Luis Javier Guerrero is a 40-year-old disabled veteran born in San Antonio, Texas. After enlisting and serving for eight years with the Marines stationed both in the United States and overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guerrero eventually earned his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (Cum Laude) with a minor in Juvenile Justice from Grantham University; he is now working towards his Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling (with a specialization in Forensic Psychology) at Walden University. Guerrero is currently employed with Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in Houston where he has served as a detention officer (2013-2014), and now as a juvenile probation officer. He has been married for seven years to Angela and they have a blended family with five children and seven grandchildren between them.
I first heard of Guerrero through Twitter (@713guerrero) where he discussed his work for the Young Warriors Reading Project. Guerrero learned of the great need for culturally relevant books for the young people he served in his role as their juvenile probation officer. Through Twitter, he asked me and several Chicano/a writers for a donation of books; I happily sent him a few. Additionally, I asked Guerrero if he would be open to answering a few questions for a La Bloga interview, and he agreed.
DANIEL OLIVAS: Why did you decide to create this program?
LUIS JAVIER GUERRERO: What really sparked the initiative to create Young Warriors Reading Project was when one of the probationers I had on my case file re-offended and ended up in detention. I went to visit him and when I asked him if he needed anything, and even though I am limited on what I can bring him, I told him I would bring him a book. At the time the first book I thought of was Outcry in the Barrio by Freddie Garcia. I told the young man to not just read the book but to really absorb the message. I told him when he finished the book to pass it on to other juveniles in his unit. I told him the reader does not have to be Chicano or Latino because the message of the book can apply to anyone.
Before I became a juvenile probation officer, I was a detention officer in the juvenile detention facility. I knew back then the book selection juveniles had was not very broad and most of the books were damaged or incomplete (but they do have a plethora of Bibles). I never gave the books much thought because I usually spent my shift talking with the youth about not just my screw ups as a chavalito and adult but what actions I took to correct them. I would also tell them stories about my days in the Marine Corps and my adventures as a Border Patrol agent working along the Texas and Mexico border.
It wasn’t until I left detention to further my career as a juvenile probation officer and when a former probationer landed back in detention that I realized the lack of books available to the youths. I would also encourage the youth to write a one-page report on how the book they read resonated with them and/or what positive message(s) they are taking from the book and applying to their life. We would also have book discussions.
So, with the Young Warriors Reading Project, my focus is juveniles in detention and also at-risk youth to keep them from getting involved in the juvenile justice system or re-offending.
DO: What do you see as the greatest need for these young people?
LJG: The majority of the youth in the juvenile justice system here are Latino and Black. From my experience working with this population it is obvious that many of these young adult males lack a positive male role model. Most of these young men end up falling victims to their environment and find themselves being absorbed into street gangs and the street life. This is because the gangs offer a false sense of acceptance, love, and approval—something that they are missing in their homes. I say false sense because that is exactly what it is: a gang cannot offer real love because the moment one of these young adults gets caught up and locked up, he is on his own. The gang is not going to come to visit or be at court showing support.
When it comes to the young women some of what I mentioned before also applies to them but there is a bigger threat to them and that is human trafficking. Human trafficking can also apply to young men but it is more commonly seen in young females. Houston is one of the major hubs for human trafficking and some of these young women can be from the local area or they can be transported here from other cities or countries.
Some of the youth do come from single parent homes but others come from homes where both parents work out of necessity and the youth are left unsupervised or with inadequate supervision. This means there is a great need for programs that will engage and educate these young adults. For the youth in detention they also need to be supported like with this reading project so they are not just spending their time thinking that from juvenile detention they will graduate to the adult system and that is how their life is destined to be.
In trying to establish this reading project my goal is to get these young adults interested in reading. At first, I want to captivate them with memoirs from individuals that have come from or have experienced similar situations as them so they can relate to the topic. In time I want to move them away from the memoirs and begin having them read books about their culture and cultural/political leaders and what makes their culture different and unique. As we move on in the program, I will have them read books about other cultures and cultural/political leaders so they can expand their awareness. I would include books on the Civil Rights and also on the Chicano Movement and what these events did for Blacks in America and Mexican Americans/Latinos in America.
DO: How can interested people help?
LJG: Others can help by donating books that will captivate and inspire these young adults. My reading project is a little part of my wife’s organization which she has created to work with at-risk young women. My project includes both young men and young women, but eventually I too will incorporate working with at-risk young men. People can also help by supporting her organization as well at www.beyondyourlimits.org which in turn can also help this reading project.
Right now, I am a one man show so my resources are limited. In building my library, I have included books I have read and have reached out to many authors to help with donating books to this cause. The response I have received from Latino authors has been incredible and more than I could have ever imagined. I have received emails from authors praising the project and sending me books; I even had one author personally call me which really left me floored because I am a huge fan of his from the UFC fights; the person I am referring to is “Stitch” Duran professional cutman, he has also sent me a few copies of his book. My list of donating authors is growing by the day.
[Luis Javier Guerrero may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]