SANTA ANA : Students Get Hard Lesson on Gang Life

As a crowd of youngsters was held rapt, former gang member Jesse Soto, 36, described the pain and suffering gangs inflict not only on their communities but on their own members.

While he spoke, pictures depicting corpses of young people flashed on a projection screen behind him, underscoring his point that “you’re never too young to get shot at.”

Soto’s appearance Wednesday was part of a program designed to steer elementary school students away from gangs and drugs. During the two-day Peer Assistance Leadership programs, more than 600 children received that message, district spokeswoman Diane Thomas said.

The program also included lectures on bike safety, games and a puppet show by Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer John Reed.


During his lecture, Soto told children gangs promise respect, friendship and security but deliver the opposite.

He discouraged them from wearing gang-related clothing and hanging out with gang members because “kids lose their lives today just because of the way they’re dressed.”

Following his presentation, Soto said showing children photos of people killed by gangs and gang members beaten during initiation rites is crucial for them to understand the truth about gang life.

“The idea they get from TV about gangs is people with lots of money and big cars. They kill, shoot people, and their friends are happy and smiling about it. I don’t want them to see that,” he said.


“I want them to see the reality. I want them to see mothers crying,” he said.

Afterward, several students said they appreciated the program and took the message to heart.

“I think it’s really important because we’re at the age where (gang members) come and bother us,” said Celia Galindo, 13.