The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The San Diego Foundation.

45-caliber flesh wounds, high-speed chases, decade-long jail sentences, and young lives cut far short: in the process of creating our feature film Imperial Dreams, I have witnessed all of these.

Yet I have also borne witness to self- discovery and redemption.

The real-life struggles of the young men from South Central Los Angeles who inspired Imperial Dreams story represent the psychological and socioeconomic realities that so many people of color must confront in present-day inner-city America.  It is a populace hardened from exposure to a culture of violence and fear (the circumstances at hand).

Yet there persists a distinctly American belief in the promise of tomorrow, and always pulsing below the surface, there lies the distinctly human need to trust.

Challenges and Risks for System Involved Youth

Our film is an intimate, visceral, authentic look into a broken home, which mirrors an entire generation – and how they patch it all back together.

At the very heart is a very simple family story about a young father trying to provide for and protect his 4-year-old son against all odds.

And as tragic as this tale may seem, it’s clear that our protagonist is bound and driven by the same hope and passion that lives within each of us. The gangster lifestyle has been deeply mythologized in global pop culture for its chaotic, violent, impulsive inclinations.

No wonder.

There are challenges and risks of vulnerable youth populations that speak to this. Our intention, however, is to counter that by adding to the mix the nuances of the human condition that are also at play.

Behind the Numbers

According to a SANDAG report, Seeking Alternatives: Understanding the Pathways to Incarceration of High Risk Juvenile Offenders, in the San Diego region alone:

  • 76% to 97% of San Diego youth offenders witnessed violence in their lives
  • 43% had a family member who had been to prison
  • 58% reported having difficulty learning
  • 98% reported alcohol use and 100% other drug use

Scroll through the slide show below to uncover more data about system involved youth in San Diego:


The report also reflects common insights that uncover the challenges and needs of this population:

  • More community support is needed before removing youth from the home and placing them in prison
  • Staying in their own school would have been helpful to prevent future mistakes
  • Teaching youth basic life skills is vital, including what it means to be held accountable

Imperial Dreams is about learning to muster the resolve to establish your own identity, and your own sphere of love, safety and compassion even when everything around you remains in chaos.

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