Ex-gang members seek different path

Former gang members in Northern Virginia are trying to rebuild their lives, while others in gang-plagued communities are hoping to stop youths from joining in the first place. Vanessa Johnston reports.

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It’s the final step in leaving their criminal lifestyles behind…getting rid of their gang tattoos.
The doctor – who wishes to remain anonymous – volunteers her services every six weeks as part of Virginia’s Prince William County gang rehabilitation program.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR SAYING:
“They deserve a lot of credit. It’s hard work. It’s hard work to change the environment that you’re comfortable in to one that requires an entirely different attitude. And they’re doing it — every single one of them.”
They’re trying to rebuild their lives…and, in many cases, prevent others from following in their footsteps.
In many communities, gang membership is often hard to resist…an unstable, or violent home life, providing the impetus.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER GANG MEMBER SAYING:
“They’ll show up, they’ll call you, they’ll take care of you, you know. You feel like you’re getting something that you didn’t have before, you know. And then you feel like a power, because these guys mean business.”
But this former gang-member says he saw the light.
Several years after joining, he says he realized something inside him had changed, when he put a gun to a rival’s head in self-defense but could not pull the trigger.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER GANG MEMBER SAYING:
“You start to see things…you start remembering the things you did and they make you sick.”
Northern Virginia has seen a surge in gang activity over the past several years…
Gang-related murders, drug sales, gun sales, sex trafficking and extortion are all up, says Jay Lanham, director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) JAY LANHAM, DIRECTOR OF THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA REGIONAL GANG TASK FORCE, SAYING:
“They prey upon their own communities, those illegal immigrants that are here who aren’t going to report crimes, because they’re afraid…

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