"A Glimpse of Hope"
THIS IS STILL ONGOING - I WILL BE MAKING DAILY CHANGES WITH GRAMMAR
While sitting at the Hyatt Hotel Conference room, I could hear my name being called through a loud P.A. system.
”With us today, is our keynote speaker Chief Officer Jesse David Escalera of the Alternative Gang Unit NYC”
It was the annual Gang Conference, hosted by MAGLOCLEN (Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network) Conference.
There must have been a few hundred law enforcement officers from the Tri-State area. This was the big show, this seminar was the place to be.
Bringing in the elite, the best of the best within the field of Organized Crime and Gangs.
No words can adequately express the feeling as I walked up five steps onto the platform.
Every step that I took, a glimpse of my life went through my head.
It was a miracle I even saw my 18th Birthday let alone preparing to speak in front of a multitude of individuals that came to hear me.
By all rights I should’ve been dead, I was one of those hard cases you hear about, the type of person you would lock your car door when I’d walk by.
As the spotlight found me on stage, my eyes suddenly closed shut from the brightness. I nervously stood there as my palms even sweated.
With no inkling of how I to even wanted begin or where to start. This was my first time speaking in front of a crowd this big.
With an awkward grin I stood there paralyzed nodding my head up and down like a bobble head agreeing with everything the M.C. said as he introduced me reading off this small index card he spoke of my accomplishments.
I had pre-rehearsed my speech about a million times, but yet it just sat in the back of my throat.
tic toc, tic toc..
I felt stuck. ”Did I forget how to open my mouth?”
I began doubting myself, my inadequacy’s surfaced. I took a deep breath in and then I exhaled.
This is it, this is the moment that I’ve been waiting for, this is the moment of truth, the moment I could finally change law enforcements point of view towards inner-city youth.
Then the microphone turned on with a loud pop and sudden thump, turning the attention of the audience towards the stage.
All eyes on me...
The chatter eventually turned into quit whispers then it happened, the room turned completely silent like a deer in front of headlights or should I say like a cat just stole my tongue.
I tapped on the microphone.
Check, check.. one two, one two..
What was I thinking? I sounded like an idiot, testing the mic. I was just doing what I’ve seen on T.V.
At that moment my first words started to form.
I just couldn’t get my mouth to cooperate. I needed some type of an ice breaker to start, something to grab their attention.
What I really needed was to open my mouth and say something.
It was in that moment the most stupidest thing came out.
“I bet y’all are wondering if someone made a mistake by allowing a Mexican up on stage”
Wait.. what did I just say? I asked myself.
Then everyone chuckled and laugh.
Okay, I made a joke, and now for my next trick.
What was I going to say next?
I wasn’t the most eloquent nor was I the most comical, sure I could make someone laugh but that’s never been my style when speaking behind a podium.
”Did I even have a style?”
Only good thing I had going for myself was I spoke with passion and a sense of conviction.
I’ve never been afraid of transparency an open book.
I’ve always felt it’s better that way people did not come just to see another power point presentation, they were interested in hearing another side.
I didn’t want to displease them nor did I want for them to ask for their money back.
Every person that attended payed $250.00 for registration. That’s not including hotel, food and travel. Plus, I wasn’t just gonna let anyone get away or leave without sponsoring my intervention program. Shoot, I knew opportunity when I see it.
Honestly, there were others far more qualified to speak. I was always fumbling and mispronouncing certain words, I would even find myself stuttering whenever asked to speak in front of a large audiences, and by far was the largest audience I had ever spoken in front of.
The audience spent most of their lives living in a box. They saw things through a glass bottle with limits and boundaries due to their careers, me on the other hand I lived my adolescent years by the seat of my pants and that is what they came to hear. They came to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.
There was an epidemic of violence at their front door, staring right at them in the face.
The City was overthrown by gangs and the gang leaders were busy recruiting kids from elementary schools and by the time they reached middle-school these young kids were already committing vicious acts of violence.
Their weapon of choice was a razor blade, taught how to place razor blades in their mouth under their bottom lip, spitting them out in mid-air and within seconds cut your face from the ear to the mouth.
They called it a buck fifty. It got its name from the victim receiving a 150 stiches.
Those attending were looking for answers.
They say that our lives have reason, and our words have power.
Without having time to waste, every sentence spoken had to be intentional, I needed to make an impact.
In other words I didn’t have time to waste, I needed an arsenal of well thought out words.
Nothing ever came easy growing up and as you continue reading you will understand why this moment was surreal, causing me to stand in awe and in disbelief.
I couldn’t ever imagine anything like this ever happening to me, thoughts of success had never crossed my mind.
When you’ve seen what I’ve seen, thoughts of success weren’t one of my goals.
My goal was just to not end up dead or overdose in the restroom. I know that might sound strange but it was something that raced through my mind whenever I did drugs.
I was never proud of my choices, and as I look back at missed opportunities I feel like kicking myself for not taking advantage of those opportunities.
One thing I did right was to continue with my education, whether in school or self taught, I would always teach myself something new.
The hard work was finally paying off for me.
I would later on become renowned as one of the most sought after gang experts in the Tri-State area.
Most individuals climb a ladder from the bottom and make their way up until they’ve reached a certain level of success or power.
I for one, had to build my own ladder.
Although I’ve always had a sort of keen sense how to succeed at anything I put my mind to. I just was not exceptionally good at keeping whatever I obtained.
My last name is Escalera, and in the English it translates to Ladder or stairs.
Hence the name “Broken Ladder”.
I’ll get to the broken part later.
It didn’t take long before my thoughts processed and words began to form into complete sentences. My words began to find there way unto the crowd of FBI, CIA, ATF and the local law enforcement officers.
I started by sharing the testimony of my life, I laid everything on the table.
Growing up, I had witnessed the criminal system go wrong, I understood suppression was not the answer for every gang member nor was it the best answer for those who deserved a second chance.
My desire was to allow them to look into my life witnessing the change. Even if that meant share my struggles and failures.
I wanted them to realize there was hope.
I needed them to walk in my shoes for the limited time I was given to speak.
Trying fathom what they were thinking as I walked up on the stage. I always wondered what was going through their minds.
The only thing that they knew of me was I was an ex gang member.
I was there to introduce another way of doing things, basically I was there to change the system.
I knew it was a far fetched idea, I needed a quick plan, I needed to capture their attention, get them to buy into the idea of change.
The U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno was sitting in the audience listening, she sat there listening.
I suppose it moved her enough she would later become an advocate and one of our greatest investors issuing us $210.000.00 grant towards the Gang Member Alternative Program.
A non-profit youth program helping young boys and girls who had been entangled by the gang lifestyle.
Every client was court committed for one year and had to follow the guidelines of GMA or face the Judge once again.
I was finally making a difference! I was doing something with my education and my life. I felt that nothing could stop me.
Making frequent appearances on the Judge Hatchett TV Show as a gang consultant, and numerous seminars for the Queens County District Attorneys Office, Rikers Island Corrections, (CAGE UNIT) City-Wide Anti-Gang Enforcement, NYS Parole and Probation Department and many more institutions that had been taken by the Gang epidemic.
The Bloods and The Latin Kings were at war with each other, recruitment into the gangs was violent and their initiation into the gang was ruthless.
Going into Jr. High school I was already getting into trouble, hanging out with the wrong crowd, so to speak.
My parents were going through a divorce which led me to having free time to run around after school.
Where I come from it’s a typical story or should I say it was the norm. Well, I took advantage of every opportunity to leave the house, running around with my friends in the neighborhood, we were all just trying to find our identity.
The rumors from our weekends mischief would spread, making us somewhat popular. The only problem with that was, we started getting targeted by the teachers and started getting suspended for fights and vandalism.
That went on for a few years all the way into high school, even then I was kicked out from high school the very first day for smoking (PCP) the ambulance came and took me to the hospital. The was the last straw, my mother could no-longer handle me, if it wasn’t one thing it was another.
I heard about a meeting being held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice the Latin Kings wanted to have with the Queens and Brooklyn County District Attorney’s Office.
I wasn’t scheduled to speak during this event, but they had asked if anyone had something to add during the meeting so I stood up and started speaking.
The audience was captivated by my words, while others sat there in disbelief biting their nails, I noticed tears as I spoke of my fathers death.
There were so many young gang members there, they’d never heard someone speak about getting out.
I’ve always been quite dramatic when speaking.
I had the attention of King Hector and King Tone, two of the High ranked Latin King Leaders.
King Tone became their Inka leader shortly after this meeting.
He would preach his customary ″Kingism,″ an amalgam of radical politics, Latino pride, jail house justice, Roman Catholicism and the 12 steps of self-help programs.
“I found Tone to be smart and committed to his gang" if I could've somehow reached him that would've been great.
Sadly, he continued taking the path leading him back behind "The Wall".
The Assistant District Attorney 4 gang Intel was fascinated I had worked in law enforcement while living in Los Angeles California, she had sat there and listen to the story of my upbringing and childhood, we exchanged information and a few weeks later I received a phone call asking if I would be interested in speaking at a gang seminar hosted by the New York State Gang Enforcement and the Middle Atlantic Great Lakes Law Enforcement Network.
I had recently relocated from California where I was a gang counselor, working with youth at risk where I'd find them jobs and help them with their resume’s.
Most kids that are entangled in that lifestyle never think about getting a driver license, bank account or had no idea how to fill out a job application.
Earlier that year I was hired at the Criminal Court building in Manhattan as a court advocate for first time felony offenders under the age of 21.
I was cleared by corrections at Rikers Island and began working with the youth at risk within Spanish Harlem. Many of the kids that I started working with happened to be good kids that just hadn’t had any role-models in their lives to help them.
One year later, I was given an opportunity to sign a contract with New York City Probation and Parole Department along with The New York City Police Department. I continued working with the gang intervention programs that were funded by attorney general Janet Reno. I was on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, or as they say 247.
By this Gang Member Alternative was making an impact throughout the Tri-State area. GMA became a household name, I had contracts with almost every division with five officers assigned to the gang unit. Each and everyone were experts in their field, Sgt. Luie commander of citywide anti-gang enforcement (CAGE) unit New York City. Lt. Jimmy commander of Gang Transit Division, any gang activity that happened underground or on the subways he was aware of it. Sgt. Mike, Criminal Court building, he notified us with the information of new cases that went before a Judge, he also had knowledge of any movement within the holding cells that held violent felony offenders. Finally, Asst. Deputy Warden Emanuel who was directly in charge of gang intelligence at Rikers Island.
We had everything we needed to gather the information needed in regards to any gang activity throughout the 5 boroughs of New York City.
With my caseload full, it began to take it’s toll.
I needed help with some of the smaller contracts that we had from (ATD) Alternative to Detention for first time felony offenders that had been convicted and sentenced to a School ran by the States Probation Dept.
It was located smack in the heart of Manhattan. This school took the entire 15th floor, the youth would travel from throughout the city, they came in from the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. On any given day I would counsel 50-75 clients.
They weren’t your ordinary troubled youth, I called my younger sibling Christopher from California and asked him to move to New York so that he could come and help me with with overload.
I hired him as an Asst. Director at the ATD school, where he would facilitate gang prevention classes that were mandated by the court.
Some of these kids had it rough.