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Like the young man pictured above, Eric has many tattoos. Eric joined a gang at 15 and has been in trouble many times because of his drinking.

Eric, 18, wears baggy pants and shuffles as he walks, hands in his pockets.

His eyes — narrowed, challenging — are dark brown, almost black. He shaves his head and wears a goatee. His arms, legs, back and chest are decorated with more than a dozen tattoos.

When Eric was 15, he joined a gang. He’s been arrested 10 times and has six felony charges. Just before his 18th birthday, a juvenile court judge told him he had run out of options.

“In the eyes of the law, you’re about to become an adult,” the judge said. “One more mistake — that’s all it will take— and you’ll spend time in the county jail or the state penitentiary.”

Drugs have been part of Eric’s life since he started drinking at age 12. He smokes weed and has experimented with cocaine and methamphetamine, but his favorite drug — the drug he can’t seem to give up — is alcohol.

“I don’t like those other drugs,” he explains, “too nasty, too much trouble. But beer — oh, man, what can I say? I just love beer.”

Even though his drinking invariably gets him into trouble — fights, drunk driving, “killer” hangovers, periodic blackouts — he can’t stop. At least not for very long. He tried to quit a few months ago and stayed sober for 10 days before he started drinking again. “It’s hard to stay away from it,” he says. “I try, but I just can’t seem to quit. I just like it too much, I guess.”

A gang member, a convicted felon, a drug user and in the judge’s words, “a risk to the community” — to many people, Eric is the epitome of a “bad kid.”

At least on the outside. But what about the inside?

If you take the time to get to know Eric, you begin to see beneath the surface. If he trusts you, Eric will tell you about his life and his struggles to “do good.” He has an 18-month-old daughter, and he is working hard to hold down a full-time job so that he can help take care of her. He talks often and with sincere regret about the pain he has caused his family. He believes that he can prove to them, with luck and over time, that he is not a failure and he can change his ways.

His favorite book is “Father Greg and the Home Boys,” about a Jesuit priest’s relationships with Los Angeles gang members. Eric’s favorite character in the book is Cisco.

“Listen,” he says, reading Cisco’s own words from the book. “‘I started gangbanging when I was 11, that’s when I got jumped into TMC (a Los Angeles gang). When I got jumped in, there was seven people hitting me and I was small. I broke two of my homeboys’ noses and a couple of their teeth. But they couldn’t take me down. I’ve been shot six times.’”

“That’s bad, huh?” Eric asks, his brown eyes wide and wondering. It’s clear that he’s thinking about the relative safety of the small town where he lives and wondering how — and if — he would survive in a big city gang.

Eric openly admits he is responsible for the choices he has made in his life, and he talks without shame about his fears. “I don’t know what I’m afraid of,” he says, “but sooner or later something bad is going to happen.”

He gets choked up when he talks about his friends who have been “sent up” to juvenile institutions or when he recalls the events of the night when Stranger, one of his closest friends, died. Eric was standing on the lawn of a friend’s house, “just drinking beer and shooting the bull” when a car pulled up. Five strangers got out of the car, and a fight broke out. Then there was a “pop,” and Stranger was lying on the ground, shot in the head. Eric helped carry his friend inside; he was holding Stranger’s head in his lap when he died.

In lighter moments, Eric likes to talk about his tattoos. He’ll even lift up his shirt (laughing, asking you not to make fun of his beer belly) and show you the colorful words and pictures on his back and chest. He’s especially fond of the tattoo on his chest that runs from one shoulder to the other and reads: “If you could only see inside me.”

Why did Eric have those words permanently engraved on his chest?

He raises his eyebrows and smiles, slowly, thoughtfully, and in that moment, he looks about 10 years old.

“Because people don’t see the real me — they only see the outside,” he explains. “You got to know me from the inside, too. You know what I mean?”

Kathy Ketcham has written 17 books, 11 specifically on addiction and recovery. In 1999, she began leading educational groups at the Juvenile Justice Detention Center, and in 2009, she founded the local nonprofit Trilogy Recovery Community (trilogyrecovery.org), where she continues to volunteer. To find out more visit katherineketchambooks.com.