Former Gang members as Part of Solutions

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[Please Hear Me Out]

For several decades the Black community has allowed the government, state and local officials, and police departments to dictate how we combat gang banging in our neighborhood.

We have taken our concerns to politicians, administrators, and community activists, and all we have accomplished, on their directive, is to pass unjust laws designed to lockup Black men and throw away the key.

At one time we sought to find answers in our churches and mosques. It was a valiant effort, but that too was unsuccessful. What we haven’t done is engage in a meaningful dialogue with former gang members and associates, who have a wealth of knowledge in gang related matters. They have an immediate and intimate insight that you cannot gain by sitting up in a university classroom.

Former gang members are no longer just street punks, thugs, and drug dealers. Many of us have evolved over time and have the potential to play key roles in society. In addition, we are the only true experts in the area of gang intervention.

One would be hard pressed to find a Black family without a parent, sibling, or close relative who hasn’t at some point belonged to, or associated with a gang, but we now blend into the social make-up of every community, and many of us hold full time jobs, have college degrees, pay taxes, raise children, and even promote higher education. Thus, a valuable resource in terms of knowledge and expertise is being underutilized and allowed to lie fallow in our society.

The primary reason we are such a valuable asset in finding a solution to this problem is because we were at one time a part of the problem, so we can go into gang infested areas, speak their language, and command the respect necessary to address the issue in a meaningful way. We know who to talk to, how to talk to them, and what to talk to them about.

Gang members establish relationships with each other that are no less than blood-brothers, so it is not uncommon for to see gang members walk away from the life, yet still maintain close relationships within the gang, and in some cases even former rivals establish close relationships, because even though they were former rivals, they formerly shared a common way of life.

These types of relationships allow us to build upon a trust that has already been established. And further, many of us are the parents or siblings of active gang members, so we have a vested interest in resolving gang conflicts.

Gang bangers were nothing but average neighborhood kids with dreams and aspirations just like any other kids. But the problem was, the environment that they grew up in lacked the tools, support system, positive role models, and opportunity for them to realize their dreams, so they tried to establish their identity in the only way they could. We can change that.

Here in prison, Crips and Bloods operate as a collective unit under the most severe and violent conditions. This is not by accident. The model was designed by former gang members and associates in an attempt to curb violence and preserve life.

This structured way of life has been tried and tested, and due to this system of cooperation and mutual respect, violence in prison is nowhere close to what it is on the street, quite contrary to what the CCPOA union contends.

If this system can work in the prisons, where rival gang members are in close personal contact on a daily basis, and under the most stressful circumstances, it can work on the street. The system is quite simple. The city should establish a board of former gang members to form a think tank that works directly with city officials - including city and county administrators, police officials, and school boards - to resolve the problems in the community.

One of the most important aspects of the change, rehabilitation and therapy is to guide the individual in exploring the reasons for their dysfunctional behavior on their own. This allows them to take ownership of their change and rehabilitation.

The aspirations and needs of gang bangers are just as pronounced and valid as anyone else’s. The only difference is, they lack the instruction and direction in how to obtain their aspirations in a constructive manner. Thus, the afore mentioned board will act as their voice, and open a dialogue to address the maladaptive issues that are leading to violence in the community.

The program will pay for itself by relieving the taxpayer of the burden of having to support a broken down prison system.

Byron L. Wattree is a writer, scholar, and the son of columnist, Eric L.Wattree. Byron is currently serving life in prison on the Three Strikes Law. He’s been in prison for 12 years, but he hasn’t wasted that time. Since he’s been in prison, he’s obtained six degrees in various disciplines including psychology, business administration, and mathematics.
He’s also a certified counselor in six areas, including drug counseling. Eric only learned of Byron’s existence about a year ago, when his son contacted him after a fellow inmate showed him one of Eric’s columns in the Los Angeles Sentinel. We’ll be running the details of that story in the very near future. Eric also has two other children, Kaiumeka Wattree-Jackson, a human resources specialist for Citrus College, and Eric L. Wattree Jr, a special agent with the DEA.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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