until the feds took him away from his girlfriend and their two children. Released after five years, broke, with his girlfriend and children gone, he returned to drugs-and prison.
“Matt came from a stable, prosperous home. He had nurturing parents. His family name carried respect, even a hint of prestige among leaders in the community,” Santos writes. But at 28, Matt already had 11 felonies and eight misdemeanors. Then, doing burglaries to feed his drug habit, he stole a safe from a federal marshal’s garage and landed in prison for six years. One more beef and he’ll never see the streets again.
Ra°l was a hard-ass gangbanger, his body covered with tattoos. “Here’s a man who would kill for his neighborhood” in the L.A. area, Santos writes. But the person who got killed was his beloved sister, executed by crooks looking for drug money. They in turn were blasted to bits, but that didn’t bring her back to life. Out of prison, Ra°l agreed to one last meth deal. But when one of his buyers dropped the dime on him, Ra°l picked up a new sentence that will keep him behind bars until he’s almost 40.
Is there hope for the hard-core, or the budding teen gangbangers? Santos and his wife, Carole, believe so. In their upcoming book, Step Up and Don’t Look Back, they talk about Antonio, a Lompoc inmate who turned his life around, thanks to Santos and Lee Nobmann, CEO of Golden State Lumber in Petaluma. Nobmann, who served his own stint in federal prison for income tax evasion, is financing the first 1,500 copies of Gangsters and Thugs; he promised Antonio a job after the youth saw the light and worked hard for his GED. “Throwing juvenile delinquents in prison will only create and foster adults who are filled with misplaced loyalties and who lack skills to contribute to a law-abiding society,” Carole told me.
I’d like to see Gangsters and Thugs in every Santa Barbara schoolroom, library, counselor’s office, and youth center-in fact, in every home. Santos is seeking corporate and business sponsorship to make Gangsters and Thugs available free of charge “to organizations that are working directly with kids on the front line.” He’s aiming for 25,000 books a year. You can send checks to APS Publishing, 3905 State Street, Suite 7-226, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.
In my September 7, 2006 column, I told how Santos has written four books, including Inside, a harrowing account of prison life. Santos, now 43, can be reached through his Web site, MichaelSantos.net.
Wendy’s Hope Ranch Dispute: According to a well-informed Hope Ranch resident, HR officials and Wendy McCaw are locked in a dispute regarding the enclave’s strict rules. One involves views, a pesky problem few Santa Barbara neighborhoods seem able to avoid. A neighbor across the street has an issue with Wendy’s trees allegedly blocking the neighbor’s views, according to my source. Normally HR sends out a committee to scope out the situation and then meet with the affected residents and try to resolve the view problems. But Wendy declined to attend the meeting and instead dispatched attorneys to go directly into mediation. That’s been going on since last December.
The second issue involves a 10-foot security fence Wendy reportedly built on her property behind the lockers at Hope Ranch Beach around three years ago. But she didn’t get the required permit, HR says, and mediation is going on about that, too. Hope Ranch officials declined to comment on any of this.