When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Streets


This provocative and compelling book examines how jobs, schools, the streets, and prisons have shaped the lives and choices of a generation of Puerto Rican youth at the turn of the twenty-first century.

At the center of this riveting account–based on an unprecedented eighteen-year study–are three engaging, streetwise brothers from Springfield, Massachusetts: Fausto, incarcerated for seven years and in and out of drug treatment, an insightful and sensitive street warrior playing on the edges of self-destruction; Julio, the family patriarch, a former gang member turned truck driver, fiercely loyal to his family and friends; and Sammy, a street maven, recovering drug addict, father of four, straddling two realms–the everyday world of low-wage work and the allure of the drug economy–as he shuttles between recovery and relapse.

Timothy Black spent years with the brothers and their parents, wives and girlfriends, extended family, coworkers, criminal partners, friends, teachers, lawyers, and case workers. He closely observed street life in Springfield, including the drug trade; schools and GED programs; courtrooms, prisons, and drug treatment programs; and the young men’s struggle for employment both on and off the books. The brothers, articulate and determined, speak for themselves, providing powerful testimony to the exigencies of life lived on the social and economic margins. The result is a singularly detailed and empathetic portrait of men who are often regarded with fear or simply rendered invisible by society.

With profound lessons regarding the intersection of social forces and individual choices, Black succeeds in putting a human face on some of the most important public policy issues of our time.

Reviews from Goodreads.com

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By Ashanta (The United States) · ★★★★★ · July 13, 2011
The Full Title of the Book is "When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: A Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers On and Off the Street."

As a person who has always been interesting in sociology and the analysis involved, I was fascinated by the way Timothy Black, a professional in the field analyzed the mater... ...more
By Gloria · ★★★★☆ · April 09, 2012
I really enjoyed this book. It's a window into the lives of three Puerto Rican brothers, opening during their teenage years. This author gives us a raw glimpse into their struggles with love, drugs, and violence in a sociological study that spans nearly two decades. One of the brothers, Sammy, do... ...more
By Robert (Sciota, IL) · ★★★★☆ · July 09, 2010
"When A Heart Turns Rock Solid" is a powerful and moving ethnography. Black's book belongs on the same shelf as MacLeod's "Ain't No Makin' It," Kozol's "Amazing Grace," and Kotlowitz's "There Are No Children Here." The only difference is that in this case, the children grow up, and are consumed b... ...more
By Meg (Holyoke, MA) · ★★★★☆ · December 14, 2014
A dense, interesting read - this book follows three Puerto Rican brothers in Springfield in a unique ethnographic study. Black is a good writer and deftly weaves his anecdotl information with more harder-hitting economic data, to create a detailed, honest picture of life for Hispanic men
In Spring... ...more
By Ash · ★★★☆☆ · February 11, 2012
I read this book because it was written by one of my professor’s doctoral students able Springfield Mass, a city I live very close to. Tim Black collected information for this book over eighteen years, which is almost unheard of in social ethnographies. The focus is on the lives of three Puerto R... ...more
By Mollie (New York, NY) · ★★★★☆ · June 13, 2011
The first book in a while where I really feel like I learned something. Not only did I get a tour through the lives of these brothers as they struggle to find a place to fit in both in Puerto Rico and the US but I also learned about drug addiction, poverty, education, and prison. Timothy Black do... ...more
By Annie (Westerly, RI) · ★★★☆☆ · December 29, 2009
This book reveals the connection between colonialism, capitalism, racism, cultural beliefs and poverty in a Puerto Rican family. The three brothers grow up with the odds stacked against them in a poor neighborhood where selling drugs is an attractive option- sometimes the only option. Tim Black d... ...more
By Karen (Ludlow, MA) · ★★★★★ · April 02, 2012
This is such an amazing read. An in depth look into the inequities of our society and how people of color and different cultures manage (or not). This book will change the way you look at those who do not have the advantages of guaranteed shelter, food, education, language, status and respect in... ...more
By Ja (Wilbraham, MA) · ★★★☆☆ · July 10, 2012
Very thought-provoking. ...more
By Nicholle (Granby, MA) · ★★★☆☆ · March 07, 2013
school book ...more