My name is Johnny Garcia. I grew up in La Quinta.
Shows him the photographs.
[Laughs] Dang! That’s crazy.
Looks like a completely different person. Damn!
I look at it and I see—from my wife’s lips on my forehead to my kids’ names on my cheek, my buddy’s name on my chest, in loving memory—different tattoos that mean different things.
Growing up, tattoos meant belonging. They meant being one of the guys, fitting in, being official, and pretty much owning it. Now half of these don’t mean the same things, I don’t wear them that proudly anymore. Everything really changed when I was in prison the last time. It just hit me. I always thought I was young, I still got time, my kids are young, they’re not going to remember this, they’re still babies. I thought I still had time to play with them. We were sitting in prison and we were on lockdown. I had been in my cell for almost 90 days and I was going through some pictures. I was looking at my kids and realized that they were not that young anymore. Sitting in there, getting older, it just hit me. I need to get myself established!
Now when I get out with all these tattoos, now that I really want to get serious about it…I don’t know. I kind of gave up hope for a little minute, because I thought I would never be able to do nothing. I’ll never be able to get a job!
But I came out and I went to Homeboy Industries and Father Greg. He has been a big role in my life. I love him. That’s Pops. I met him in my first camp, Afflerbaugh, I’ll never forget it.
It’s a juvenile camp. I went to his services. He tries to pretty much get to the youth before it is too late, and he caught my attention at the service. The way he talked and the way he told his stories, I could relate to him so much—even though he looked like Santa Claus. I could relate to him because he would say, “homie” you know, “This homie came into my office. I said what are you doing? You need to give this gang stuff up. It’s played out, it’s a thing of the past.” That’s just G-Dog. He will just tell you straight up. Yeah, he caught my ear and he gave me his card and said, “When you get out, come see me, I have a job for you.” I was like 13 years old, what the heck? I’m a little kid and this guy is going to give me a job? But our relationship went like that from 13 to 18. Every time I heard that Father Greg was around, I would try to get to services, try to go to church, just so that I could see him.
Every time he would say to me, “Come see me, come see me.” Give me his card, and I would be out for a month or two weeks and I’d get busted again and go back to jail. Then I would hear Father Greg is here again. I would go to service and I would see him. He would be like, “What happened? You were supposed to come and see me.” When I was 18 years old, we were down and out on our luck. We were getting kicked out of my mom’s house again. I was going through one of my drawers and I saw a Homeboy Industries card at the bottom of the drawer.
I was like, “Let me go see what’s up with this Father Greg.” I went into the office and ask to see him. I waited about an hour and a half. I sat down, he was like, “Son, how come you waited so long to come see me? I have been waiting for you.” I looked down. I did not think this guy was going to remember me, because he sees so many people, so many gang members. I was like, “He remembered me!”
He asked me what I wanted to do, and I was like, “Well I like working with my hands.” So he sent me to school, paid for the school and the books and stuff. I finished at the top of my class. The first week of getting out of school I got into the union. I was part of the local 300. I was building all these high schools and freeways.
That was going really good, but I was trying to play both worlds still: the family man, and on the weekend running around with my homeboys. I thought that I could manage it. Then I got busted with two other gang members with three guns in a stolen car.
I went to prison and got a strike. We fought it for months and ended up getting two to three years. I was sitting in prison for the second time. I was 22 and I kind of had an epiphany while I was there. I sat back and I looked around the room and looked at all the old Gs that I looked up to, all the guys that I wanted to be like. It kind of hit me, The old G over there, he is 32 years old but still lives at home with his mom, has two kids that call another man dad. That G over there, he is like 45 years old, he For the rest of the interview to be found in the book.