Victor M. Rios was born in Mexico and immigrated to Oakland with his mother when he was 2 years old.
Growing up in a single-parent household Mr Rios lived in several Oakland neighborhoods in his youth, including West Oakland, the Fruitvale District and Elmhurst. He grew up in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Oakland. Growing up around drug dealers and gangs, he was forced to join a local Latino East Oakland gang when he was 12 years old for protection from rival gangs.
Being part of the gang brought Victor Rios into a life of crime, stealing cars, sometimes living in them, selling drugs, getting into fights with rivals, going in and out of Juvenile Hall. When Victor was 15 years old one of his best friends was named “Smiley.” Smiley was shot and killed in the Fruitvale district by a rival gang and he literally died in Victor Rios’ arms. It was around this time that a teacher who Victor Rios called Mrs Russ began helping and mentoring him. An Oakland Police Officer also gave him a break from catching a major case with severe charges.
Victor Rios began Changing his life from gang member to college student. He enrolled at Uc Berkeley and would eventually earn a PhD in Sociology. He began mentoring Oakland youth and working with them to get out of a life of crime and into college.
Victor Rios wrote 2 books. One was about his life growing up in Oakland in a gang, called Street Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D. The second book he wrote was a study on Oakland black and Latino youth and how the local justice system and school system systematically sets up kids for a life of punishment and jail time instead of helping youth get out of that life style. The book is called Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys.
Today Victor Rios is a Professor at UC Santa Barbara. He still works with at risk youth in the Santa Barbara area.