Eliberto “Eddie” Ramos barely escaped the street-gang violence of his east Los Angeles neighborhood only to return and work in the criminal justice system.
Ramos, a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles County, earned his BA in sociology at Humboldt State University in 1999. Ramos went on to earn his Master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California.
On Nov. 1 Ramos was presented the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award at HSU. He later gave a presentation on his journey from growing up in the gang culture to becoming an advocate for inmates with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“For me it’s a great experience seeing the two sides of where I came from,” Ramos said. “And now I’m working with the law in order to help the system.”
Ramos grew up in East LA and participated in the gang culture at an early age. He said the culture had been around for 60 years by the time he was born and his whole family was involved. Ramos said it’s hard to wake-up and leave it behind when everyone around you is living it.
“At that age you’ve already lost so many people you ask yourself ‘whats left for me’,” Ramos said.
Ramos caught a break from the street violence and crime when a counselor suggested he go to Pyles Boys Camp at the age of 14. The camp, which is nestled among the redwoods in Sequoia National Park, is a program to motivate at-risk or disadvantaged youth. Ramos credits the camp as paving the way for him attending HSU.
“At the boys camp I had a place to learn how to get along with other people,” Ramos said.
Retired sociology professor, Jerry Krause, said he had Ramos as a teacher’s assistant in his prison and society class. The field experience for the class was to travel to Pelican Bay State Prison. Krause said he had Ramos lecture the class sometimes because he could vividly describe the environment that inmates would be coming from.
“He was so attentive and would always sit in the front row,” Krause said. “You could see his eyes light up.”
Krause said the key in changing life trajectories is with peer relationships. He said it takes people like Ramos to help people with similar situations and backgrounds. Krause said what helps is he has noticed more students are coming from urban areas to Humboldt and studying behavioral science.
“Since I have retired it has become much more diverse in Humboldt,” Krause said.
Retired sociology professor, Betsy Watson, was the department chair of the sociology program when Ramos was a student. She had Ramos in a couple of classes and said he had great intuition and could read people very well. She first noticed him when she thought she saw two “gang bangers” walking pass her, only to find out they were students and one was Ramos.
“I tried to convince him he was as smart as he was,” Watson said.
Watson said the department was most relieved when Ramos would return back for the fall semester. They were relieved he was alive. She said they knew what kind of environment he was returning back to and couldn’t imagine what the parents were having to go through in the neighborhood. Watson said since Ramos was a student at HSU a lot more students have been enrolling with backgrounds where they are exposed to danger. She said the diversity is important.
“Once you study the culture of someone else you learn your culture so much more,” Watson said.
Ramos said the future of rehabilitation lies in therapeutic programs. He said the most successful are peer support programs where people can connect with each other because of shared similar experiences and backgrounds.
Ramos works on alternative sentencing and rehabilitation plans for adult offenders. He said he works as the bridge between the courts, the community, and the clients within the Los Angeles criminal justice system.
“Find your purpose,” Ramos said. “It may take 10 or 20 years to find but it’s out there.”