He Plays A Cholo On Screen, But His Real Life In More Insane Than Any Script. Now He’s Telling His Own Story In Spoken Word

Credit: @richardcabralofficial / Instagram

Who am I? That kid that came from the streets

Striving to be something, anything because no one really believed in me. 

“You could be whatever you want to be,” that’s what I heard them say. 

This former gangster, Richard Cabral, is doing it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 5.23.51 PM
Credit: Summit Entertainment / Jason Merrit via Getty Images

As you can imagine, going from the life-threatening streets of L.A. to walking red carpets in Hollywood was anything but easy.

Credit: @richardcabralofficial / Instagram

To put things into perspective, here’s a glimpse of Richard’s life by the numbers:

1970s – his family started their involvement in gangs.

13 – He officially joined a gang.

14 – He’s arrested.

15 – He started dealing crystal meth and became addicted to crack.

20 – He shot a man.

35 – The number of years he faced in prison.

27 – Months served after a deal plea.

2009 – After working with Homeboy Industries, he landed his first speaking role in 2009 on “Southland.”

2010 – He appeared in the Bruno Mars video for “Grenade.”

2015 – He was nominated for an Emmy for his role on “American Crime.”

Emmy nominations are cool and all, but for this reformed cholo, “it’s about telling stories that could heal.”

Credit: @richardcabralofficial / Instagram

And that’s exactly what he’s doing because as he says, he’s the only one who can tell his story.

Richard teamed up with the award-winning director and dramaturg Robert Egan to produce “Fighting Shadows,” Richard’s account of his life in spoken word.

Behind the scenes of #fightingshadowstheplay #homeboystory starting April 15!

A video posted by Fighting Shadows (@homeboystory) on

Credit: @homeboystory / Instagram

You know, it’s like rap you can understand.

His brutal and truthful storytelling of his life takes you from his early years in gangs and prison to the new world of art and love he discovered. Here’s a sneak peek:

Credit: Lineage Entertainment Group / Vimeo 

Be inspired. Here’s where you can check out Richard’s powerful performance in “Fight Shadows.”

Credit: @richardcabralofficial / Instagram

READ: This Ex-Gang Member Used To Run The Streets Of L.A., Now He’s An Emmy-Nominated Actor

Tag a friend and click share to spread the word of Richard’s story.

From Gang Member To Emmy-Nominated Actor: Here Is The Incredible Life Story Of Richard Cabral


From Gang Member To Emmy-Nominated Actor: Here Is The Incredible Life Story Of Richard Cabral


The entertainment industry is full of rags-to-riches stories, but also stories of survival and resilience. Richard Cabral is the protagonist of such a story. The protagonist of the Sons of Anarchy spin-off Mayans M.C, in which he represents Mexican-American biker culture, has risen from the ashes of a tough life like a phoenix and has become a symbol of Latino resilience.

Here are some facts about his greater than life story.

1. He is East Los Angeles born and bred. REPRESENT.

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Cabral was born on August 28, 1984, in the iconic Los Angeles neighborhood, which has retained its unique personality and rejected the waves of gentrification. Cabral grew up in a difficult environment, which made him tough as nails. He did not have his father around.

2. Being in gangs was sort of a family tradition

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

He has confessed in interviews that he comes from a long lineage of pandilleros, and that his familia has been involved in illegal activities and gang warfare since the 1970s.

3. He was a gang member from a very early age

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Growing up around urban violence in and outside the household made him prone to be engaged in these activities himself, and he became a gang member from a very early age, which makes the fact that he has cleaned up his act even more commendable.

4. He was incarcerated as a child, just 13 years old

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Imagine going to jail as a child of just 13 years, barely a preteen. When most kids are involved in school gossip, Richard had to learn that only the fittest survive. He learned it the hard way, behind bars.


Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Cabral was a gang member in New Jersey and when he was apprehended and convicted as a child the crime was a really minor one: stealing a wallet. And to think that non-ethnic young offenders get off even in instances of sexual abuse or battery…

6. He soon became a drug addict… at 15

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

His drug of choice was crack cocaine, a highly addictive and super damaging narcotic that is basically the leftovers of processed coca.

7. He was released from prison at 15 but was incarcerated again…

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

This time around he spent a decade in prison. It is a pivotal moment in his life and it is truly hard to believe that he survived to tell the story and that he changed his life around and has built a career in front of the camera and behind the typewriter as an author.

8. When he was released he wanted to get his mierda together, and friends wanted to help…

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

That’s when he got in touch with Homeboy Industries, a Catholic youth program that tries to fight the gang problem with compassion instead of rejection. That’s where he found his true calling… acting to exorcize his demons. He also baked muffins as part of the program.

9. He tells it all in Fighting Shadows

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

This is a one-man-show in which he shares his improbable story… but wait, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

10. His rugged looks earned him his first TV gig in 2009…

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Cabral is magnetic on the screen and on the stage. He appeared in the TV show Southland and then in a video for super popular pinoy singer Bruno Mars, “Grenade”.

11. 2015 was his breakthrough year…

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Just a few years after being released from prison Cabral earned an Emmy nomination for his role in American Crime. It was hard to believe that this East Los boy who was destined to live a life of drugs and violence was now lit by the Hollywood spotlight.

12. As his acting paid off, his personal life also got better…

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Just look at this photo of Richard as a proud papa of four. He married Janiece Sarduy in 2014 and has formed a beautiful family. They are his rock, what keeps him out of trouble.

13. But to do so, he used lessons learned in prison. Lesson 1: belonging.

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Cabral has said that life in prison actually has him a sense of belonging. He is quoted as saying: “There was men that I could share stories with, I knew where I was going to get my next meal at, where I’d rest my head at.” Prison gave him a sense of routine, a sense of being part of something.

14. He was first typecast in Latino gangster roles.

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

But that was OK with him, as he has said about his role in CSI: Miami: “I played a Cuban gangster. And that was it. I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t have to clean toilets.’ I could actually dress up and get paid equivalent to that. So that was my introduction to the Hollywood industry.”

15. Acting is actually painful for him, especially when he takes on gang-related roles

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

American Crime led him to relive some very painful memories from his childhood and teenage years. It was cathartic: “I got this. No, man, it was a sacrifice and I really had to go to a deep, dark place. But I’m honored that I showed that other side.”

16. He believes one of the reasons young men join gangs is the lack of father figures

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

It is not an excuse, it is more of an explanation. Richard reckons that broken families leave kids without something to hold on to. He told Entertainment Weekly: “In this society, you have to belong to something I feel, and all we have in the neighborhood is a gang. My father figures were all gang members.”

17. His experiences feed into his roles

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

The character of Coco in Mayans M.C. is certainly informed by these informal families of crime that young men join. Mayans M.C. is all about belonging, sacrificing the one for the many.

18. He has written it all in a book: Vida. 

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

It is not a straight narrative or a detailed factual account of his life in prison or in the streets. Richard uses poetry to reveal his truth. The words are powerful, angry and compassionate at once.

19. Even after a rough life, he believes that people are good by nature

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

Discussing his role of “El Coco”, he told Collider: “A bad person or a gangster wasn’t always like that. There was a time when they were an innocent child. We were all innocent children. So, that’s how I go into everything, no matter who it is. If you read it, it might be the worst person, but I know that the worst person, at one time in their life, was an innocent person”.

20. He knows rejection, of course

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

In his show Fighting Shadows he recalls: “After prison, I was hitting up everywhere from McDonalds and Wal-Mart to temp agencies, but I still couldn’t get anything because I had a [criminal] record and look the way I do”. He is the embodiment of what prejudice can do to the thousands of inmates that are released into society without knowing how to fit in, and without given the opportunity to do so.

21. He is not really in love with Hollywood

Credit: Instagram. @RichardCabralOfficial

He told Fox News: “I’m blessed to do what I love but the Hollywood thing isn’t…. For me, it’s not that I can recite lines or put on a one-man show. It’s about healing. I’m just going to keep sharing a message of hope and love”. Well, we hope that in our out of the industry Richard can keep spreading his message of redemption.

This Ex-Gang Member Used To Run The Streets Of L.A., Now He’s An Emmy-Nominated Actor


This Ex-Gang Member Used To Run The Streets Of L.A., Now He’s An Emmy-Nominated Actor

Summit Entertainment and Jason Merritt / Getty

Richard Cabral’s life story of reformed gang member turned Hollywood star is so remarkable and rare that if you saw it in a movie you’d be like,”Come on, that sh*t ain’t real.” But it’s for real. He went from nearly spending his life in jail for trying to kill a man to earning an Emmy nomination for his work on a critically-acclaimed TV drama. Make no mistake, his success didn’t come by chance, it came by choice.

Cabral’s story starts in East L.A., where he was born to a single mother in the early ’80s.

As a teenager, Cabral looked to gangs for a sense of belonging.

Like many young people who get caught up in gang life, Cabral spent his most of his teenage years in and out of jail.

It's about to go down!!! #Americancrime #TV @americancrimeabc @abcnetwork #HectorTonz #AmericanCrimefans

A photo posted by Richard Cabral (@richardcabralofficial) on

At 20 years old, he shot a man for no good reason.

The day before Cabral was supposed to go to trial for attempted murder, he accepted a plea deal.

He served 27 months in jail, where he got…

Embrace where you come from, it's what makes you. ?: @pochoone #Montebello #LosAngeles #AmericanCrime

A photo posted by Richard Cabral (@richardcabralofficial) on

When Cabral was released from jail, he was ready to change his life.

Homeboy Industries

Soon, he went Hollywood.

"Hope Has An Address" ▪ ️At Homeboy Industries checking out @fabiandebora's beautiful art. #HealingThroughArt

A photo posted by Richard Cabral (@richardcabralofficial) on

Cabral eventually went from playing background roles to earning speaking roles.

Maybe you remember him as the guy from Bruno Mars’ video for “Grenade.”

Richard Cabral in Bruno Mars video

Or as Demon in the movie “End of Watch.”


Eventually, Cabral landed the perfect role in “American Crime.”

Credit: ABC Television Network / YouTube

Cabral was tasked with playing Hector Tontz, a character described as a “young man who has lived life on the fringes of society and has made bad decisions just to survive.”

Cabral’s performance was so nuanced and convincing that he was nominated for a 2015 Emmy.

Emmys here we come!! #AmericanCrime

A photo posted by Richard Cabral (@richardcabralofficial) on

Here he is, lookin’ sharp with his wife, on the red carpet at the 2015 Emmys.cabral-wife-emmys

Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

The accolades and success are nice, but, more importantly, acting allows Cabral to be a voice in his community.

The Next Generation. Poetry from the Streets @EastsidePoetry. #PassingOnTheTorch #HealingThroughArt ?: @pochoone

A photo posted by Richard Cabral (@richardcabralofficial) on

And the community is listening to and proud of Cabral. He even has a burrito named after him.

Playing several roles as a gang member may not seem like a stretch – it could even be interpreted as typecasting.

Credit: Tommaso Boddi / Getty

But Cabral brings an authenticity and depth to his roles that keeps them from being the same old stereotypes we’ve seen time and time again. Cabral has evolved as a person and he’s now poised to evolve as an actor.

READ: A Mexican Artist Made Bear Rugs Out of Gang Members from MS-13

Before you go, don’t forget to click the share button below!

Paid Promoted Stories