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March 12th, 2010
01:08 PM ET

Homicide in Hollenbeck: Breaking the cycle of gang life

Stan Wilson
CNN Producer

Enrique “Kiki” Frutis, 33, is about to take the biggest step of his life away from the only lifestyle he has known. He has been a member of one of the most notorious street gangs in Hollenbeck. Kiki was 14 when he joined a gang - beaten up by fellow gang members. It's a common initiation meant to test loyalty and give new members a taste of what gang life is all about.

When we first met Kiki five years ago, he was the hardest of the hard-core…his bragging, his brash certainty about life in a gang–he was deep in it. Kiki made a powerful impression. If a fellow gang member was killed, he said that gang members would take the law into their own hands. “The cops, they got so, so many murders on their hand, I mean, we'd rather take our own actions”, he said in a 2004 interview. By the age of 26, he had been shot three times.

Kiki got tired of being asked, “Where are you from?” by rival gang members so he had “The Fence” tattooed prominently on the back of his shaved head. Though he joined the gang for a sense of belonging, after years of falling into the cycle of violence, Kiki often found himself alone, he told Anderson Cooper in 2004.

Twenty years later, most of his friends are now in prison or dead, he said. Last September, Kiki was released from prison after serving time for a parole violation. In prison, he told CNN that after 20 years in the gang life, he wanted out. But, he’s finding that getting out is much harder than getting in.

As he arrived at Homeboy Industries, last February, the city’s largest gang intervention agency, Kiki began the long process of removing the tattoos that once told his story of being in the gang. “I feel good, trying to get my life back together. You know. I got to take one day at a time, I guess. I’m making the first step,” he said.

Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, has known Kiki for two decades. “You think Kiki has woken up to the reality of gang life?, asked CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I would say in terms of the gang issue, yeah. Everybody has that moment where they say I’m tired of being tired. That’s pretty much where he’s been,” said Boyle.

In Hollenbeck, surviving beyond the age of 30 is already a remarkable statistic for hard core gang members like Kiki.

“Are you hopeful about him?, asked Cooper. “Yeah, I mean, I think he’s got the right attitude. Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom but his head is in the right place right now and that’s good.” He’s struggling still but I don’t think he’s struggling with the gang part but not everybody who walks through the door is ready and he hasn’t always been ready but I would say he is now. That’s why I’m going to hire him,” said Boyle.

Kiki will soon have a job with Homeboy Industries because Father Greg Boyle is giving him a chance for a new life in Hollenbeck.


Filed under: Hollenbeck
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