Jobs scarce for ex-gang members

By Judy Gibbs Robinson Published: August 16, 2004
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Oscar Meza desperately wants a job, any job -- so long as it isn't in what he calls the "family business."

Meza's mother and father are in prison for selling drugs, and the 16-year-old from Texas already has served time in a juvenile detention facility.

He came to Oklahoma City to live with his stepmother, find a legal job and turn his life around.

"I'm trying to change," said the teen who dropped out of high school but already has a General Educational Development high school equivalency certificate. "I'm trying to better myself and get a job."

It has been harder than he expected.

Meza filled out eight applications and got eight rejections in one week. Most of the time, he didn't even get an interview. The one time he did, the employer wanted someone older.

Meza's chin sank into his chest as he slumped in a straight-backed chair at the Latino Community Development Agency, recalling the humiliation.

"Sometimes, I feel like just giving up," Meza said. "It's easy for me to go to selling drugs. All my family did."

Finding jobs for former gang members like Meza is the single hardest chore for Jose Viloria, a youth counselor who works in gang intervention programs at the Latino agency.

The teens Viloria sends out job-hunting know how to fill out applications and how to dress appropriately, but often that makes no difference, especially if they are sporting gang tattoos.

Meza has two small ones, neither much bigger than a blemish, one near each eye.

A few miles away, Chris Williams, 18, sits in his living room, describing the job he lost at a fast-food restaurant when the weather got warm and he came to work in short sleeves, revealing gang tattoos on his arms.


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