First and foremost you have to understand that I am fully aware that city officials across the globe are filled with the kinds of pressure I couldn’t begin to understand in a billion trillion years.
But I do understand addiction, and what is needed for those who use drugs without being able to function in a healthy, equitable way, to get clean and sober.
First, it starts with a willingness to actually Live Clean
Living clean isn’t just not using drugs, it’s not just cleaning your house, getting up, going to work, or having a job, it’s about a complete and total lifestyle change. Everything about your life has to change, in order for people who want to live a happy, healthy gang free life, to actually live that life.
The people you hung out with change, the family who still use you stop talking to, everything about your entire life has to change, and that’s not easy for some folks.
Community support is paramount to any former drug-addicted person, or gang-affiliated human, to be able to live a life that is free of gang commitments.
That might mean being involved in local organizations that speak to the heart of what makes life bearable for folks – maybe it means volunteering in places where others need to follow your lead, maybe it means helping to make meals, or cleaning bathrooms so folks have a clean place to go to the bathroom. But first and foremost it starts with having a connection to your community.
Balanced Community Policing
Many of the cops I worked with at the church knew the people to who we were serving meals to. They knew these people by name, they knew what drugs the people used and where they lived, even if they lived in a forest, the cops knew, and they knew because many of them took the time to get to know these people and to hear their stories.
I remember one time a man was in an ambulance and the paramedics were too afraid to enter the vehicle because they were afraid they’d get hurt. I yelled at him, we talked out his fear of going to the hospital, and he calmed down enough that he could be taken to the hospital safely. Another time, a man at a mall was hungry, he wasn’t bothering anyone, and the security guards escalated the situation because they were completely out of their element.
When I say “Balanced Community Policing,” I mean cops that understand that drugs are 1//15th of the issue that most people face. Many of the folks that I worked with were people with severe mental health issues that had nothing to do with drugs – for many of the people I worked with drugs were the solution to their problems, not the cause of their problems.
Leadership Programs for Former Gang Affiliated People
Very few people understand how difficult it is to get out of gang life. There used to be a rule, (and I stress used to be,) that if you wanted out you were out and you could never go back. Once you decided to cut those ties, it was done, and you were to be left alone. Any gang in the world will tell you that, if you survived “jumping out,” you’d be free. maybe you’d have to leave your home, maybe you’d have to move away, but once you cut those ties, your freedom was agreed to.
These days when people try to leave gangs oftentimes they get shot, or they end up in recovery rooms where people think that it’s as simple as picking up a book and reading some steps. Some gangs don’t let you leave, no matter how hard you try.
Leadership programs designed to help former gangsters not only escape gang life but also help them find the skills they need to move forward with their lives would be paramount to these men and women living positive healthy lives.
Many people see the results of drugs, booze, and drug-filled lives in their community, but they don’t understand the deeper layers of those of us who have been affected by drug addiction, extreme poverty, or the desire to fulfill our wildest John Dilienger dreams.
When I was growing up my life was filled with young men who wanted to be him, and few of them understand what that meant. I was raised around drug dealers, I was raised around cannabis, and I was raised around the rules of how to protect myself from a world that had no absolute idea what it was like to be surrounded by dealers.
And for the record, most people don’t care.
Why should they? Drugs – as a poison – infect their homes, schools, and workplaces, drugs and the fight to control those drugs has destroyed every corner of safety on this planet. Addiction isn’t what fuels the drug war, and politics isn’t what fuels the drug war, its that as long as there are people who want drugs, there are those who are willing to destroy everything in their path, to make sure those drugs get out onto the street.
When People Choose Sobriety, They Are Often Publically Praised and Privately Ridiculed
I’ve seen hundreds of people get clean and sober, and last for long amounts of time, but I’ve also seen those that I was most certain would stay clean, fall off the wagon, stay there, and never get up again.
In public it’s easy to be proud of your grandchild, son, daughter, niece or nephew because you’re supposed to. Once people make the honest decision to get sober, to walk away from the gang and drug life, you are SUPPOSED to be proud of them, but that doesn’t erase the damage that their actions have caused in the meantime. It doesn’t change the fact that just because they are sober “today,” you might be planning their funeral tomorrow, and unless you’ve fought the battle for sobriety alongside someone who’s been struggling, you don’t understand that.
So What Solutions Work?
Narcotics Anonymous, as well as Alcohol Anonymous, can work, in some cases, but not all. The people in those rooms all have experience with addiction, poverty, and mental health issues, but they are not clinically trained doctors and support systems. They are individual people trying to get through one day to the next without causing further harm to themselves or other people.
One of the first rules in those rooms is what happens in those rooms stays in those rooms. I would argue that never happens, because you take what you hear, what you learn, wherever you go, I know this for a fact from personal experience. I also know however that this is only part of the solution.
What people from drug-addicted lifestyles need is time. They need to be given patience, and understanding. What you do when you’re addicted to drugs, is not how you would normally behave when you’re sober. This is an agreed-upon fact, but it’s not a fact that matters when you’re accused of things like rape, murder, or other serious crimes.
“Clean Alone, Sober Together,” is something that I picked up when I was in the NA rooms, but because of the kind of trauma that “I” was dealing with, there were few people I could talk to, largely because everyone in those rooms was associated with some of the people that hurt me, to begin with. So there wasn’t a “safe” space for me in those rooms.
That’s the same for a lot of people. It’s really difficult to clap and applaud someone for being sober and clean when they used to be your former boss who threatened you or beat you up or made you sell drugs, to begin with. I know this from personal experience, having heard some of these stories…but we’re not allowed to talk about that in the rooms.
We don’t talk about the people who have died, because that’s discouraging, we keep our secrets to ourselves, so what people in gang life really need, is a safe space they can go together, where they can sit, cry, hug, laugh, and experience the freedom of truly being free.
But if the only solution to escape gang life is to leave the city you’ve known and the only family you have, to start over completely, is that really a solution?
In order for people who lived the gang lifestyle to really heal, we need genuine community support and programs designed to genuinely reprogram their brains.
No, we don’t snort oxy anymore, we smoke a joint.
No, we don’t take cocaine or heroin or booze anymore, we meditate. Go for a walk, curl up in bed and cry.
Part of the problem with men specifically in gang life is that they don’t feel the freedom to express their emotions in a healthy way, in gang life you are literally trained not to show emotion, the emotion even the slightest look in the wrong way can get you killed.
Every single thing about your entire life is measured in gang life – who do you talk to? Who are your friends? What are your vulnerabilities? It’s more than just getting your feelings hurt, it’s “you could get shot in the head,” for being with the wrong girl, or for being with the wrong guy.
The Worst Part About Gang Life Is The Perception of Power
When I first moved to BC, there were a lot of people I knew as a child, that I didn’t know as an adult, many of whom I was warned to stay away from because even the slightest association could get me killed. But instead, I did what I do, and I leaped headlong into danger.
I started hanging out with the absolute worst crowd for me, and I ended up being gang-raped – for no other reason than the people who raped me the ought that I wasn’t important. They had no idea who my family was, or who I was connected to, but they made the ASSUMPTION that they would get away with raping me because someone told them I wasn’t important.
Almost all of my rapists have been identified and if not in jail currently, will be eventually, none of them, however, were people that I once called friends or family.
The “Perception of Power,” in gang life is very much a video game mentality. You see someone you THINK has power, and so you attack their friends, family, or even them directly, in an effort to take what you think THEY HAVE.
Take a gangster in Surrey who several years ago took over a drug operation, within 24 hours he was dead, as were five other people, and the people that were accused of being responsible for those deaths were charged, arrested, and are now in jail or on restrictions.
No one bothered to ask the questions that I would have asked, once that jail door slams shut, there are no more questions, there is no more curiosity, and the story is finished. The bad guy behind bars, another good day for the community.
But Is it?
The reason that there are so many stories about gang life or life beyond the darkness of society, is because – and only because – people are fascinated with the stories, but do they really understand them? Many gangsters will tell you that their favourite films are shit like Enter The Dragon or The Godfather.
Those of us who were raised however with a deeper connection to gang life and whose families were behind the scenes of that world, (and I don’t mean me specifically,) understand why these films are not only dangerous, they actively encourage gang mentality in young men.
There’s a reason that the actual Mobsters of the world didn’t want certain films told, it isn’t because they were afraid of what these films would say about them, it’s because those who are actively involved in gang life, do not want those stories out there. They do not want to help perpetuate the stereotypes. Most “Mobsters,” fully aware that they will die before they are done, will do everything they can to choose a successor who is not in their bloodline to take over, specifically for that reason.
Women have an entirely different experience with gang life than men do.
When a man gets arrested he goes to jail or prison.
When a woman gets arrested with drugs on her, however, she may end up in jail, or an institution, or worse than that she may lose access to her children. She may never see them again because she was merely holding drugs for the man or men she was with, and I assure you they might care with all their hearts, but if it’s a choice between life in prison and your freedom, the men will almost always throw their women under the bus, 99.9% of the time.
We put more emphasis on women escaping gangs than we do men, and that’s mostly because we see these men and point our fingers and shame them, but we don’t take into consideration the fact that many of the most “infamous” gangsters out there, were trained and groomed by parents, aunts, uncles, and other adults who should have protected them from gang life.
Women are Shamed for Loving Gangsters, But Praised for “Escaping Them.”
The problem with this mentality is that many women will actively choose to date gangsters exclusively, searching for a sense of power over their own lives, and we don’t talk about this enough. The negative patterns that women in chaos and crisis live with, actively push them towards dating men who are involved in gang life, and when they get caught, when they get busted with drugs or illegal weapons, it’s INCREDIBLY easy for them to pretend to be victims – now as a victim of gang life I’m not saying that some women are not genuine victims – HOWEVER, you as a community member trying to understand gang life MUST start to acknowledge that SOME women CHOOSE this life, on purpose.
Not because they have nothing else, and not because they are broke or poor, but because the Perception of Power inspires them to believe that life will be different for them, that they will somehow become the carrier of the golden ticket that will turn them into heroes in the drug world.
The truth is there are no winners in the drug world, only losers.
Yes, there are former and current cartel runners who build schools and hospitals around the world, they deliberately curry good favour with the communities that they poison, in an effort to be protected by those same communities that are dying because of the poison.
John Dillinger : The public don’t like kidnapping.
Alvin Karpis : Who gives a damn what the public likes?
John Dillinger : I do. I hide out among them. We gotta care what they think.Public Enemies
Tomorrow isn’t Promised is another quote attributed to this film, and it’s one that most gangsters live by. They aren’t trying to think about the future of their business, they aren’t trying to think about ten years down the line, 98% of all gangsters on the planet are just trying to get from one day to the next without themselves or anyone they love ending up dead.
To really be able to help gangsters stop being gangsters you have to understand that under the drugs, under the fancy cars, under the women, are real human beings who have genuine fears, and yes those fears matter. It doesn’t matter what crimes they have committed, GANGSTERS – in particular – all want a life of stability.
That’s why they impregnate women so young, that’s why they try to have as many children as possible. It’s not just “breeding for control,” it’s genuinely about having “something,” stable, something that isn’t filled with chaos and trauma. It’s rare and far and few between that man in gang life aren’t trying to get at least one woman pregnant, and I say this having seen far too many young women getting pregnant because they thought it would somehow make their lives better, with men who had absolutely zero control over their own lives.
I hope these thoughts have helped you understand the men and women who are filled with the trauma of being surrounded by gang life. At the end of the day, some of them make horrible mistakes, but they are still people. Unlike pedophiles. But that’s a post for another day.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall