I remember from my youth an Asian gang member who killed a kid from another gang. He was a year younger than me and grew up close to where I did. Like me, he also had a Filipino dad who had served in the navy. Although we went to the same high school, our lives went in different paths. For example, I don’t remember ever seeing him at Chess Club meetings! When my family learned about the killing, my father commented, “one Filipino killing another – the police won’t do much.”
I recall that the gangster types in school had homemade tattoos. Tattoos have long been a part of gang life, and getting rid of those tattoos are way for gang members to leave that life behind and move on to a more productive life. One organization, Taizo Shibayama’s Clean Arms For Community, provides a way for gang members to erase their tattoos. This article about this organization talks about a Julio Lee who has been through the program. Lee says:
Now that I’m out [of the gang], I don’t want to relive that life again and I don’t want to end up going back because I know actually where it’s going to end me up. It’s going to end up with me in three places: back in jail for a worse crime, handicap or six feet below the ground.
Lee is now working two jobs and living away from his old neighborhood and bad influences. Clients of Clean Arms for Community promise to stay out of the gang life and take rehabilitation classes and are credited with $20 toward the laser tattoo removal for each hour of community service that they do.
That former gang member from my high school got out of the gang life too. According to my father, who got the following information from his father, he managed slip out of the country. Apparently my father was right, the police didn’t do that much or at least didn’t do enough to catch him. The kid then managed to get back into the country, move to the East coast, get married, and then divorced. Years later, he was caught when he was cited for fishing without a license (!) and the local police checked his name (yes, he was using his real name) for any outstanding warrants or charges. After being brought back to California, he was released when it was discovered that all the paperwork regarding his case had been lost. While that is one way to get out of the gang life, I like Julio Lee’s way much better.