A Blood Lays Down his Red Bandana and Quits
Getting Out of a Street Gang
The diary of a street gang member who wants to get out of the game: This is the story of Général, a Blood (Rouge) who changed his life. Reflet de Société recounts what life is like in a gang through the story of Général.
Général grew up in the Rouges street gang family. He started representing at age 9. As a young teenager he waged war against his clan’s sworn enemies, les Bleus (the Crips).
Over time, the good soldier became a money-making criminal. A prison term for armed robbery made him understand that it was time for him to quit the thug life. But breaking bonds with your family is difficult. So is changing your mentality.
Général got out of prison at 21. He’d just spent his 3 last years in jail. And for the next 2 years he had several obligations as a parolee. He had to stay crime-free, and show up to see his parole officer regularly. He had to do community service, find a job, or return to school. He also had to respect a curfew which obliged him to be home from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“I was 21, and I’d always been an outlaw. I worked in an auto body shop for three months. To satisfy them, I had to give my parole officer papers attesting to the fact that I continued to work. The only thing was I had to be there to get his call. He’d call between 11 p.m. and midnight. As soon as I talked to him, I’d leave. I was going to deal. It didn’t stop me.”
Général missed several calls. He had to go back to court to explain. He was put under close supervision for 6 months. “I couldn’t miss any calls, so I decided to go back to school and finish my high school. But I didn’t attend classes very often. I didn’t sleep at night. I was dealing.”
A Blood Doubts Himself
Général continued his business. If he got caught by a police officer, he’d go right back to jail, lickety-split. He still attracted attention, even as he tried to keep a low profile. Once his parole had finished he was arrested again, this time, for extortion. It was back to jail until the trial. Général stayed there for 6 months before being declared innocent.
But this second spell behind bars really shook him. “At that point, I started asking myself some questions,” he says. “I didn’t tell anyone else. I didn’t want to flagrantly break the law anymore. When guys planned a big job and they wanted me along, I didn’t go. I didn’t want to go back inside. But I was always a Blood. I represented.”
Général was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He continued to hang out with his Rouge family, and he pushed himself to make more money. But when it came down to doing battle, he felt like an outsider. It wasn’t for him. He couldn’t recognize himself, this man who was always the first to do battle, who never pulled his punches.
He felt more and more alone, until another member told him about his own malaise. “I had a friend, an Arab, who was questioning things himself. We supported each other. We each had a regular job, so we stayed home more often. But we showed up to gang events and meetings. We were less present, and the others knew that we had jobs to go to. But we were still members.”
Fleeing the Street Gang
Général decided to distance himself from things for a while, so he could come to understand why he was feeling this way. “I went to see my sister in Ottawa. I wanted to get out. But I always had my street mentality.”
Général watched the street life in Ottawa. He figured out who controlled the drug sales. Naturally, he latched on to them and joined them up with his Montréal North family. “In Ottawa they didn’t play rough like in Montréal. Here, we go beat people up to tell them we’re controlling the territory. Things didn’t really work that way in Ottawa… Until I arrived!”
Général built up a Rouge gang in the federal capital. As soon as he got back to Montréal he cut all ties with his Ottawa crew. It was a first breakup that would help him later on when he would leave his Montréal North family.
During his stay in Ottawa his gang in Montréal got used to not seeing him around. Little by little the ties were loosened. “They saw me less and less. A street gang isn’t like the bikers. We don’t owe each other anything. It’s easier to quit. They won’t come after me because I know too much. When I came back to Ottawa, they just said to me, ‘Yo, Général, where were you?’ I went to live with my sister in Ottawa.”
Disaffiliating from a Street Gang
Général gradually left both his group and his criminal mentality behind. But it was a lonely road. “I couldn’t say anything to those closest to me. When I was asked why no one saw me anymore, I just replied that I was relaxing. I didn’t tell them I wanted out. They aren’t observant people. I wasn’t afraid of telling them, but they wouldn’t have been very receptive. Some wouldn’t have accepted it. These last few years, they’ve seen that I’ve changed. If they had to beat someone up, scare someone, they called on me less and less. I told them I wanted to change my vibe. They saw it. But a few didn’t understand. They acted badly around me. Général is letting us down? Who does he think he is? In a gang you always have to be present, and active. I was drifting further away from them.”
His second stay behind bars had led him to question his life. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his days in prison. He didn’t want to be that kind of a role model to his parents, his brothers, and his sisters.
“I was sick of seeing everyone around me suffer. I wanted the best for my family, for my little brother. The older he got the more I got involved in his development. I wanted to be an example to him. Prison wouldn’t give me the opportunity to accomplish that.”
But changing one’s mentality is hard. Général suffered. “It crept up on me. I was afraid of getting arrested, scared of losing time in prison. I got paranoid. I saw dead people, I vomited. I didn’t feel good in my own skin. I realized that I had my whole life in front of me. I realized that if I spent my life inside, I’d lose my girlfriend, my family and all my friends.”
After this bout with madness, Général retook control of himself. “I woke up one morning and decided that it was over. It took will power. Like a smoker who wants to kick his habit. I was fed up. I didn’t want that life any longer. I distanced myself from a world that could cause me problems.”
Street Gang Exile
Général left Montréal to make the break easier. He followed his girlfriend, who left town to study in Sorel-Tracy. He isolated himself with her. “I changed my phone number. Only those closest to me had it. No gang members. My girlfriend was going to school and I wanted a fresh start. At the beginning, whenever she’d seen me in Montréal I showed up with a lot of stock. But when I decided to stop, I didn’t have anything. I took steps to find a job and finish high school. I started to stay in my own bubble. My girlfriend saw that I was alone, that I didn’t leave the house. I was always stressed. Cutting things off cold isn’t easy. I wasn’t always well. I changed my mentality and those around me didn’t understand. I didn’t want to go see my friends because I knew it would end badly.”
Général, in his Sorel-Tracy cocoon, exhausted all his paranoia. He changed.
“It was hard because I had to change my lifestyle completely. Remake my social circle, find a way to make money. How was I going to pay my bills? That stressed me. Before, whenever I needed money, it was simple. I’d go out and deal. That’s how I got involved in music. I let out all my rage. I took the energy I used to invest in the street and poured it into rap. I started directing videos. I put together a music DVD. To make money. And it didn’t take me long to integrate into the Québec hip-hop community. I know how to sell a product. Things went well with my DVD. My dealer mentality helped me sell my music!”
Rap, an Emergency Exit from a Street Gang
After having cut himself off from his world, Général came out of the shadows. He found the same pleasure he got from chilling with his gang with his hip-hop family. He built ties that aren’t criminal. And he used his street experience to express himself in his lyrics.
“When you want to change, good people come to you. I had the will to change, to do better, to spread the message.”
Général’s past handicapped him. He was limited in his movements. He couldn’t reach a public hostile to his past life through his music.
“Certainly there were areas I couldn’t travel to,” he says. “I was known. I still had enemies. I was fresh out of my gang. Young people from Pie-IX and Saint-Michel asked me to go there and film videos with them. But I couldn’t. My name is still engraved on some of their heads. Even if I’d changed, I couldn’t go into the enemy camp to tell them I’d stopped. They wouldn’t care.”
The Remorse of an Old Blood
Général would have loved to turn the page on his time as a Blood. But to get there, he first had to be at peace with himself.
“I’d have liked to publicly ask for forgiveness. But I’d done too much harm to some people for them to have accepted my apology. That was true for myself too. I got into the Rouges at age 9 when I saw my cousin beat up in front of me. Then I beat people up in front of their little brothers’ eyes and forced them to choose a side. That’s the same story I’d experienced. It’s all a wheel. I know that now. Violence causes violence. All the young people have stories that resemble one another. Those that enter solidly into a gang, they do it for a reason. The others are just followers. I don’t necessarily forgive all the people who did me harm. But I have to grieve. Which doesn’t mean forgetting. Those I did harm to, I’m not asking them to forget either. But they know that I’ve changed. That I’m no longer interested in violence.”
Général knows that no one can rewrite the past. But he still dreams of what he could have accomplished.
“If I had it all to do over again, if I could go back 15 years, I wouldn’t have joined the Bloods. Instead of recruiting young people into the business, I would have got them into rap. I’d have got young people out of the gangs. I’d have shown them that there are other ways to express yourself, to get off the streets. If I’d done that from the beginning, a lot of those kids would never have got involved with street gangs.”