Posts Tagged ‘Gang Intervention’

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

October 28, 2015 1 comment

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 (( 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 (


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.”

sur de omaha, Latino Center of the Midlands, Mi Rincóncito en el Cielo, Alberto

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.”

Community trumps gang in Fr. Greg Boyle’s Homeboy model

July 21, 2012 3 comments

Gang prevention-intervention efforts run the gamut.  One that’s drawn lots of attention is Homeboy Industries, an East L.A. program founded and directed by Rev. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has serious cred on the mean streets there for helping gangbangers find pathways to employability.  I wrote this article in advance of a talk Boyle gave in Omaha a couple years ago.  His experiences working with gang members and getting many to give up that life are told in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.






Community trumps gang in Fr. Greg Boyle’s Homeboy model

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico


The gang intervention efforts of a Jesuit priest in East Los Angeles have grown into Homeboy Industries, which provides mostly Latino participants work and life skills training, counseling and, most importantly, opportunity for hope.

The much profiled program has many communities, including Omaha, looking to its founder, Rev. Greg Boyle, for guidance in dealing with their own gang issues. Boyle, an acknowledged expert in the field, will be in Omaha Feb. 24 to discuss the successful therapeutic and employability approach his nonprofit takes and how it may be a model for Omaha.

From 1 to 4 p.m. at Creighton University‘s Harper Center Boyle will consult with community leaders engaged in gang intervention, prevention and workforce development efforts. At 5 p.m. he meets with Mayor Jim Suttle and Omaha City Council members. At 7 Boyle will deliver a public lecture and sign copies of his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, at Metropolitan Community College‘s South Omaha campus, in Room 120 of the Industrial Training Center, 27th and Q Streets.

Rev. Howard Dotson, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Omaha, invited Boyle after hearing him speak last year in L.A., where Dotson also did gang intervention work. One thing Boyle says he’s learned from 20-plus years dealing with gang bangers is that “just like recovery in alcohol and drugs,” where “it takes what it takes to finally stop getting high,” it’s the same for gang members leaving The Life. “It can be the death of a friend, the birth of a son, a long stretch in prison. Like in recovery you don’t have to hit bottom, but maybe it will take that.”

He says gangs are not a crime issue but a community health issue like other social dilemmas (homelessness, addictions, prostitution).To address the complex problems gang members present he says Homeboy offers mental health services, along with employment opportunities, life coaching, “plus every imaginable curricular thing, from anger management to parenting — you name it, we have it.”

The program operates businesses that employ gang members, including a bakery, a cafe, a silkscreen shop, a merchandise store and a maintenance service. More than a job Boyle says Homeboy provides an avenue for “healing to take place.” Enemy gang members work side by side to break down barriers.

“Once they have a real palpable experience of community then it will shine light on the dark corners of gang life,” he says. “They realize how empty and hollow all that had been in the past. The community trumps gang.”

He says suspicion and animosity dwindle amid shared goals and cooperation.

“Their common interest is that they want to work. Before too long they become fast, wonderful friends. It’s one of those things you can actually take to the bank — it’s going to happen. They’re going to bond in a way they’ve never known in their family and they’ve never known in their gang certainly.”

Boyle says the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of Homeboy is why cities like Seattle and Wichita adopt some of its methods. Some observers credit Homeboy and community policing with helping dramatically reduce L.A.’s homicide rate.

“No nonprofit in L.A. County has a greater impact on the public safety than this place because we engage so many gang members,” says Boyle, who estimates “all 1,100 known gangs in the county have had somebody walk in here at some time or another.”

“I would say what makes us unique is this therapeutic model — attachment repair and a secure base is what we call it. We try to help people engage in their own healing so they can re-identify who they are in the world. Then they can go out in the world and the world will throw at them what it will but it won’t topple them because they’ve had this palpable experience of community and the chance to figure out who they are. It works.”

Dotson’s convinced Boyle and Homeboy have something to offer Omaha.

“To get jobs and to get rehabilitation for kids coming out of correction is the best way to stop the bullet.,” says Dotson. “You need to invest in these kids. If you give them a sense of hope and a sense of agency and some of that unconditional love many of them never got, then you reduce the gang problem.

“As church and community we have to meet people where they’re at and Fr. Greg and the people who support Homeboy understand that.”

South Omaha Boys and Girls Clubs gang prevention specialist Alberto Gonzales says the need for a Homeboy model here is greater than ever in light of recent cuts. Funding for anti-gang work he did in local schools has been eliminated. The Latino Center of the Midlands has disbanded its substance abuse counseling program.

“Where’s the Latino community going to turn to?” says Gonzales. “People need a place they can go to where they can cry out, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’ve done, I need help.’ These programs are definitely a must.”

%d bloggers like this: