Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption

Jorja Leap. Beacon, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4456-8
Leap, a professor of social welfare at UCLA, crafts a fascinating if troubling ethnography of gang culture in Los Angeles. She follows her subjects through their struggles to get clean and stay off the streets, their relapses, and initiatives like Homeboy Industries, a community center that rehabilitates gang members—and might prove a more lasting (and certainly cheaper) solution to gang violence than incarceration. 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. Still, there are undeniable problems in how the author situates herself (and her privilege) in relation to her subjects (the book can read like a hokey version of Dangerous Minds). Furthermore, Leap’s treatment of women in the communities—both in and out of the gangs—makes for uneasy reading. She taxonomizes the women into two groups: “nuns” or “bitches.” The “bitches” are the women who join gangs; the nuns are the passive victims. Instead of exploring this binary, she embraces it. She’s uninterested in the nuns, describing how they turn to prostitution or get pregnant with gang members’ babies without examining the circumstances that put them in those positions—rape, domestic violence, abusive families. While Leap clearly wants to help these people, it seems to come with an undercurrent of judgment. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 10/10/2011
Release date: 03/06/2012
Open Ebook - 146 pages - 978-0-8070-4457-5
Paperback - 217 pages - 978-0-8070-4481-0
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