Pepperdine Voice Magazine
Call Me Tank
Michael "Tank" Gonzales Swaps Gang Life for the Legal Profession.
by Sarah Fisher
Michael "Tank" Gonzales (JD '08) isn't an average alumnus of the Pepperdine School of Law. Former gang member, construction worker, and professional boxer, the soon-to-be lawyer stood out last May as he accepted his diploma amidst cheers from tattooed friends from his old neighborhood.
Growing up on the tough streets of Pacoima, California, education wasn't a consideration for Gonzales and his friends. His parents, however, demanded that he finish high school—something they hadn't been able to do. Then his father cut a deal with him: if Gonzales attended college in the evenings, he would be given a job in daytime construction.
Known around the streets of Pacoima for being fearless, his reputation for fighting earned him the nickname Tank. It stuck. Even School of Law dean Ken Starr fondly calls him Tank. During his construction years Gonzales got into boxing, and channeled his fighting ability into training for a professional boxing career.
"I got my bachelor's degree, but boxing was my focus," he explains. "I ended up blowing out my knee when training. So I was talking to my cousin and he jokingly threw out, 'You should go to law school.' Then he started laughing and said, 'People like us don't go to law school!'"
Gonzales made a snap decision to do it, and received a scholarship to Pepperdine. He worked through law school at Countrywide Financial in an internship created especially for him. With his experience in business law, he's now trying to decide what kind of lawyer he wants to be.
"I feel that being the only person who made it out, I'm here for a purpose. I've done all my work in business but my heart is with all my buddies. Do I chase money, or do I sacrifice that and work for the betterment of everybody?"
Despite the huge gap between what the future holds for a gang member and what the future now holds for Gonzales, his Pacoima friends have big dreams for their boy-gone-good. While Gonzales took care of his best friend Jessie's young daughter during a prison stint, Jessie wrote letters from his cell to push his friend away from the gang lifestyle.
"When you have impoverished conditions then people live a certain way," Gonzales says, paraphrasing what he learned in his sociology course work at Cal State Northridge. "A lot of things in the hood are never going to change, and that's life."
Statistically, he notes, he should be dead or in prison, like many of his friends.
'There's a reason why the bullets always missed me," he says, thinking about his future. "I just don't know what that reason is yet."