Drug Free and Gang Free
I suppose I should start at the beginning, to explain how getting away from the gang that I belonged to (and the violence of that gang), was an experience that affected me in a positive way. When I was thirteen years old, my parents got divorced, and my mother got custody of me. We moved to a bad area of California, which was truly a shock to someone that had always lived in a rich town, and I found that drive by shootings every day was a little hard on my nerves. Meth was a very prominent drug where we were living, and I was a full blown addict by the age of fourteen. When I was fifteen, my boyfriend at the time (who was twenty-five or twenty-six), tried to sell me in order to feed his meth habit, and it made me realize that I needed protection; though looking back on the situation I would not have needed that protection if I had just stopped using drugs.
I had a friend that belonged to a gang, talked to him about my situation, and he and some of his friends gave me my initiation. That initiation lasted three-hundred and sixty-five days, but when done, I belonged to one of the most dangerous gangs in America. I no longer had to worry about someone selling me, or someone breaking into my mom's home. I no longer had to worry about rape either, and the freedom of not having to worry for the first time in years was a truly heady experience.
However, though I did not figure this out until later, for every single thing that I no longer had to worry about, there was a laundry list of new things that I did have to worry about. In place of the worry of someone selling me, I had to worry about being stabbed; and in place of the worry of a home invasion, I now had to worry about being shot. When I walked down the street I had to wonder if I was on a different gang's turf, if I was wearing the wrong color, or the person across the street was "packing heat". I had to worry that another gang would hurt my mother in an attempt to hurt me, and every person that I talked to became my enemy if they were not part of the gang that I belonged to. It was a nightmare that I could not get out of, and a reality that not many survive.
I was watching my friends die by the masses, going to a funeral every couple of weeks, and each day that went by I wondered if I would be next. My mother and I moved many times after that, each place seeming worst then? the last, until eventually I moved (by myself) to Tucson Arizona. The moves however did not mean that I got away from my gang, as they have nineteen chapters across America, and more than nine outside of America. It seemed that I would never get out, that I would never be free and worse that I was going to die young. Then the inevitable happened, I went to prison, and prison turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
The first four months in prison all I did was think about my situation, how I got in that situation, and what I could do to change my situation; then I asked my parents to do some research. Through research they found the man in charge of every chapter of my gang, and I wrote him a nice long letter. This fourteen page letter explained who I was, where I was, the fact that I was there for being loyal to my chapter, and that I would like to be released from the gang. In truth I was not expecting a response, but a few weeks later I did get a letter; telling me that I would be released, but that I would need to move to a place where another chapter did not exist.
When I got out of prison I moved to a very small town in Oklahoma, and it was a feeling a freedom that I had never experienced before. I walked around in a mild stupor for about a year. I had no one to answer to but myself, no worries of being arrested, and one thousand thoughts of what I could do with my life; things that were never possible before while I belonged to the gang. Going to college was no longer a dream, but something that I could do in reality. Getting a job was no longer a wish, but a loving fact of something that I could do. Best of all, I could have my parents in my life again; hold my family close again, without the worry of them being used against me in some gang war. Just being able to look across the table and tell my family how much I loved them, was like opening a Christmas present every time the words were said.
Three and a half years later (at the age of thirty-four) I am sober, going to college, on the Dean's List at that college, and work for the Humane Society. None of this would have been possible if I had continued in the gang that I belonged to. Just as I know in my heart for the first time, my future will be what I make of it, rather than something that someone else decided for me. I look to my future, and see a bright start of what it can be, instead of the sinking hole of what it was, and I am finally at peace with my life. Leaving the gang that I belonged to has left me with endless possibilities, has given me a path to a life that I can be proud of, and has set me free of any and all shackles that bound me. For the first time I am proud of whom I am, and this is why leaving my gang was the best thing that ever happened to me.
This Story of Hope was created in celebration of recovery and to let families know that there are pathways to hope and healing. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families who are struggling with their son or daughter's substance use. Please consider sharing this page so that families know where to turn to for help, and that there is always hope.