Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

A former gangbanger says he was "naive" to trust Gangland

More than anything, I'm mad at myself," admits Francisco Gallardo, program director of Denver's Gang Rescue and Support Project, one of the key players in the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver and a willing participant in "Mile High Killers" — until he actually saw that episode of Gangland.

"Nothing but lies, lies, lies, lies, lies," he labeled the show in a video response posted soon after it aired on March 5.

When the producers came to him last summer and pitched the piece, Gallardo says, they assured him they were going to tell the other side of the story, the side about former gang members who broke free of the lifestyle and turned their lives around and are now helping to turn around the lives of at-risk kids. "I feel real naive. I should have known better. It looked like I just got out last week. I've been out eighteen years — eighteen years! That part of my life is an open book."

And he's ready to throw the book at both the producers and the History Channel. "I was definitely not happy," he continues. "I wrote them a letter, my wife sent them a letter." Neither of them has heard a word — not from the production company or the network, at least.

But Gallardo's a tough guy, and he can take care of himself. He's more concerned about the hit that the city's north side took. "That's my neighborhood, where I grew up," he explains. "People are really disappointed; it's not the north side they know. It makes them feel bad about their neighborhood, when the neighborhood definitely isn't as bad as it once was. It's really torn up our community."

Jolt is part of that community. "I feel bad that they dragged him into that episode," Gallardo says. "We used to have this little center on the north side, and he came when he was a kid and just learning how to draw. I've known him for a long time. I've seen him start a business, put people to work. People really look up to him. I know he feels like his brand is threatened. I'm proud of him for going on the offensive."

Although Gallardo pulled down his own response after a week and thousands of hits, he's not done fighting back against "Mile High Killers" and its sensational take on this city. "The kind of slant they took on me and other people — Jolt, the way they depicted him, even the cops — we all got duped in a way," he says. "Some of the stuff, 99 percent of the people watched and said, 'What the hell is that?' That's not us, that's not who we are."

How can they show who they really are? By making their own videos. "I got messages from everywhere," Gallardo recalls. "They were all like, 'I want to tell my story.'" To help get the dialogue moving, he's encouraging them to tell those stories to the camera, and is even creating a cheat sheet on how to do it: Be positive, be clear, be truthful. He plans to upload the best of these homemade videos directly onto the GRASP site, in the Barrios Unidos section already devoted to a new program that calls for the creation of five murals using graffiti art to fight the "never-ending cycle of violence that grips our barrios." The videos will just add another dimension, another medium, to the message.

"I learned a good, valuable lesson," Gallardo concludes. "We have to be in control of our stories."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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