OGDEN -- If anyone had loved her besides the gang members who adopted her, maybe her son wouldn't be in prison for life.
Former gang mother Tamra Lucero talked about the seeds that lead to gang life before a crowd of several hundred police officers and educators Wednesday at the Northern Utah Gang and Youth Violence Conference.
She would like to see the Utah Legislature add raising a child as a gangbanger added to the statutory definition of child abuse. "Something needs to be done to protect children from people like I used to be."
She was abandoned by her biological father as a child and watched her brother's father embrace her sibling, she said, and it did no good to confide in her alcoholic mother.
"She always told me everything I did wrong was because I was just like my father," she said.
One visit by her father proved climactic. He ignored her as usual, but this time, he had his new family in tow. When he left without a word, she made her first suicide attempt, at age 8.
The death of her grandmother left her alone at age 11, she said, and in two years, she joined a gang. "They were depending on me, caring for me, looking out for me."
She went on to have four children by four different gang members.
The first two gang members beat her regularly during short marriages, she said, while the next two she never wed, and she became the spouse abuser. "I had a lot of rage."
Eventually, she said, she ran them all off. "My sons were raised by the gang. ... I had the homeboys coming over all the time starting (trouble), so you end up moving a lot."
Lucero is one of the keynote speakers at the gang conference put on by the Ogden Metro Gang Unit, concluding today at the Megaplex Theater in The Junction in downtown Ogden.
The conference is the 13th put on by gang unit, said its coordinator, Vern Hairston. More than 400 people registered for the conference, a crowd Hairston said included as many as 180 educators mixed in with police from across the state.
"They've got the gang kids in the schools," he said. "They watch 'em by day, we watch 'em by night."
He said Wednesday's crowd was probably the largest Lucero has addressed among the roughly 20 talks she has given the past two years as the gang unit's anti-gang mother.
Lucero had six people approach her after her presentation to ask for her card to plan a future seminar. With a syllabus flashing on a 45-foot-high screen behind her, dwarfing her 5-foot-tall frame, Lucero, 40, detailed the gang life she grew up in.
She said the enormity of her mistakes came to her three years ago as she watched her son Riqo Perea be convicted at trial for the murder of two rival gangsters in a 2007 shooting. He's now serving life in prison without parole.
Riqo's father was a gang member from Salinas, Calif., who at one point ran afoul of her local gang. "He took on 30 of my homeboys. He was eventually running for his life. That gives you an example of the guys my kids were raised around."
She blames herself for Riqo ending up in prison, even though she still believes he didn't kill anyone but took the fall for another gang member.
She has yet to endure any retaliation from her former running mates. The only negative reaction has come from posts online, she said.
"They think I'm trying to do this to get Riqo out of prison. ... God has him there for a reason and will keep him there as he sees fit."