God's Gangs

Barrio Ministry, Masculinity, and Gang Recovery

243 pages

10 halftones, 16 figures, 5 tables, 1 map

December, 2013

ISBN: 9781479878123



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Edward Orozco Flores is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. He is the author of God’s Gangs: Barrio Ministry, Masculinity and Gang Recovery.

All books by Edward Orozco Flores

Winner, 2014 Distinguished Contribution to Research Award presented by the Latina/o Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association
Los Angeles is the epicenter of the American gang problem. Rituals and customs from Los Angeles’ eastside gangs, including hand signals, graffiti, and clothing styles, have spread to small towns and big cities alike. Many see the problem with gangs as related to urban marginality—for a Latino immigrant population struggling with poverty and social integration, gangs offer a close-knit community. Yet, as Edward Orozco Flores argues in God’s Gangs, gang members can be successfully redirected out of gangs through efforts that change the context in which they find themselves, as well as their notions of what it means to be a man.  
Flores here illuminates how Latino men recover from gang life through involvement in urban, faith-based organizations. Drawing on participant observation and interviews with Homeboy Industries, a Jesuit-founded non-profit that is one of the largest gang intervention programs in the country, and with Victory Outreach, a Pentecostal ministry with over 600 chapters, Flores demonstrates that organizations such as these facilitate recovery from gang life by enabling gang members to reinvent themselves as family men and as members of their community. 
The book offers a window into the process of redefining masculinity. As Flores convincingly shows, gang members are not trapped in a cycle of poverty and marginality. With the help of urban ministries, such men construct a reformed barrio masculinity to distance themselves from gang life.


  • “A welcome addition to the gang literature, making the case that gender and religion have more to do with leaving the gang than all the forces of state coercion purportedly aimed at achieving the same result. Through his careful ethnography of two well known non-profit gang intervention programs Flores shows how his subjects develop a recovery trajectory that encompasses a complex reconstruction of their identities . . . . His complex, interdisciplinary analysis based on both empirical and secondary data powerfully rejects the simplistic zero tolerance and other repressive social control strategies that are the typical response to the proverbial urban gang banger. A timely and very much needed contribution to the growing field of critical gang studies.”

    —David C. Brotherton, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

  • “A compelling and important book documenting the remarkable journey from gang life to one that is crime-free. This insightful volume advances our understanding of the ways in which comprehensive faith-based approaches can be transformative for individuals as well as for communities.”

    —Byron R. Johnson, author of More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How it Could Matter More

  • "His scholarly, thoughtful approach provides an infusion of spirituality and masculinity as essential variables from which each gang member may reach toward enlightenment, and a foundation on which one may build citizenship. Flores quite accurately identifies and discusses the critical variable of the historic treatment, interpretation, and labeling of Hispanics and their relationship to economic limitations and class creation, which is so glaring in Los Angeles. The author explains that within the barrio communities, the lawlessness that seems to have become one of the most resilient defining characterizations is the result of male resistance and struggle for respect and status. The redirecting of that masculinity and respected identity in the community, in concert with a spirituality based effort to escape gang life, is the essence of this well-developed work. Strongly encouraged for sociology and social work collections. Summing up: Highly recommended." 

    —R.M. Seklecki, Choice

  • "Flores's work should be commended for bringing urban ministries and gang recovery to the fore of gang, immigration, religion, gender, and criminal justice scholarship. Flores's fresh analysis of embodied masculinity makes a particularly strong contribution to research on urban poverty and crime."

    American Journal of Sociology

  • "God's Gangs is studiously steeped in a wide range of sociological discourses and will be of interest to scholars of religion with secondary interests in urban sociology, immigration, gender performance, embodiment, and the interwoven phenomena of recovery and mass incarceration."

    Sociology of Religion

  • "Los Angeles, with its dubious title as the 'gang capital' of the U.S., has a much-studied history of gangs—particularly Latino gangs—that stretches back to the Great Depression. Flores contributes to this history in an important way with his focus on disengagement from gangs, what he terms 'gang recovery,' an area of gang research that has exploded in just the last 5 years . . . . God's Gangs injects some much-needed thick description into an evolving literature, contributing to a growing chorus of contemporary Latino youth and gang ethnographies in the U.S., and in doing so, shines a light on accomplishing masculinity and immigrant assimilation in the U.S."

    Crime, Law, and Social Change

  • "With 152,000 documented gang members in Los Angeles, understanding how to address and facilitate the integration of former gang members into society is crucial, timely, and much needed.  This book’s documentary efforts make a strong contribution to conceptualizing how small, intimate, personally caring organizations based in faith traditions, can transform lives, cultures, and societies.”

    Journal of Jesuit Studies

  • “[…] God’s Gangs illustrates an amazing easiness that should be read and assigned.  This book should not only be part of the Latin/Latino religious traditions discourse, it should be considered for anyone interested in social change.”