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STEP 1.   Need to identify youth needs, interest and concern.

Gangs are primarily composed of youth who are not succeeding in school and have no healthy interests or activities outside of school:  This creates a group of children who have nothing to do with their time, nothing to look forward to, who do not feel good about them selves and do not have a positive outlook of the future.  These are horrible things to have in common and to base friendships on however this is what attracts gang youth to each other.


STEP 2. Develop a genuine sense of worth and purpose.

You cannot punish someone who has nothing to loose:  Jail is nothing to be afraid of when a person has no future and nothing in the present to look forward to because he knows that his life will be the same when he gets out.


STEP 3.Replace negative addiction/group with a positive addiction/group.

Leaving the gang is not the goal: It is not hard to leave a gang.  The hard part is developing healthy interests that create the potential for positive peer groups and new friendships.  I have worked with scores of gang members who became decent adults. It happened naturally, as they gained skills and self-esteem.  They never made a big announcement about “leaving the gang”.   Their true gang friends were glad to see them do better in life.

STEP 4.  Provide opportunity to be successful and sense of control

All children must have a least one activity that brings them pride, enjoyment, and sense of competence:  The best thing you can do for an a gang involved youth is make sure that they are succeeding at something which makes them proud, keeps them busy and allows them to identify with something besides gang life.  Some examples of this can be joining a club, church group, sports team, start riding horseback, classic car restoration, a job, playing a musical instrument, learning to DJ, camping, art projects, etc.  When a person has something to loose or look forward to, they will take fewer risks.  When they have a sense of pride and a positive identity, they do not develop a need to prove themselves through violence or numb themselves through addiction.


STEP 5.   Address cognitive, emotional and behavioral challenges that get in way of education

To most gang members incarceration is preferable to school because approximately 80% of them have moderate to severe learning disabilities:  An overlooked fact is that the great majority of gang members have difficulty in school before they become truant, delinquent and gang involved.  Most gang members have a fear school and feel a sense of shame and futility about it. They only succeed in school with lots of support, mentors and opportunity for participation in extra-curricular classes and classes appropriate for a teenager with disabilities and a scattered education.  Without support gang involved students tend to fail, act-out and purposely move in the direction of getting expelled.  Who wants to be in a situation where success feels impossible?

STEP 6.   Working together “It takes a Village”

All the adults must communicate, develop a common plan and count on each other: The biggest obstacle to working with gang youth is that they usually have a school principal, guidance counselor, probation officer, parents, social worker, school psychologist and teachers who have never met in one room and developed a common plan, shared their resources and established a vision for this difficult teenager.  Gang members fall between the gaps when adults who are all working solo have grown tired and only contact each other when the situation has turned into an emergency or it is too late.  


STEP 7.   Relapse is part of the process of recovery

Expect resistance and self-sabotage and to have a plan in place when they fail:  Gang involved teenagers will often resist new activities even though these are rewarding.  This is normal.  Most of us experience a good dose of shyness or fear when asked to do something unfamiliar, especially if it exposes us to possible failure in front of our peers. Success is also an unfamiliar feeling to gang members.  They will often engage in self-sabotage, whether it is continued fighting with the coach or being late to that great job you got them.  Expect this!  It is part of the process.  Plan what you will do when failure occurs, and do not give up on them!


© Ulric Johnson 2 moody street Boston MA. (617) 365 - 0637


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