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More Compassion Needed For Those Escaping #GangLife

I know. I know all the reasons you’re angry. Violence, broken glass, stolen cars, killed humans, I know. But what do you do when someone says “I’m done. I can’t fight this anymore. I need out.”? What’s the response?

Often? Relocation, often, jails, institutions, sometimes they die before they get the chance to escape.

Every single day a former gangster wakes up and says “I’m done, I’m ready to go home now.” But home is gone.

Families have moved to escape the violence, other friends have moved on to, and there are few places to turn, and the places that you do turn to all require your story before you’re allowed to get out, often not realizing, or caring, how much trauma is being caused by telling those stories.

So what do we do to help those who are trying to leave, without forcing them to retraumatize themselves by “admitting their sins so they can be free”?

Not everyone whose a former, turns into Eminem, and yet the man still helps whenever he can, by offering employment that comes free of stigma, to those who want to get out.

That’s a huge, and massive start.

Employment that is stigma-free.

They’ve been through enough, and whatever you decide about their character these people are trying to get out, so giving them jobs where they can utilize their skills and work towards making their actual dreams come true, while possibly and potentially, “paying their debt to society” is a huge way that you can help a youth or adult escape gang life.

Lots of people who leave gang life find employment in the restaurant industry because there’s little to no stigma there – if you work with food, chances are you know someone whose been to jail, and you know their story and how hard they are working to get free of that life, which is why so many gravitate to an industry that traditionally isn’t about wealth and fame.

Traditionally, those who worked in the kitchens, were not much higher on the scale of economics, than chamber maids, and they weren’t treated much better, and I think that’s why the industry today is actually fairly welcoming to those who want to find new lives.

Education That Is Free, Not Exchanged, for a Life

Many people who leave gang life enter the military because the education is free, and they need the grounding reassurance of being told what to do. Taking orders is easy for those living in the gang world, and because taking orders is easy for us, the military is a great place to get what you’re looking for. But the cost is high.

Many who go overseas don’t come back, and they aren’t expected to, when they leave home and go into the military many gangsters they used to roll with offer respect, because they know what it means. Gangsters are naturally born soldiers – but the kind of war that we fight here in the western world vs the worst places in the world is different, hence the offering of respect when you join the military after. It’s considered graduation.

Human beings shouldn’t have to barter their education, for their life. “Sure you can go to college, just go overseas, kill a few people, and come back sane enough to study,” knowing full well that too many soldiers fall out before they ever get the chance to fall over sea, is a hell of a way to treat a person.

Less Stigma

Some people choose gang life, but more often than not it’s a result of poverty, hunger, fear, anxiety, depression, and the knowledge that if you’re not protected, you will be hunted, which drives people to join gangs.

So when we’re talking about the reality of what it means to appear at an anti-gang rally, when we’re putting our stories out there, and then five years later we’re seeing yet another gang war with little to no change after everything we went through, it’s more than disheartening.

It’s heartbreaking because it’s dangerous for us to come out and talk about how we escaped – sure we’re allowed to leave, but we’re not allowed to encourage other people to leave, that’s a line that we’re not supposed to cross. So when we do, but then you don’t actually do the work that means more kids won’t join gangs, or when it’s performative, we have to ask…why the fuck are you judging us? You see how hard it is to end this shit, so please stop thinking that ending gang realities for folks, is going to happen overnight.

Be patient with us, and understand that millions of us around the world are training, learning, and fighting, to combat what the gangs are putting out there, and it may not look like it because you can see our tattoos, or you can see us moving in a certain direction that you don’t understand, but we’re all coming together now.

From musicians to record producers, people are starting to understand that gang life is a pipeline to child abuse, and that’s where people are starting to draw the line. Children get abused when people are too high or too scared to pay attention to what’s happening to them.

So yes, this anti-gang, mental health, healing, trauma, website is working, but the people who are coming forward to the police, to teachers, friends, doctors, and healers, and asking for help are telling you one thing. “I’m done, I’m ready, let’s go to recovery.”

Recovery has to happen before anyone can leave Gang Life.

In order for someone who wants to leave gang life actually to get the chance to get out, they have to go through a recovery process – not necessarily a program – but a process, that gives them time to get over the horror of the traumas they have been holding onto.

But also so that they can learn to make new routines, and find balance in their lives so that they can redirect their former “I’m angry and want to hit someone,” energy into “I want to create something,” energy.

Every single one of us needs the chance to heal from what we’ve been through, but not all of us get to do that in the same way. It’s different for everyone. For me, it’s staying away, being alone, taking my time, and getting used to being myself again. For others, it’s about connection, and fellowship, it’s about finding a new group of people to inspire them.

But we’re trying. I know that you think that the best way to get out of gang life is to get famous and for some people that is true, but I’d like to point you to the names and faces of a few famous people who are notorious who didn’t make it, the way that we think they may have deserved to.

If you want to help others exit gangs you can do that, just know that the police is the last place you should go for help, not because they don’t want to help or can’t, but because until you know that their job is more about protecting you than closing cases, there’s not really much the cops can do.

There are, however, hundreds of anti-gang activists out there so do some research, and I’ll be adding a list as soon as I can find others that are working to end the stigma so that you’ll all feel less alone.

And don’t forget, that no matter where you are, or what your situation is, if you’re trying to exit gang life, the LMBG Army is waiting for you. So hurry the fuck up. Innocent means innocent. Duh.

Sending all my love,

Devon J Hall

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