“There’s not that many people who get those second opportunities,” Amador said. “Who else in corporate America is going to give me, an ex-con, a job in their accounting department?”
A LOST CHILDHOOD
Amador never wanted to join a gang. A bright child, he tested into accelerated classes at school, and loved playing baseball and basketball. But the park near his East Los Angeles public housing project was controlled by a gang whose members harassed him when he walked to and from games.
“It was around me every which way I looked,” Amador said. “I don’t care what corner, which direction I turned, there was a gang in that area.”
Home was no refuge — family members struggled with their own addiction and legal problems.
The day Amador was initiated he was playing near his front porch. He knew exactly what was happening when a group of young men approached and surrounded him.
“They were like, ‘What’s up, Phillip?’ I was like, ‘No, man, I don’t want to.’ And all of a sudden the first swing came, and the other swing came.”
He was 11 years old.
School gave way to a cycle of women, drugs and run-ins with the law. Amador sold marijuana, was shot twice and was convicted of numerous felonies. In the 1990s he served prison sentences in California and Nevada, missing much of his oldest son’s childhood.
There were occasional glimpses of a way out. The Rev. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang member rehabilitation program, would ride through his East Los Angeles neighborhood on a bicycle in the middle of the night and encourage the boys to go home.
“I’m 14, 15, 16 years old, I got guns on me, I got money on me, I got dope on me,” Amador said. “We were up to no good. He knew that, but he’s making sure we were OK.”
It wasn’t until his then-18-year-old brother, Patrick, was paralyzed in a gang shooting that he began to reassess his options.