Carlos Kasper, 26, has already learned more about himself than most people ever do. Kasper grew up in Little Village and was raised by his step-dad and his mom – who struggled to make ends meet. “We grew up in the gang culture,” Kasper said in a recent StoryCorps interview. “[We would] smoke a lot of weed, listen to a lot of gangster rap, hang out with the guys from the block.”
As a kid he had a lot of pent-up anger and frustration. But his brother and cousins kept him out of the gangs…for a while, at least.
There was a period towards the end of high school, when Kasper learned community organizing techniques. But he soon became disillusioned with the non-profit world when he realized their focus was on eradicating gangbangers in Little Village. “I took it very personal,” he said.
“Because a lot of my family is gangbangers. And I knew them and they weren’t these savages or these evil people. They’re just regular people who just chose another lifestyle.”
StoryCorps’ mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.
“Gangbangers are people’s sons, people’s brothers, people’s cousins, people’s fathers,” he continued.
“These [community organizer] people are acting like they’re aliens, murderers, running around wildly.”
Little by little, he transitioned into gang life. He appreciated the sense of brotherhood that he got as a gang member and the looks he’d get from people who were intimidated by him.
Then he got locked up for two months in the county jail. “I had all these problems that I didn’t let out,” he said. “But I didn’t take care of the root base of my deep personal issues.”
“I’m glad I got locked up,” Kasper said. “There was just so much time to think, so much time for reflection, so much time for meditation, exercise. And when I came out, I came out a whole different person.”
When he got out, he refused to take orders from some gang leaders. He still valued his fellow gang members and their ideals, but he wanted to make a change for himself.
In order to get out of the gang, he agreed to a “violation,” which meant that he was beat up from head to toe, for three minutes by his fellow gang members, two at a time, each guy taking five to ten seconds. By the end of it, his bones were aching and he couldn’t lift his arms above his shoulders.
He believes he ended things on good terms with the gang. “I feel really strong being able to step in front of them without insulting them and telling them that they were my brothers and I love them, but I can’t do these things anymore because my life had changed.”
“I was real with them. I kept it genuine. And I really loved them and I showed them that.”