Myth # 9: Youth who join gangs are looking for respect, power and quick ways to make money.
Not really. My experience with hundreds and hundreds of boys and girls who joined gangs, expressed to me that their number one reason for why they joined was because they were sad, broken hearted, unappreciated, neglected and simply unhappy at home. I realize this is simple, but as one has the chance to build trust with gang members and get them to speak the truth from their hearts – they tell you that the root of the problem lies in the home, not in the streets, schools or society.
As I have repeatedly said, the expert researchers have invested a lot of time and money to unsuccessfully give us the accurate answer to the most basic question that I get all the time from parents, principles of schools and other concerned community members: Why do kids join gangs?
Oftentimes I believe we can over think a situation. Additionally, social science empirical research is not always the only way to find solutions to human problems. In case you missed it in one of my posts in this series – here is a testimonial (unedited) of a fourteen year old girl gang members that says it all
“EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW WHY.WHY DID YOU JOIN? YOU HAVE A FAMILY WHO LOVES AND CARES FOR YOU,WHY, WHY MEJA WHY? I JOINED BECAUSE WHEN I WAS A LIL GURL ALOT SHYT HAPPENED TO ME THAT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT AND I HAVE KEPT INSIDE OF ME ALL THYZ TYME. NOWBODY LISTENED TO ME AND WHEN THEY DID,THEY, THEY SAID I WAS LYING. DRUG ADDICT DAD AND WORK ALCOHOLIC MOM, NO BROTHERS, NO SISTERS, A STEP DAD THAT ONLY WANTS TO TOUCH ME. AND A BABYSITER WHOSE SON DID TOUCH ME.MY MOM ALWAYS RIPPING ME OUT OF FAMILIES THAT I THOUGHT WERE MINE, IT WAS ALL LIES. LIVING IN THA GHETTO WONDERING WHY? CAN YOU TELL ME WHY? CAN YOU TELL ME WHY I WAS BORN IN THIS LIFE OF SEX DRUGS AND ALCOHOL, BACK STABBING OF MY SO CALLED REAL FAMILY? I WAS JUST A LIL GURL DANM. THOSE MEMORIES ARE WITH ME FOREVER I’M SCARED TO LIVE LIFE I’M SCARED TO TRUST N-E BODY, I’M SCARED. SO WHY DID I JOIN? I JOINED BECAUSE I NEEDED SUMONE AND THEY WERE THE ONLY ONES THERE.I NEEDED SUMONE TO MAKE ME FEEL WANTED AND I NEEDED SUMONE TO CARE. THATSTHAT’S WHY.”
I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that as to understand why kids decide to join a second family, which is what a gang really represents.
Myth # 10: Once a gang member – always a gang member
Another myth as far from the truth as can be. Sadly, this remains one of the greatest disservices of our media and others who have the means and could be exposing the truth on a mass scale that even the hardest of gang members are not beyond the reach of the arm of compassion. The untold story in this arena is the effectiveness of the faith community in reaching out to and over the years transforming the lives of literally tens of thousands of hard-core gang members (as most police and gang practitioners know). The facts is that during the same time in which gangs have grown over the past forty years, thousands of gang members have transformed their lives, left the gang, and are leading responsible community contributing lifestyles.
At this point (I think) it has become a common known fact that many gang members simply out grow the gang lifestyle and choose to become “inactive” for a variety of reasons ranging from getting a good to job to getting their girlfriend pregnant and/or getting married. While it is true that leaving the gang is difficult and that some have paid with their life, the “once a gang member always a gang member” and “blood in – blood out” myth does not apply to all gang members all the time. Gang experts may debate and disagree to the extent the above statement is true. But disagreeing only serves to reinforce its fallacy because if it weren’t a myth, we would all be in agreement as none of us would know any gang members that successfully left their gang. The truth of the matter is, many of us do know gang members who have successfully left their gangs.
Remember, gang members are human beings before they are anything else, and they have the same human needs that we all have and given the right circumstances and opportunity, any gang member can change at any time. Many wonderful community organizations, faith and non-faith-based, are doing great work. However, many of these organizations over the years haven’t documented or publicized their results because they’re not in it for that and it’s not part of their organizational culture. Additionally, faith-based organizations use a methodology that is not politically correct with mainstream academics (and others). Their work is categorized as controversial with since it involves an element of faith and spiritual conversion. Moreover, their methodology is impossible to quantify and therefore considered “only anecdotal.” Be that as it may, fortunately more and more city officials, schools and law enforcement dealing with ongoing gang issues have recognized that what matters is results regardless of the methods.
The bottom line is answers and solutions that can bring hope to parents and families of changed lives and thus it remains both imperative and wise for community stakeholders to embrace the faith-based community as a “VIP/MVP” partner organization with a history of results. What better evidence is needed when it comes to finding, funding and forming effective gang prevention and intervention practices?