Home > Alberto "Beto" Gonzales, Crime, Crime Prevention, Gang Intervention, Gangs, Omaha, South Omaha > Beto’s way: Gang intervention specialist tries a little tenderness

Beto’s way: Gang intervention specialist tries a little tenderness


Alberto “Beto” Gonzales could have easily stayed in The Life of drugging, fighting, abusing, and manipulating that used to be his M.O. as a gangbanger, but he found the courage to change and that transformation has led him to help countless others stop the madness, get clean, and go straight.  For years now he’s worked as a gang intervention specialist, a position he holds today as a civilian employee with the Omaha Police Department.  He’s much respected for his work in the South Omaha community, whose barrios he grew up in.  There were many harsh experiences he initiated.  He did things he regrets and has made amends for.  But he’s done all he can to move on and to be a productive citizen and he’s been exceedingly successful at that.  This profile for Omaha Magazine ((http://omahamagazine.com/) is my second opportunity to tell his story and I’m glad to have had the chance to share his life and work with readers.

An Omaha man on the front line of gang prevention is now the subject of a book.

 

Beto’s way: Gang intervention specialist tries a little tenderness

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in the Nov.-Dec. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

 

Omaha Police Department gang intervention specialist Alberto “Beto” Gonzales grew up in a South Omaha “monster barrio” as an outsider fresh from the Texas-Mexican border.

Working out of the South Omaha Precinct and South Omaha Boys & Girls Club, he knows first-hand the suffering that propels at-risk kids to join gangs. He grew up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father. By 13 he was a substance abusing, drug dealing, gang-banging illiterate and runaway. For a decade he conned and intimidated people. “The beast” inside ran roughshod over anyone, even family. He ruined relationships with his rage and alcohol-drug use.

“A lot of people got hurt behind me being that hurt kid that felt hopeless,” he says.

Charged with assault and battery with intent to commit murder, he faced 30 years in prison. Shown leniency, he used that second chance to heal and transform. He got sober, learned to read and found the power of forgiveness and love, dedicating himself to helping others.

He credits the late Sister Joyce Englert at the Chicano Awareness Center (now Latino Center of the Midlands) with setting him straight.

“She took me literally by the hand and coached me. There were days where I just didn’t feel like I could do it and I tossed up a storm with her. But she never gave up on me. Sister Joyce was no joke. She was incredible.”

At her urging he became a counselor.

Beto, who’s spoken about gangs to high-ranking U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement officials. is the subject of a book by Theresa Barron-McKeagney, University of Nebraska at Omaha associate dean in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, His message to those dealing with people in crisis is “patience – you can’t give up on them, you have to have that energy, that willingness to sacrifice to work with them.” He says he’s living proof “no matter what challenges you have you can make it – all you gotta do is find what your purpose is in life and go for it.”

This former menace to society “never ever could have imagined” working for OPD. “They took a risk in hiring me because of all the baggage I carried. They’re watching me. I’m under the microscope. But all the officers make me feel welcome. It’s a good fit.”

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His street cred enables him to go where OPD can’t.

“If they do walk into some of the places I walk in it’s a shut down – nobody’s talking.”

He has people’s trust, including prisoners and ex-cons.

“They feel safe opening up to me, they know I’m there for them, I’m not going to give up on them. Whatever it is, we try to work it out. You can’t measure this, all you do is continue your relationship with someone and if you build that trust that relationship will be there forever. I’ve been in a lot of these men’s and women’s lives for years.

“Sometimes I don’t see them for four or five years but they know they can always come back.”

Not everyone’s cut out for this work.

“The burn-out is real/.”

Not everyone wants recovery. Relapse and recidivism is high.

But Beto’s a firm believer in second-chances.

“Somebody gave me a chance.”

Intervention and prevention is “my passion,” says Beto, who can spot a troubled child or adult in an instant.

“If we don’t get to a kid in time, if he doesn’t find a mentor, if he doesn’t get in to some kind of sport activity, if his mom and dad don’t do some kind of healing, that’s a lost child.”

He often tells his own story at assemblies. It’s still cathartic at age 57.

“I share it all the time with hundreds of kids and believe me every time I share it I can feel that pain in my heart. It’s still there. There’s no getting ready of it. It’s a part of who you are, the fabric of your soul.”

He can only do so much. “There’s a lot of kids out there hurting I can’t get to. The other frustrating part is when we lose kids to murder or prison. I’m just so focused on trying to save one life at a time, one family at a time.” As a society he feels, “we better wake up and invest in more counselors – we’ve got to educate, educate, educate.”

Happily married with kids, he has serenity he never had before.

“I wish everybody had that.”

He’s made peace with the fact his job never really ends.

“Even when I retire, people are going to be knocking on my door. I already know that.”

The challenge is as near as a neighboring three-generation gang family he’s counseled. They all respect him except for a teen boy.

“I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me, man?’ He just shrugged his shoulders. ‘How many times did you feel like killing me?’ He finally looked me in the eye and said, ‘Every time I see you, I want to kill you.’
‘What keeps you from killing me?’ ‘Because my nephews love you, my auntie loves you, my uncle loves you, so I’m just going to leave you alone.’ Fourteen years old. He’s just another Beto.”

He holds out hope. “Anybody can change, anybody, I don’t care what condition you’re in, as long as you want to find that peace in yourself.”

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  1. November 26, 2015 at 12:57 am

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