Ex-Los Angeles gang members work to stop violence

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - While gang violence in Chicago is prevalent, the problem is also bad elsewhere. One city with a high rate of gang-related deaths is Los Angeles.

Former gang member Rey Rodriguez spends summer nights at the park in his East Los Angeles neighborhood often telling kids how lucky he is to be alive.

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"I took four bullets one in the shoulder, two in the stomach, and one in my spine which is still there," he says.

Ex-gang member Rey Rodriguez had been shot on four occasions by the time he was 20.

He was 20 and on a path to an early grave.

"(I've) been in jail, been in prison, already had gotten shot four times," he explained to CBS News.

"Yeah it was a pretty crazy teenage life," he added.

Now, at 36, Rodriguez has a paid job as a community intervention worker to stop gang violence. The park is part of that. It's one of 32 places in gang-ridden Los Angeles neighborhoods where the lights stay on until midnight for pickup games and organized leagues. Even gang members are welcome here, but Rodriguez convinced them not to bring trouble.

"Our job was to go out into the neighborhoods, and let them know this is a safe zone there is nothing going happen here. So we engaged the people we needed to talk to and promoted that peace," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is one of more than a hundred former gang members trained by the city to negotiate peace.

"They can talk to those young gang members of those gangsters just like I talk to a young police officer," Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck told CBS News. "(They can say,) 'I can see where you're going. I know where this road leads because I've been there.'"

Beck admitted it is dangerous work.

"There's nothing safe about gang violence, and there's nothing safe about stopping gang violence," he said.

The danger is real for Rodriguez, but so is the accomplishment.

"A day of not having nobody shot, no mother crying is a successful day," he stated.

Since Los Angeles started recruiting former gang members in 2007, homicides in gang hot zones have dropped by more than a third and shots have been cut in half.

"I'm more than glad to show anyone the price of living that lifestyle," Rodriguez said. "It's not easy, it's not glorious, it's not. It's pain, sorrow, suffering, madness."

For Rodriguez, salvation came by rescuing others.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.