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How The Founder Of Mexican Mafia Shed Gang Life For That Of A Devout Christian

November 1, 2015  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
How The Founder Of  Mexican Mafia Shed Gang Life For That Of A Devout Christian

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The East Los Angeles gang member who found the Mexican Mafia and spent 40 years in and out of prison has since found God.

Kilroy Roybal, 76 knows what it’s like to kill another man, “I regret it and wish I’d never done it,” said Roybal Thursday in Oroville. He’s visiting the Northstate in California, to speak with law enforcement and community members about how to keep young people away from gangs.

The path to crime began early for Roybal, who would go on to become one of the founding members of the Mexican Mafia, or La Eme, which rose to prominence in California’s San Quentin State Prison.

Back in the Sixties Roybal said killing a rival gang member was a source of pride. “I wanted to be somebody, and be recognized,” Roybal said. “I wanted to be a part of a family, because my (real) family didn’t want me to be around.”

Roybal said when he joined the White Fence gang in his Boyle Heights neighborhood, he had no idea he would spend the next 40 years ‘living a really violent life’.

“Nobody liked us – they instilled that in us, the older guys. White Fence had no friends.”

Roybal said he was blessed with athletic ability and could have been a professional baseball player or boxer – but he decided to go another way.

“I thought I’d make more money being a salesman,” he said. “Selling heroin.”

But it wasn’t just about the money. Roybal wanted the recognition, he wanted to feel like he belonged. ‘I wanted to be somebody,’ he told KRCTV.

As Roybal found himself going in and out of prison starting in the 1950s, he found a new family with the Mexican Mafia and held the position of shot caller – ‘telling people what to do and how to do it,’ he said.

It wasn’t until 1993, when Roybal was released from solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay State Prison, that he decided to walk away from La Eme.

A lack of self-esteem is what Kilroy says draws young boys to gang life. For him getting out required some divine intervention. “Jesus is keeping me alive; that’s no jive,” he said laughing.

Roybal has since been devoted to his church for 20 years, and remains one of the few Mexican Mafia members to leave the gang without becoming an informant for the police.

Kilroy is now part of the Jordan Crossing Ministries led Michael Tomlinson, who often see the gang activity in Oroville’s south side right around the corner from their church. “There’s Hispanic gangs on the north and south, there’s the Bloods and Crypts, and white racist gangs here. There’s Asian and Hmong gangs here,” said Tomlinson.

According to Tomlinson, hundreds of gang bangers are in and around Butte County. But Tomlinson and Kilroy along with other former gang members and pastors are holding a reconciliation meeting this weekend in which Butte County Dstrict Attorney Mike Ramsey and Sheriff Kory Honea will also attend.

“It will not only touch the people who want to be gang bangers but it will touch the families and give them hope that there is a way out and don’t give up on the youth that is believing a lie right now,” Tomlinson said.

A faith-based gang intervention documentary about Roybal’s journey, called The Kilroy Roybal Story and directed by Paul Morales, is coming soon.

It was shot in Boyle Heights, the same neighborhood where Roybal grew up and first began his decades-long ascent into organized crime.

Roybal said people criticize him now for dropping out of his old gang life, which he replies: “I didn’t drop out, I dropped in to something better.”

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