Who Am I?
(Editor’s note: Inspired at the Gang Free North Carolina conference; August 14-16, 2012.)
“I am sorry for what I have done. I used to be like the man who killed your son. I am ashamed. I want to help restore your faith in humanity by showing you people like that can change.” Tears rolling down my face.
“Thank you for saying that, Sammy. It is good to know that people like that can find their way out.” This mom’s son was killed by a member of the notorious MS-13 gang. I wanted to kneel before her and beg her forgiveness as if she could wipe away my sins. I wanted to run from her in my shame. I wanted her to slap me in my face and tell me how evil I am. I wanted to start punishing myself all over again. The hardest thing any of us will ever do is face ourselves in the mirrors that other spirits hold in front of us.
Who am I in the face of what I have done in this world and the people in it?
You should know I am stuck with that darkness as it is written in my very DNA and beyond. I used to be all-powerful and all-knowing. The only perfect people in this world are addicts and criminals; at least in our own minds.
Who am I in the face of what I have become as a result of living as a violent, cold, hateful, murderous man?
I don’t deserve the forgiveness that has been shown to me, but that’s what makes it so precious to give and have. I heard a man named Jesus died for all of us…who among us deserved that from him if it’s true? Did the man Jo Berry forgave deserve it? Did my own mother deserve it? Did the country that stole Amanda Lindhout or Camilla Carr and Jon deserve it? I know I didn’t.
“Sammy, if I am to love my children the way they deserve to be, or do any good in this world, or honor my son’s life…I have to forgive the man who killed him.“
Who am I to be walking around free and at peace while my victims live with the legacy of my actions?
I am…not important. The people I serve are important. The people I have hurt are important. The work I do is important. But me…I deserve to be living with my guilt and shame.
Something or someone has other plans for me. I have been freed from the chains of hell so that I might walk freely in hell to liberate others who would be like me. I am focused on that writ bestowed upon me to confront my demons so that I may help others do the same. Rarely is it what I do that is difficult but more so the belief that somehow the world would be better served if I remained chained and useless.
A man asked me one day if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Once I answered he told me I would burn in hell. Little did he know that from birth that’s where I had been. And even less did he know that I would gladly go if it is what I owe. And beyond that, little did he know it is where I work every day and every night. My spirit has been tempered with flames and suffering. Who else could go to the depths of Hades with others to light the way out?
Who am I? The person I was created to be.
In Loving Memory of all those lost to violence and extreme blind hate.
Sammy Rangel has been the Program Coordinator for the SAFE Streets Outreach Program for ten years. Sammy works with Racine County youth and families who face extreme crisis or danger. Often times these youth are involved in gang, drug, and crime activities that place them in risk for incarceration, addiction or worse. Sammy has reached thousands of youth, families, and professionals across the nation. Many of the youth experience abuse, abandonment, homelessness, and engage in survival behavior such as sex in exchange for food and shelter. Mr. Rangel has created an initiative called “Adopt a School”. The presentations are tailored to the climate and needs of the individual school. Sammy has been able to reach tens of thousands of youth through this effort alone. Most recently he was asked to provide a plenary session to open the second day of the 2010 Gang Summit Conference in Milwaukee to Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement and service providers. Mr. Rangel provided two six-state regional conferences in 2004 and 2006. In 2004 Sammy provided in Chicago, a six-state regional conference keynote address and workshop for the Region V Training & Technical Assistance Program and again in Milwaukee 2006 provided a six-state regional two day conference as co-main presenter for outreach workers on best practices, crisis intervention, and gang intervention in non/traditional settings. Sammy has been the main presenter in 2008 and 2009 for Why Gangs in Racine. In conjunction with the Milwaukee Lincoln Park Community Center and the Milwaukee Police Academy, at the Annual "Gangs, Violence and Crime" Conference, Sammy has provided ongoing workshops, presenting information on gangs for the beginner and advanced listener. Analysis on the subject included development, physical, and mental organizational concepts that make up a gang, street gangs and street workers, providing relevant facts and data. Sammy also has provided presentations to University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Carthage College in the Criminal Justice field with emphasis on client centered approaches and the importance of self-awareness when choosing fields and providing services. Mr. Rangel is often asked to come in to various juvenile and adult correctional facilities around the state speaking with staff and clients. In 2006 Sammy was asked to present to the Department of Corrections Psychological Staff. In 2004 Sammy graduated with Presidential honors from Gateway Technical College-Racine as the District and College Ambassador representing 450,000 students in Wisconsin. Sammy graduated from Carthage College with a Bachelors of Social Work Degree with a minor in Psychology, Cum Laude, in 2008. On September 13, 2009 Sammy graduated with a Master of Social Work Degree, Summa Cum Laude, with a mental health focus, from Loyola University-Chicago. He was also awarded An Excellence In Service Award by the school at graduation. Most recently October 19, 2009, Ren Svanoe Youth Leadership Award by the Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services in recognition of outstanding dedication working with youth and families over the last ten years. In February 2008, Racine Interfaith Coalition recognized Sammy and his wife Denise, for promoting peace in the community. In 2006, Sammy received the Martin Luther King Award from UW-Parkside for his Community Service in Racine. Sammy, in 2005, was awarded the Hispanic Unsung Hero Award from the Martin Luther King Center in Racine for his work in the community. Sammy has been repeatedly asked to speak at multiple Black History Month events including for the NAACP and at the Sturtevant DOC site. Mr. Rangel also worked at the Racine County Jail from 2004 through 2008 as a Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor helping men and women with addictive and criminal lifestyles. In addition to his work with youth he also provides mental health treatment as Racine Psychological Services with patient who are chronically mentally ill and/or dual diagnosed. Sammy is an adjunct teacher for MATC, Gateway Technical College, and for the Department of Transportation. Sammy contributes to the community by sitting on various committees that address race, homelessness, crime, gang activity or drug abuse issues among our youth and adults. Sammy has furthered his credibility by overcoming the grips of addiction, and recovering from a street life of Chicago area gangs, violence and prison. It is worthy of note to mention that Sammy has accomplished all the aforementioned within ten years of being released from the Department of Corrections November 11, 1999, after serving more than 15 ½ years through his juvenile and adult years. Sammy lived out the majority of his preadolescent years as a victim of daily and ongoing childhood physical and sexual abuse. At the age of 11, Sammy set out on his own and lived out the rest of his juvenile life as homeless, throwaway child who very quickly encountered drugs, crime, sex, and violence on the street, just like at home. Eventually, Sammy made a lifestyle of the street life including gangs, crime, drugs, and institutions. Sammy considers his most crucial role in the community as raising a family of four girls and enjoys being married to a wonderful woman, all of whom have actively participated and supported Sammy through his career and education. As his wife so aptly stated… “The scary thing about Sammy is that despite all that he has accomplished in a very short period of time…He’s just getting started.”