From Gang Member To Emmy-Nominated Winner: Here Is The Inspiring 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.



Richard 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 

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

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

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.


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

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…

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…

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

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…


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…

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…

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.

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.

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.”


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

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


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. 


It is not a straight narrative or a detailed factual account of his life in prison or in the streets. Richard Cabral 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

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”. Richard Cabral 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

Richard Cabral 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.


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