The Emergence of a Citizen
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. In this final installment of his story, he explains why he wanted to recount his gangster past to us.
Général spent 15 years of his life as a member of the Rouges (Bloods) street gang, mortal enemies of the Bleus (Crips). In his gang he found a second family, united by close ties. When he quit the gang he walked away from his whole life. He had to say good-bye to friends, money, a certain amount of fame and the attentions of the opposite sex. In exposing his delinquent path he took a big risk: attracting attention when he’d rather have been forgotten.
Général is passionate about opening up about his life. His message: he changed his life. “It’s a way for me to cry from the rooftops that I have no more gang ties. That I’ve changed, and I no longer want to be associated with that milieu.”
Général is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. He’d like his friends to accept his departure, and his enemies to leave him in peace. But the young man remains clear-headed. He recognizes that he has no power over his peers. “They can say that it’s just nonsense, that it’s not serious. My enemies could say that I did them too much harm, that they don’t care if I’ve left the gang or not.”
Some of his friends, members of his old gang, have read what he’s had to say. Most have congratulated him: “They already knew that I wanted to quit. They saw what I went through before those articles were published. But I’ll admit I was scared of how they’d react. I didn’t know how they’d take it. They told me if that’s what I want, continue in that direction.”
A few friends who were a bit closer to Général reproached him for his remarks. They felt abandoned. “They said I’d let them down, that I didn’t think they were good enough for me. But it’s only words. It didn’t go any farther than that.”
Général got out without drawing a threat from his own clan. “When they saw that it was limited to my own story, that I didn’t put anyone down or mention anybody else, that reassured them. They were afraid that I’d point fingers, that I’d tell their stories with mine.”
Général was very careful in what he told. For him, the important thing was to relate his personal experiences in the gang world.
Général didn’t risk asking his enemies what they thought of his coming clean. But he did receive a few encouraging comments from his rivals. “Some Bleus read the articles. From what I heard, they understand that I’ve quit the thug life. They think I’m doing the right thing. Some even said, bravo!”
If the comments from his old gang world, from Bleus and Rouges alike, were positive, it was less so for those in his family and his intimates. They told him they were afraid of being too exposed, of attracting attention from the police, his gang and his enemies. “They didn’t agree with what I did. For them, if I wanted to get out the best way for me to do it was to move, to flee.” But Général was against that. He didn’t want to carry his past around all his life, regardless of what city or town he’d relocate to. By telling his story, he sought to rid himself of the burden of his past.
When he was part of the Rouges, Général was seen as an uncontested leader. The youngest kids know who he is even today. In sharing his story, he hopes to reach these kids. “I want to show people who want to change that it’s possible. If I succeeded, then others can too. Lots of people want to leave, but they don’t know how.”
Since going public with his intention to quit the gang, youths from his milieu have bombarded him with questions. “They want to know how I survive these days now that I’m not making any money. If leaving the gang was worth it. The answer is yes, even though I’m missing out on a few things. But it’s worth it just to wake up in the morning without all those problems.”
By “problems,” Général is referring to all the violence and hate he had to live with; the deaths of his friends; the possibility that he too might one day become another victim; and the fear of spending a lot of time in jail.
Looking for Autonomy
To those who ask how he’s surviving financially, Général doesn’t know how to respond. He hasn’t yet found a solution. He goes to job interviews every day. “I have trouble paying my bills,” he admits. “It’s the first time in my life that’s happened.”
The young man knows he could easily do a big job, a crime, and make his money worries go away. The idea has already popped into his head. And that’s the choice he made the first time he tried to cut his gangland ties. “What stops me today is that I don’t want to step foot back into that world. I don’t want to live with those risks. I expected this to be difficult.”
Integrating into the job market is a steep challenge. Général is making the effort to adapt. He’s already changed his habits. “Before, when I wanted to make money, I did it at my own pace. If I wanted to wake up in the afternoon, no problem. Now I have to respect the rules of others rather than my own rules. I can’t just impose myself to get what I want. The transition isn’t easy, but it’s doable.”
Général can’t count on a network of friends like he had before to come to his aid if he needs money. His circle is a lot tighter these days, and his opportunities are fewer. “Before, I had a dozen places to get money if I needed it. Today all I have are my closest relatives and my best friends. I’m learning to live independently. It’s not easy.”
Taming the Solitude
Général is taming the solitude. This man who was always surrounded by friends, who partied hard, is learning to live by himself, for himself. He was a star in his old world, and now he’s become anonymous. He takes pleasure in helping youths with a similar background, even if all he can offer is a listening ear. “I see myself in their stories,” he says. “And it’s not like I know nothing about it!”
They tell him about their difficulties and their victories. He doesn’t have all the answers yet. He’s still searching. For those kids who are not yet gang members but who are gravitating towards joining, he cites all the stress the lifestyle brings with it. “You always have to be on your guard. In this milieu you never know what’s going to happen. I still have to have eyes in the back of my head, and I don’t just go anywhere.”
Even as a free man, Général can’t go anywhere he wants, which has an impact on those who he accompanies.
The best advice he can give is to find another gang… a more positive one. “I got lucky and fell in with good people who gave me a chance. That drove me to continue on. If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know where I’d be. No one judges me at the Café Graffiti. They support me. I left a street gang to join another gang where we help each other and live in joy. That’s helped me a lot. And when I speak with a young person, I feel better positioned than a social worker, because we both speak the same language.”
For Général, the best way to raise awareness of the dangers of street gangs is through music. “Hip-hop is a very popular musical style among teenagers. They’ll listen closer when it’s in hip-hop music than spoken words. A lot of kids join a gang hoping it will bring them what they feel in their music. It’s a good was to reach them.”
Général, who used to use music to praise his old gang, has changed direction. He wants to express what he’s experiencing now, what he can see a little removed from the gang life he led.
Général’s come a long way since he walked away from the gang world. He’s readjusting to a way of life which is strange to him. He’s stressed about finding a job, like a lot of other people. He’s not yet aware of it, but he wants to conserve his originality, his uniqueness, like everyone else.