Bobby Rodriguez started tagging when he was 13, spray painting illegal graffiti art from San Pedro to San Bernardino. Life in that world led to other illicit activity and several arrests.
"I got really involved with the criminal aspect," he said. "I don't want to go into much detail...but there's basically nothing I haven't done."
Today, at 25, Rodriguez is an aspiring commercial artist, thanks in part to the efforts of a Santa Monica-based nonprofit called Streetcraft L.A.
Streetcraft co-founder Jonathan Mooney calls it a social venture, designed to show talented but troubled kids like Rodriguez that their art can be a source of legitimate income.
"There’s this misconception that graffiti is gang related," Mooney said, adding that most is not. "It’s often creative young people who don’t have a different channel for their creativity."
The channels they do choose can get them into trouble, especially since graffiti can be treated as a felony, he said.
"There have been young people who have gone away for lifetime sentences as a result of three strikes, three graffiti strikes," Mooney said.
Mooney and a partner, Emmet Ashford-Trotter, founded Streetcraft L.A. about two years ago. It operates out of a small showroom on Main Street in Santa Monica. Mentors teach teens and young adults - recruited from the streets and continuation schools - how to turn their art into a sellable product.