A former gang member and prominent community leader is trying to stop the same kind of violence he once committed himself.
Eddie Bocanegra is the co-executive director of youth safety and violence prevention at the YMCA of Chicago. The Interrupters, a 2011 documentary, profiled his and others’ work to interrupt violence before it starts. That same year, Gov. Pat Quinn awarded him the Hero award for his achievements.
Bocanegra’s list of accomplishments is long, but the path to his life’s work wasn’t easy.
He recently visited the Chicago StoryCorps’ booth to tell Shirley Alfaro (the StoryCorps site supervisor and a close friend) about his difficult past.
Eddie: Fourteen years of my life I actually spent in prison. That was as a result of some bad choices that I made in my life, and starting off from being involved in a gang. Being involved at 14 and then at 18 catching a case.
Shirley: And what was that, if you want to talk about that?
Eddie: …Two of my friends were shot and paralyzed. These were people that I looked up to, that to a great extent, protected me. The norms were for us, as gang members, to go out there and inflict the same type of pain. There was a group of guys hanging on the corner. I went over there in the car. This individual walked up straight to the car, and he’s the one I shot twice. My intention was actually to shoot him and to inflict the same pain that he inflicted on my friend, which was to paralyze him. The end result was that he died just a few hours after that.
Eddie learned later that the person he killed was not the same person who had injured his friend. It was a young man who no longer lived in the area.
The police came, and initially blamed the crime on someone else. Eddie said he was overcome with guilt.
Eddie: You know, I really knew that what I had done was wrong, especially being raised in a Christian home and so I still recall knocking on the door and asking the detective to come out, to come talk to me.
To hear what happened next, how Eddie started to change, and whether he is finding forgiveness, listen to the audio above.
Katie Mingle is a producer for WBEZ and The Third Coast Festival.