Later that same day, members of a gang assaulted Rangel, hitting him in the head with a brick before tossing him into a Dumpster.
Waking up inside it, he prayed to God: "If you get me out of this place, I will live right and dedicate my life to helping people just like me."
Rangel said he crawled out of the Dumpster and afterwards began going to church. With help from a mentor and support from his family, by the age of 27 he'd left drugs and the gang lifestyle behind him.
Since then, Rangel has worked as a counselor. He has steered several young men away from gang life.
Although he's been on the right track for several years, life still poses its challenges.
The organization Rangel directed, New Hope Merced, a nonprofit faith-based organization that worked to rehabilitate gang members, recently ceased operations, because of a lack of grant funds.
In addition, Rangel was recently laid off his county job as a alcohol and drug counselor. He's unemployed, but remains upbeat, sending out resumes every day and going to job interviews. "I'm totally fine with being laid off, and I understand when cuts are necessary." Rangel said. "But if you're going to cut them, you need to have something to replace them. I don't think we've have a very good plan to replenish services with alternatives."
Rev. Roger Minassian, founder of Hope Now for Youth in Fresno, an organization that finds jobs for former gang members, called the book a "worthwhile analysis" on the factors that cause young people to turn towards gangs. "I would recommend this book to anyone interested in working with at-risk youth," Minassian said. "Sam's got a real heart for these kids."
Regardless of how many people read his book, Rangel says he'll continue to work towards showing young people a path out of gang life. "There's other ways to achieve respect, honor and popularity other than going out and committing crimes," Rangel says.
He should know. He took his own path to save his own life.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.