When Steven Luciano went to Santa Monica High School at the request of School Board Member Oscar de la Torre, he did so to impart his message of peace, tolerance, and encouragement to the students. In the aftermath of fights between Latino and Black students, Mr. Luciano and Mr. de la Torre hoped to establish a dialogue that would help put an end to the violence at the school.
Mr. Luciano was asked to come to the high school because he has a remarkable, real-life story to tell. It’s not a Hollywood story written by screenwriters who have only seen the inside of a jail or prison on television or in movies. It’s not an attempt to use “scare straight” tactics to intimidate young people into obeying the law. Mr. Luciano’s goal of sharing his own experiences is to help teenagers never reach the point at which their lives are in crisis. He tries to influence students in a positive way at a time when they are making critical decisions that may shape their lives for years to come.
Mr. Luciano made such a critical decision four years ago when he was thirty-two years old. He had what he calls “a moment of clarity” in which he made a commitment to stay sober. Since his recovery from substance abuse, he has dedicated his life to speaking to individuals at risk, whether they are youths, the drug or alcohol addicted, or those serving time in prison, to help them realize that there is hope for a better life. So when Mr. de la Torre asked Mr. Luciano to accompany him to Santa Monica High School to engage in a dialogue with the students, Mr. Luciano did not hesitate to accept the invitation and offer to do whatever he could to help.
It is somewhat understandable that the Santa Monica Police at the scene, who were unfortunately not apprised of the visit, could misinterpret what was occurring and request that Mr. Luciano leave the Santa Monica campus. Mr. Luciano complied with that request. What followed, however, could have been avoided. Instead of using the incident to create a dialogue with the school board, the Santa Monica Police Department made unfounded accusations against Mr. Luciano. Police Chief Butts wrote a letter, with an attached memo, which he requested to be read at a school board meeting, and which was published in this newspaper, accusing Mr. Luciano of being a “shot caller” for gangs and ordering young people to go into other communities to commit assaults. The memo contained Mr. Luciano’s then home address, which was also published in the newspaper.
This was not only unfair to Mr. Luciano, it was irresponsible. Mr. Luciano is the father of two young children. These types of false accusations could have endangered their lives. Further, the accusations hurt Mr. Luciano due to the incorrect assumptions made by others after reading the letter.
The hope that Mr. Luciano conveys is based on his own inspirational life. Yes, it is a life that once involved gangs, criminal activity, and time in prison but it is now a life that is based on family, hard work, and respect for his fellow human beings whatever their racial or ethnic background. Mr. Luciano is putting in his time now because, as he acknowledges, he experienced a loss of time. He is active in the lives of his children, coaching Little League and participating in school activities. He is a national sales manager for the clothing brand Famous Stars and Straps and owns a retail store on Melrose as well as a small clothing manufacturing company. He volunteers at the Pico Youth and Family Center, where he serves as youth mentor; the Los Angeles Mission, providing help to the homeless; Casa Maravia, an East Los Angeles Community Center; and at Walden House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Mr. Luciano also speaks at prisons, such as Folsom and Mule Creek, working with gang members to turn their lives around.
Mr. Luciano has given several presentations at high schools and junior high schools to emphasize that there are avenues of support for students to get involved in the community. He encourages parental support and community involvement to set up projects to keep youth involved in productive activities.
Mr. Luciano shares Chief Butts’ goal of preserving peace in our community. He has stated, “I put my hand out to the City of Santa Monica, the police and the community, and I offer my work at any time, and I hope to have the opportunity to go back to Santa Monica High School or anywhere and let the presentation speak for itself. I want to show these kids that change is possible. That’s the important thing.”
Mr. Luciano’s hand is extended. Will the City of Santa Monica, its Police Chief, and its high school extend their hand back to help achieve peace and progress in our community?V. James DeSimone is an attorney withSchonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman, llp