The book begins with a preface in which the narrator explains the reason why he chose to write the book. Always running is an autobiographical book written in 1991 by Luis Rodrigues, a former member of a dangerous gang. He eventually managed to get out of the gang but unfortunately, Luis’s own son, Ramiro, became involved in a gang in 1991. Ramiro, Luis’s son, left his parents’ home after he was given a choice of either continue living at home with his parents or giving up the gang life. Luis finds his son two weeks after he ran away from home and Ramiro told his father that the reason why he joined the gang was because it helped him stop feeling so vulnerable and helped him deal with the psychological problems he was having. Luis helped his son get the help he needed and he also decided to begin writing his memoir, a book that had the purpose of showing why so many people decide to join gangs and become involved in a dangerous lifestyle.
In the first chapter, Luis presents his family. Luis’s parents were originally from Mexico but they decided to move to America because Alfonso, the father was against the government and that put the family in great danger. Luis and his other three siblings were born in America but when Luis was nine years old, the parents were discussing moving back to Mexico.
Luis talks about his parents and highlights the fact that the two are completely different from one another. His father for example, is a man who is Mexico used to have a powerful position and was even a school principal at some time in his life. His mother used to be Alfonso’s secretary and she is also a lot younger than her husband. Luis has many step-brother and sisters as his father used to sleep around a lot before getting married and some of his siblings lived in Watts, the same neighbor where Luis was also living.
Luis had a difficult childhood and his parents always struggled to find work. Luis has a hard time adapting to the American society and the kids in school used to make fun of him. What is more, Luis was also bullied by his own brother, Rano, who used to take his anger on Luis. Maria is often sick but she still has to work as a maid to help sustain her family financially.
At the age of six, Luis begins school but he loses one year since he does not speak English. Despite the language barrier, Luis becomes friends with two other boys, Jamie and Earl. The three of them are outsiders but that allows them to bond with one another.
The family moves from one place to another and while Alfonso finds for a brief time work as a teacher, he is fired because his students cannot understand him and because he dared to propose new teaching methods.
For a little while, Luis’s family stays with Seni, one of Alfonso’s daughters but they are forced to move when Seni is evicted from her home. After the eviction, Alfonso and Marie separate briefly and Marie decides to take her children back to Mexico. She does not do this however as she realizes that she will not be able to find work good enough to sustain her children so the family decides to stay in America after all.
The family moved into a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles characterized by violence and gang related activities. In the same year when Luis moves into the community, one of his close friends dies while trying to run from the police so Luis decides to join a gang. The gang leader claims that the gang members must protect one another and Luis feels as if the gang became his family. Other clubs and gangs appeared as well and some of them were quite violent, shooting at schools where other members of rival gangs frequented.
Years pass and Luis begins high school. During that time, he begins dressing up as a gang member and having relationships. Luis’s first girlfriend does not approve of Luis’s lifestyle but his second one is supportive and even tells Luis to get a tattoo.
The school where Luis went was not a good one either and violence was a common thing in the schools. His parents try to keep him away from that lifestyle by grounding him but Luis admits that by the time he was just 13 he was already involved in the gang lifestyle.
Luis becomes attracted to a gang named The Tribe and Luis talks with various people who can help him get accepted into the gang. Luis is accepted into the gang together with some other friends, Wilo, Clavo and Chicharron. One night, Clavo is shot by members of the Sangra Diablos gang. Clavo survives but he loses an eye. After he gets out of the hospital, the gang goes to a beach where they party until they are stopped by two police officers who take them into custody. The boys were later freed by the police with a single exception, a boy who was arrested for something he had done in the past.
Luis thinks back to his childhood and how he had to suffer because his parents did not have enough money to provide him with basic health care. Luis remembers that once, his mother tried to treat a food infection by slicing open a sore and then putting herbs into it. The process was extremely painful but his family had no other choice.
At 13, Luis begins stealing from various shops and then quickly moving up, stealing cars and breaking into houses. Together with the gang, they begin to rob various shops, threatening the owners with their guns.
In the fourth chapter, Luis admits that he contemplated committing suicide on more than one occasion. Luis’s relationship with his parents is also affected by his gang related activities so he is forced to sleep in the garage instead of sleeping in the house. The situation at school also becomes tense and Luis is soon expelled from school for hitting a white student.
Luis works various odd jobs such as delivering papers and being waiter to earn money. He is treated with hate by the white customers and the police frequently come by to check the Latinos and see whether they are illegal immigrants or not. Because of this, Luis gets used to having his birth certificate on him at all times.
Luis almost dies one night after getting high but he continues to do it despite the dangers to his health. At the same time, Luis convinces his mother to forgive him and accept him back into the house.
The gang Luis was a part of falls apart when the gang leader is killed. Luis joins the Lomas and he has to endure being beat for three minutes before he is accepted as a member. That same night, Luis is taken by the gang to a bus full of workers and it is implied that Luis killed the driver by stabbing him with a screwdriver. A few weeks later, Luis takes part in an arson attack where they throw Molotov cocktails at a rival’s house. For that incident, the rival gang gets revenge by attacking Luis’s sister who also became a member of the gang. Luis saves her however and they both get home safety.
Rape is also common in the neighborhood but Luis refuses to get involved with it. Luis and his friend Chicharrón begin doing hard drugs and hooking up with random women. Luis gets attached to a woman named Roberta but when he finds that she is a prostitute he begins avoiding her.
Maria and Alfonso try to convince Luis to continue his education. Alfonso enrolls Luis at Taft High School and Luis expresses his desire to study art and photography but he is told that those classes are full. Luis spends a lot of his time in the library, reading, but he is criticized by his Literature teacher for reading literature written by Mexican writers and Luis loses his interest in literature and he stops going to school.
Chente, a man who was once a member of a dangerous gang but who turned his life around offered Luis the possibility to work for him on various charity projects. Luis works the whole summer for Chente while also training and boxing. That same summer, Luis finds that some of his friends died while they stole a car and in order to deal with the pain of losing yet another friend, Luis starts getting high again. Chente warns him that the drugs will kill him if he is not careful and he urges him to give them up.
Luis is imprisoned in the year 1970 after Luis took part in a protest against the Vietnam War. Also, the violence related to gangs decreased as gangs stopped fighting against one another and tried instead to solve bigger social issues affecting their communities.
Luis meets again with Vivian, a girl he met briefly a few years back and the two began spending more and more time together. Vivian breaks up the relationship soon after however and Luis sees her kissing another man.
Luis enrolls once more in high school that year and he becomes involved in an organization trying to fight for the equal rights of the Latinos in school. Luis and Esmeralda are chosen as the new mascots of the school and this prompts other students to join the group. Luis also writes plays about the hate between the hate between two gangs and even tries to offer solutions to resolve the violence between them. Luis also organizes protests, with the purpose of getting more classes for the Latinos and more Latino teachers.
Despite all the progress he was making, Luis is one night arrested after he shot a white biker after he attacked a Latino in the neighborhood. Luis is 17 when he is imprisoned and his parents refuse to visit him or help him. Luis is released because the ToHMAS members got him out but the teachers at his school are mad at him for giving the younger students a bad example.
Chente is even more determined to make the community talk about the problems with gangs and Luis proposes that jobs would help solve the problem. Luis notices another problem, namely the fcat that more and more teenege girls get pregnant. The girls are then forced to raise their babies on their own as neither the girls’ families nor their boyfriends are willing to accept the responsibility.
In the eight chapter, Luis also recalls how one of his close friends was killed by the police. The man in question, Miguel, tried to get his life straight and keep away from any gang related activities but when he tried to help one of his friends he was shot by the police. Miguel’s death prompted the two gangs to unite against the police brutality and they protested against the police forces. The officer who shot Miguel was later convicted for murder.
The peace until the two gangs was short lived however because two Lomas members were killed during a drive-by shooting and thus the conflict started once more. The killings pushed Puppet to organize a hit against the rival gang and when Luis tried to stop them he was called as being weak and a coward. That night, Puppet and other Lomas members kill a prominent Sangra member.
Luis returns to school where he continues to be even more active. His writings are appreciated by his teachers and some even encourage him to get them published. Others appreciate Luis for his artistic abilities and he is offered an Economic Opportunity Grant at California State College. Luis goes on to graduate from high school and then enrole into college where he studied Chicano Studies and Journalism. It is also around that time when Luis began writing a book about his life and about his experiences.
Around that time, Luis found that one of the girls he was sleeping around got pregnant but the girl vanished suddenly one day and Luis never heard from her again.
The violence escalates and Chicharrón is accused of murdering another man so he is sentenced to prison. Luis also gets in trouble for assaulting a police officer when he tried to intervene during a fight between a woman and a police officer. Luis manages to make bail and he befriends a woman named Licha who was imprisoned for disorderly conduct.
With the date of Luis’s hearing approaching, he is told to plead guilty but he is not thrilled by the idea. Luis accepts in the end to plead guilty and is sent to prison for a couple of months. After Luis is released from jail, he calls Licha and they have a brief relationship before Licha decides that Luis it too young for her.
After Luis is released from jail, he stops going to college but he continues being politically involved and he continues wanting to change the world he lives in. Luis also realizes that he has the power to influence others to change for the better. Some members in the Loma gang are not happy with this and they shoot one night at Luis, warning him that what he does is not approved by the gang.
At that point, Luis decides to move out of the neighborhood and into a safer place. He continues being active politically, wanting to help his people as much as possible. Luis believed that he left the gang life behind until one day in the 80s when a man which was attacked by Luis shows up to him, showing him the place where Luis stabbed him. The man expresses his desire to kill Luis but he eventually convinces him not to do it.