Steve Jones | Author | Playwright | Screenwriter

By Freddie Negrete and Steve Jones

Smile Now Cry Later

Guns, Gangs and Tattoos—My Life in Black and Gray

Profiled in the History Channel’s Marked series, East L.A. gang member Freddy Negrete became an orphan-of-the-living at two and a half years old when his parents, both pachuco gangsters, ended up in prison, one for armed robbery and the other for manslaughter.

After growing up in foster care, Freddy joined a San Gabriel gang, Sangra, one of the oldest gangs in Los Angeles, and ended up in a number of juvenile halls and camps, the LA County Jail and eventually Youth Authority prison at the age of eighteen.

A gifted and natural-born artist, Freddy was transported from the confines of prison cells—where, using home-made tattoo machines, he honed his craft as a pioneer of Black and Gray realism—onto the sets of major Hollywood films such as Batman, Blade, Con Air, Austin Powers and Falling Down. But then, after years of success in the motion picture industry, in a tragic twist of fate, he found himself back inside again: in Folsom maximum security prison—tattooing for packets of soup.

Smile Now, Cry Later is a journey of survival and transformation, a moving and inspiring redemption narrative of a Jewish-Chicano artist who overcame death in the form of shootings, stabbings and multiple heart attacks; the scourges of heroin and Oxycontin addiction; and the loss that is every parent’s nightmare: the tragic death of his 16 year old son, Lorenzo, in a gang-related shooting incident.

Foreword by Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, best-selling author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and the Chicago-based Youth Struggling for Survival non-profit organizations.

Smile Now, Cry Later: Guns, Gangs and Tattoos—My Life in Black and Gray was released in hardcover by Seven Stories Press, New York on August 30th, 2016. 

Distribution: Penguin Random House


Review: Black and Grey Realism by Jason S. Sexton, The Los Angeles Review of Books, July 29, 2017

“It traces the story of a throbbing postwar Los Angeles sprawl, but also unpacks the unique drama of Negrete himself, the gangbanger-turned-artist…As I read this gripping memoir, I reflected on the fact that Negrete’s story is a communal one, both dashed and rebuilt with the help of others, and ultimately highlighting the power of Angelenos to believe in one another, to accept one another as we really are… In Freddy Negrete’s life, we see a truer image of Los Angeles’s past and present—a truer image of ourselves.”

Black and Grey Realism by Jason S. Sexton, The Los Angeles Review of Books, July 29, 2017

Read full review here: The Los Angeles Review of Books


“Freddy Negrete’s former life is as dark and forbidding as a thick lined skull tattoo on the face of a menacing gangbanger…one hell of a journey. This memoir by Negrete and Steve Jones is riveting and intense and I couldn’t put it down.”

Patrick O’Neil, author of ‘Gun, Needle, Spoon.’

“Few have lived a life like Freddy Negrete…even fewer, with the assistance of his excellent co-author Steve Jones, could have captured his journey so completely, and put it to writing so compellingly.”

Tom Leu, host of Sound Matters on 1440 WROK News Talk radio.

“This is one of the most moving, original, and ultimately uplifting memoirs, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

J.P. Smith, author of ‘Airtight,’ ‘The Drowning,’ and ‘If She Were Dead.’

“Freddy’s work speaks to people . . .[He] has certainly lived a colorful life—full of darkness and light—and it is these experiences that speak to us through his work.”

Dave Navarro, guitarist (Jane’s Addiction) and host of Spike TV’s Inkmaster.

“This book had a profound effect on me. I cried, I smiled, I read parts that I completely identified with. The main feeling I have after reading this book is a better understanding of life.”

Amazon Reviewer

“…an incredibly literate personal tale that transcends Latin American culture, gang lifestyle, and incarceration. It’s a story of purpose and triumph, and it’s truly remarkable.”

Nick Cassavetes, filmmaker and actor (The Notebook, Alpha Dog, My Sister’s Keeper).

“It’s authenticity…the fact that the text is so accessible encourages the students to stick with [Negrete’s] story, and gives us a lens through which we can process Latino/a experiences across time, place, and space.”

Prof. John Ulloa, who included ‘Smile Now, Cry Later’ in his ‘History of Latinos of the United States’ curriculum at Skyline College, San Bruno, California.

“[Freddy Negrete] was the man who took the Chicano, black-and-gray, joint-style straight out of the prisons and to the top of the tattoo world. To this day, Freddy’s work never ceases to amaze me.”

Danny Trejo, actor (Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete).

About Steve Jones

Steve Jones is an author, commissioned screenwriter and playwright. Steve is the co-author of ‘Smile Now, Cry Later: Guns, Gangs and Tattoos—My Life In Black and Gray’ published by Seven Stories Press, New York in August, 2016.

His first play, ‘Cracked Eggs’ was staged at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court, London; Steve later co-produced Cracked Eggs as a short film featuring Jared Harris (King George VI in ‘The Crown’ and Valery Legasov in ‘Chernobyl’), which screened at the Austin, Boston Underground, LA Shorts, and London Independent film festivals. Steve’s subsequent plays ‘Baloopa’s Journey’ and ‘Hero & Zero’ were awarded Arts Council grants in England, Austria, and Lithuania.


His first foray into writing was as a contributor to Page magazine in Germany where he wrote articles on digital design. This was followed by the publication of an Apple Macintosh troubleshooting/utilities book for International Thompson which was written in the German language and published in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Steve has recently completed a novel set in Liverpool, London and Wales in the 1980s.



Jay S. Kenoff, ESQ.
Kenoff & Machtinger, LLP

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