Gangs, Hollywood, and Second Chances, "Ain't No Half Steppin'": The Story of Manny Jimenez Sr.

Updated: May 23

“Peace, joy, and a beautiful life,” replied Manny Jimenez Sr. when asked what ‘forgiveness’ meant to him. “I want to forgive,”... Jimenez would say, recalling moments of forgiveness both given and received throughout his life – a life which has been truly remarkable. But why the emphasis and importance of forgiveness? While forgiveness is taught as early as language and responsibility, it transitions into a passive state as we age, becoming a social response or even an obligation. When forgiveness becomes an active part to the lifestyle individual, it has undoubtedly been an important and influential action in his or her past.

Manny Jimenez, Photo by @EstevanOriol (used with permission)

So, who exactly is Manny Jimenez Sr.? Depending on who you ask, a whole host of answers are likely to be presented. “A gangbanger” a friend from his youth may say. “A troubled young man,” a police officer or judge would articulate. However, as Jimenez navigated his life into adulthood, the responses would change. “A hardworking writer-director/mentor” would roll off the tongues of people who know him today.” “A loyal man and a good father.” These descriptions serve to clash with popular images of the individuals who, like Jimenez himself, participated in gangs. Popular images are rooted in stereotype and a lack of empathy. When an individual breaks from this image, it is often startling to the point that it is picked up by the media to provide a misplaced sense of hope: If he or she can succeed individually, so can you. We are here to provide this story, not to perpetuate a success-story mythos, but rather to allow Mr. Jimenez to tell his remarkable story of loyalty, discipline, and forgiveness and the impact it continues to have on the world around him.

Manny Jimenez, Photo by @EstevanOriol (used with permission)

To the ambivalent viewer, the beginnings of Jimenez’s life may be seen as typical of an individual who ended up in his situation: a childhood characterized of a pillowcase that would double as a superman cape type innocence, cut short from the effects of domestic violence, tension, and an absent father. However, any serious examination would reveal a life not plagued by the circumstances of the home, but rather a life of determination, loyalty, and forgiveness. With the absence of his father, and an apathetic stepfather, Jimenez’s escapism quickly transitioned from cartoons to rule breaking and shoplifting. According to Jimenez, it was at this young age at which he began to develop the skills of storytelling and – what he would describe as manipulation – language skills which would come to prove relevant at several moments in his future.


His first crossroads came during his early teenage years after a move from Huntington Park, California to a gang neighborhood. When he attempted to keep himself distracted with skateboarding – a passion he still keeps in touch with – ended with a hospital visit, he found himself with few options. A deep dislike of school and an already tenuous relationship with authority resulted in expulsion from the public school he attended. Jimenez found himself in a continuation school, wherein many of his peers were, as he stated it, “angry like him”. These interactions, as well as a craving for a sense of belonging, he stole his first car at age fourteen. Reflecting on the certainty of heartbreak and pain he caused other humans, Jimenez was never proud of what he had done, or what he would come to do. However, he said it was like being “...addicted to adrenaline.” Not long after, Jimenez would become involved with the local neighborhood gang.


We asked Jimenez to expand on the nature and construction of gangs, such as if there was a presence of hierarchy, motivations of the individuals inside the gangs, as well as the general function of the gangs in the neighborhood. Jimenez described the demographics of gangs as “Probably 99% were from dysfunctional families.” “Maybe 1% were from good families,” he recalled, suggesting they were there perhaps out of straight boredom.


“Is there any apparent barrier between these two groups,” we asked.


“Not really,” Jimenez stated, “There was a little bit of a snobbiness…” he described of the individuals who were “living off their family name” within the gangs. Rather, people seemed separated by the “work” they put into the neighborhood “It’s like joining a job at JCPenney…you can get by by just doing the bare minimum work, but if you put in hard work you can move up in your position,” he would say, comparing it to the people who would instead put in a lot of effort right away. Jimenez himself decided the only way he would work in the gang would be to put in full time, he explained, “I just committed”. There is also a bit of a honeymoon period Jimenez noted, where everything is enjoyable. Eventually, however, it must end.


There was a party, one night, located at a house that had been shot up in the past. Jimenez and his friends were throwing a party at that house. He invited his other friend who were still in high school and they went to the party, despite the pleas of his parents, friends, and one friend’s grandma. While trying to get everyone in the backyard of the house, three cars drove by, firing a single shot. His friend Gerry had been hit in the eye, killing him.

Manny Jimenez Sr. and His Mother

“Mom, mom!”

“What?

“He’s dead.”


Being only at the age of sixteen, Jimenez broke out in tears and ran home to his family, yelling this. For many years, the memory of what had happened plagued him until he was able to make peace with what had happened. Today, Jimenez has a gang-prevention short film he wrote and directed based on that night.


The shooting scared some of his peers away, but for Jimenez, it further entrenched him into the neighborhood. The breakdown of loyalty within the gang began to frustrate him. “It was like a false cause…a fantasy,” he described. After losing several more friends, as well as the lack of loyalty from his peers, Jimenez wanted out. Though he wanted to change his actions, he kept presenting a public behavior indicative of his relationship with the gang. Eventually, however, he started to get arrested and charged with thing he did not actually do. In one situation, Jimenez was charged with drug possession and trafficking. He later found out this was planted.


While fretting the possibility of jailtime, Jimenez began to recollect on the individuals he knew who had went prison and the time he had spent with them in the neighborhood. “You need to be very strong-minded or that life will take you down,” he said. “You know there’s a saying. “Ain’t no half-stepping.” This saying is a reference to the Big Daddy Kane song, Ain’t No Halfsteppin.’” Like the person from JCPenney. You can either half-step for five years, or you can put in everything. And there’s no half-stepping in the hood…” implying if you half-step, you will not survive. This is a problem for people who try to leave according to Jimenez. Many will attempt to be a family man, but at the slight sign of effort or discomfort, they are back gangbanging.


After managing to make bail, Jimenez’s lawyer found out that more charges are going to be presented. He managed to get out on bail for the second charges, as well as agree to a plea bargain on the drug charge in order to avoid any jailtime. However, he eventually found himself in court for the second charge. Then, by miracle or otherwise, the individual who had brought forth the complaint did not recognize Jimenez.


“I don’t think that’s the guy.”


Not only was Jimenez free, he was presented with a legitimate way out of his current situation. “I had to decide between the neighborhood and my kids,” he realized. However, to Jimenez, the choice was simple: he wanted to dedicate himself to becoming a good father. This was not an opportunity to be wasted, as it may be the only one he could get, Jimenez explained, while recollecting the memory of a peer who received a death sentence. He concluded that it would require all his dedication. He claimed these experiences in particular would be the source of his success in life coaching and youth mentoring.


Members of Manny's Film Company, Photo by @EstevanOriol

Now that Jimenez was out, he needed to figure out what to do in order to succeed. After getting his license restored, (he had it revoked many years prior) he took a job at Toys “R” Us in order to make ends meet. This was not what he wanted to do forever, however, knowing he would need something more meaningful to fuel his dedication. The dominoes to this source began to fall when Jimenez began taking jobs as movie extras. This came as the result of seeing Quentin Tarantino’s comment “Hollywood doesn’t care where you come from.” Being around film sets eventually inspired a love for filmmaking. This love manifested itself in his passion for storytelling after the completion of his classes at a UCLA Extensions Program. Jimenez shared joy with the fact he received his “…first A+ ever…” at the age of thirty-five. It was also around this time where he began working as a youth counselor “You can’t put a price on some kid’s life,” he said. “The most valuable thing I can give them is my time.” Jimenez was truly transforming into the individual he had been desiring to be.


After some years of progression through the film industry, Jimenez utilized his social skills, as well as acting abilities he began crafting as a young child, to gain the opportunities to begin to write, direct, and produce on a regular basis. The process has made him a better individual, he believes. “Everyone deserves to be treated like Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio,” he said drawing on his experience as youth coach. “Every human being.” This belief was solidified in practice when he ran into Frank, a person he knew from his days gangbanging. Jimenez and Frank were able to reconcile, and mutually recognize a state of forgiveness, being one of the biggest sources of forgiveness in his life he draws on. The relationship between the two is unique, as well as a strong display of active forgiveness. It warrants its own story; therefore, this story, as well as another story regarding the sisters of his late friend Gerry, will be shared independently as powerful examples of this forgiveness, as well as the positive effect it provides.

Manny and Son on Movie Set

The Interview concluded with two questions: “What is forgiveness and what does it mean to you?”


He did not recall hearing that word growing up. Today, it is just as ingrained to his identity as discipline and family. “Forgiveness is peace with yourself,” he stated. Forgiveness of one’s self for what they have done – such as stealing another person’s car – and coming to terms with it. Forgiveness is also interpersonal. “I want to forgive,” states Jimenez, describing the challenge in forgiving the people who have harmed you or your loved ones. The forgiveness he had been shown by Gerry’s sisters, years after the incident, has provided a foundation. Living in a critical and wholeheartedly dedicated way can provide meaning – likely a lesson he shares with those he counsels. Now, any serious examination would reveal a life not plagued by the circumstances of his past, but rather a life of determination, loyalty, and forgiveness.


“Peace, love, and a beautiful life,” declared Manny Jimenez Sr. contently. “Now life starts. Ain’t no half-stepping.”


Rest In Peace Gerardo Rivas



Manny Jimenez Sr. currently lives in Los Angeles. He still is involved in writing and directing films, but his true passion is mentoring young people to help them find their passion in life without drugs and gangs.


He is active on Social Media. You can find him on Instagram and Youtube @MannyJimenezSr His short film "A Second Chance" currently has just under 3 Million views on Youtube.



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