When a Heart Turns Rock Solid

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 8/24/2010
  • Publisher: Vintage

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This provocative and compelling book examines how jobs, schools, the streets, and prisons have shaped the lives and choices of a generation of Puerto Rican youth at the turn of the twenty-first century. At the center of this riveting accountbased on an unprecedented eighteen-year studyare three engaging, streetwise brothers from Springfield, Massachusetts: Fausto, incarcerated for seven years and in and out of drug treatment, an insightful and sensitive street warrior playing on the edges of self-destruction; Julio, the family patriarch, a former gang member turned truck driver, fiercely loyal to his family and friends; and Sammy, a street maven, recovering drug addict, father of four, straddling two realmsthe everyday world of low-wage work and the allure of the drug economyas he shuttles between recovery and relapse. Timothy Black spent years with the brothers and their parents, wives and girlfriends, extended family, coworkers, criminal partners, friends, teachers, lawyers, and case workers. He closely observed street life in Springfield, including the drug trade; schools and GED programs; courtrooms, prisons, and drug treatment programs; and the young men's struggle for employment both on and off the books. The brothers, articulate and determined, speak for themselves, providing powerful testimony to the exigencies of life lived on the social and economic margins. The result is a singularly detailed and empathetic portrait of men who are often regarded with fear or simply rendered invisible by society. With profound lessons regarding the intersection of social forces and individual choices, Black succeeds in putting a human face on some of the most important public policy issues of our time.

Author Biography

TIMOTHY BLACK is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, where he directs the Center for Social Research. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
List of People in the Bookp. xxxvii
Social Marginalization
"I Am a Jibaro, but I Get My Hair Cut in the City"p. 3
The Lost Generationp. 24
Bilingual Education and the School Dropoutp. 51
The Tail of the Drug Tradep. 70
The Blockp. 107
Leaving the Streetsp. 137
Transitionsp. 169
Living Through the Urban Drug War
The Prison Pipelinep. 209
Rebel Without a Causep. 230
When a Heart Turns Rock Solidp. 267
Good and Badp. 298
Conclusionp. 336
Acknowledgmentsp. 351
Notesp. 353
Indexp. 399
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Some memories don't fade with time. Sixteen years ago I returned home from the university in the inattentive manner that accompanies daily routine, pushed the message button on my answering machine, and began shuffling around the kitchen to start dinner. As I peered into the refrigerator, the third message rolled up, "Tim, it's Fausto, I fucked up, I'm in jail, come see me."
Fausto Rivera was among a group of young men I had met three years before, in 1990, while evaluating a school dropout prevention program in Springfield, Massachusetts. Very rapidly, our relationship spilled out of the schools and onto the basketball courts and neighborhood streets of Springfield, where we spent hours talking about our lives. Fausto was engaging and inquisitive—qualities that seemed to stand in sharp contrast to his inability to read or write. The determination of this fifteen-year-old boy was expressed one spring afternoon: "We got a saying in Spanish, 'La fe mueve las montañas.' It means hope moves mountains." One year later, Fausto left school and became more deeply involved in Springfield's underground drug economy. At eighteen, addicted to heroin, he went on a ten-week robbing spree that ended in a failed bank heist and a ten-to-twelve year prison sentence.
Fausto's life carves out a unique pathway; after all, it ishislife, based upon a series of events, choices, and contingencies. Yet, despite the particulars of Fausto's story, many others have taken similar paths—their lives exist within the social grooves that are created and reproduced through public policy, economic opportunities, social institutions, and cultural practices. These pathways developed within the context of Springfield's deepening crisis for Puerto Rican youth in the early 1990s. The number of Puerto Ricans in Springfield nearly doubled in the 1980s and the median age of the population was merely twenty-one (twelve years younger than the white population in Springfield). The Puerto Rican school dropout rate in the late 1980s was around 50 percent, as was Springfield's Hispanic poverty rate. Andthenthe recession hit. At the height of the 1991 recession, the formal unemployment rate in Springfield reached 10 percent, dimming future job prospects for Puerto Rican youths and prompting one Springfield leader to refer to Fausto's cohort as the "lost generation." Not surprisingly, street activity escalated during this period and exploded into gang warfare in 1994. Fausto was just one of many. By the time Fausto was released from prison in 2000, the Massachusetts inmate population had more than quadrupled in the prior twenty years and Latinos were being incarcerated at more than six times the rate of whites.
Of course, the social currents that shaped the lives of young Puerto Ricans in Springfield did not deposit Fausto's entire generation in Massachusetts jails. In fact, the economic recovery that began in 1991 and lasted for a decade eased oppressive conditions in Springfield. Some of the men, including Julio Rivera, Fausto's older brother, left the street economy and found jobs in the expanding labor force. In 2007, Julio had been driving a tractor- trailer for more than ten years and had secured a unionized job that paid nearly $20 an hour, while his wife worked as a bank teller. As testimony to their success, they became homeowners in 2006, albeit two years before their variable interest rate jumped and they joined the millions of homeowners trying to hold on to their homes amidst the subprime mortgage crisis.
Getting to this stage in Julio's life, however, had not been easy, nor had it followed a straight trajectory. In the early 1990s, out of work and desperate, Julio held a gun to the head of a novice drug dealer and robbed him of $5,000. In the heat of Springfield's gang wars, he was made "godfather of the Warlords" by the street gang La Familia. His

Excerpted from When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers on and off the Streets by Timothy Black
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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