Field Note: The
juvenile officer said "I think they should talk with someone who is experienced in
gangs. Someone who was in the life and out of it now. Someone
who really knows what it's like. That's what it takes to reach little
At one of the juvenile officer's suggestions, I invited Jose to visit
with the youth in the detention center and brought him to town for that
purpose. He spoke with the juvenile gang bangers for about an hour. The impact of his words were
palpable. They had never met a sophisticated and
dangerous gangster and they were actually frightened.
I don't know what will become of those juvenile gang members in the long-term, but,
a few months later, the juvenile
told me some of them were offending less often or had gotten out of the gang
life all together. Will this work every time? I don't know. Does it have the
potential of being a valuable tool in the tool chest of solutions? I have no
doubt about that.
Former gang members are an asset as part of a prevention and intervention
strategy when they speak with gang- and non-gang youth (i.e., in a faith institution youth group,
in school auditorium presentations, at camp, a the detention center and jail).
In the Netherlands, Werdmolder (1997)
found ex-drug users and ex-gang-members valuable as instructors.
Deploying ex drug users as "instructors" in working with substance abusers is a very effective
treatment strategy. The same logic applies in working with gang
1997, p. 91)
In addition to speaking with other youth, former gang members can
participate in special television broadcasts (your local public television
station may be interested in doing this), or radio program. In order to
maximize their contribution, you could videotape a former gang member's
presentation and use it with probationers, school children, and youths under
the supervision of juvenile services. Be sure to get a signed release from
the former gang member allowing you to make, distribute, and show the video
at your discretion.
Former gang members may be found by contacting local probation and parole officers. They know who their successful
gang clients are and may be
willing to attend presentations with them. The presentations are, in effect,
part of the treatment program for the officers' clients. The following is an account of a former gang member's work with at-risk
youth and active gang members in Springfield, Illinois, as published by the
News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (1996)
Former Gang Member Works
Violence-Prevention Program in Springfield
(Reprinted here with permission)
Springfield, Ill. - Former Chicago gang
member Efrain Marquez still is involved in the lifestyle he once left.
However, instead of living life fast on the streets, he now actively helps
young people in Springfield escape the dangers of gang activity.
Through his voluntary involvement in violence-prevention programs of the
University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service (CES), Marquez talks
with gang members about how they can get involved in their community and
get help from various agencies and organizations.
With initial support of CES, he also
established "Faith, Hope and Love," a youth-resource group that
provides outreach and group activities to at-risk youths in gang-prone
areas. Such projects are examples of
Public Engagement, the university's program of service to the state.
Marquez, a 41-year-old truck driver for the city of Springfield, is an
example of someone becoming involved in an important activity to help his
community, said Dan Dawson, prevention educator for CES in Springfield.
Living in Chicago, where the FBI estimates there are as many as 125
different street gangs with up to 75,000 members, Marquez recalled,
"Gang life was a lifestyle you just kind of grew up into. As I was
growing up, I was seeing how easy it is to fall into it, but it really
doesn't lead anywhere but to drugs, alcohol and a fast life of pursuing
Outside help lured Marquez into a safer lifestyle in Chicago, where he
began working with gang members to clean up graffiti. "Through the
Cooperative Extension people, we all began to see that there was a need to
bring down graffiti around Springfield," Marquez said. "So I got
involved with the CES Paint the Town program [chaired by Dawson]. That led
to more direct contact with teen-agers, especially with gang
"Having direct contact with gangs is not for everybody," Marquez
said. "I think that you have to know something of gangs, to be or
have been a part of them, to be able to reach them. Through the Paint
the Town program, we were able to get gang members to work anonymously to
paint over the graffiti. It gave us a chance to show them a program that
can work with them, and teach them how to not put up graffiti."
Graffiti is a very visible part of a gang, with specific meaning for each
gang, Dawson said. "Most importantly, it defines the area a gang
claims as its turf, but it also is used to show opposition -- even
contempt -- for a rival gang," he said.
During three "Paint the Town" days since 1994, more than 700
volunteers have painted more than 200 gang graffiti sites with some
$10,000 in donated painting products. A follow-up survey found that only
15 percent of 45 randomly selected sites had been repainted by a gang.
Outside of his CES connection, Marquez and his wife, Zan, run "Faith,
Hope and Love" with a group of other volunteers to provide
activities such as basketball, volleyball, fishing, camping trips and
gardening for 8- to 12-year-old boys and girls. Forty children
participate now. They meet twice a week at the St. Patrick's School in
"What I do now feels good," Marquez said. "And because it
feels good, I want to do good for gang members who are here in
Springfield. That's why we have 'Faith, Hope and Love' for the people
here. There is faith, there is hope, and there is plenty of love
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1996. Reprinted here with permission.
Italics added for emphasis.)
Mike Knox (real name) was a police officer. He was a co-founder and
member of the police gang unit. In that capacity he met many gang members,
but one in particular caught his attention. In time, the two struck up a relationship and
the gang member, now working his way away from gang activity, made
presentations in local schools and other settings with Mike by his
side. "Mike changed my life," the former gang member said, "He
kept telling me if I didn't stop, I'd end up dead or in prison. I wish there
were more guys out there like Mike." Sonic Drive-Ins sponsors their
presentations. A caring officer, an interested gang member (now former gang
member), and a corporate sponsor - a very profitable and worthwhile
Seattle Street Connections, a group of reformed gang members in Seattle,
now works with local youth in hopes of reducing the level of violence on the streets of that city.
You can read
about their efforts and conduct an on-line search of the Seattle
newspaper for additional information.
Tookie and Raymond were allegedly the two Los Angeles youths who started
called the Crips. Not only has Tookie become a reformed gang member, he was
nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in turning youths away
In 1987, Tookie began what became a 6 1/2-year stay
in solitary confinement. After two years there, Tookie began to look at
himself. He focused on the choices he had made in his life and then
committed himself to make a drastic change. The long, difficult process he
undertook to rebuild his character put him in touch with his true spirit,
his own humanity. Only then could Tookie finally begin to care about the
many children, mothers, fathers and other family members of this country
hurt by the Crips legacy and by its explosive growth. (Tookie's
Tookie is not alone. Gangstyle.com is a site developed,
maintained, and continually expanded by former and not-so-former gang members. It
is a resource for discouraging youths from joining gangs. The message it
transmits is from those who know the life and have a genuine desire to turn
youths away from gangs.
Our attention turns now to neighborhood and community solutions.
Resources: The California Youth Authority has a program entitled
Reduction Project (GVRP) which uses
reformed gang members to reduce local gang activity. In addition to
conflict mediation, the program also provides services in the areas of
community-based education and alternative activities for at-risk youth.
Look in the upper right-hand corner of the Public
Broadcasting System (PBS) home page for a place to type in your local zip
code. Then click "Go" and you will be given the information
needed to contact your local PBS affiliate.
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.