Audio Postcard: Turning From Gangs To The Straight And Narrow

Aaron Chambers (center) with members of the Society for Non-violent Change. (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
Aaron Chambers (center) with members of the Society for Non-violent Change. (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
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In July, WCPN's The Sound of Ideas produced a program about gangs in Cleveland, focusing on news about the so-called Heartless Felons gang whose members this year were targeted in high-profile indictments.

As part of the program, we heard from former gang members, working with Cleveland's Peacemakers Alliance and the Society for Non-violent Change to stay out of trouble, to try to find work, to try for another life. Ideastream’s Tony Ganzer recently checked in with one of those young men trying to walk the straight and narrow, and he tells his story in this audio postcard:

“My name? My name would be Aaron Chambers. I actually pulled myself out of gang life, because I don’t want to be walking to the store and gotta just always look behind my back, or always feel—what’s that word—paranoid. Gotta always look outside the window, can’t sleep. That’s uncomfortable, very uncomfortable.”

“In the gang life, you’re always going to be forced to do things, not necessarily from the people in the gang but as far as life itself, ‘cause once everybody is separated at the end of the night, you know, you just left from the gang, but now you’re dealing with still reality, of life, or hungry, I’ve got bills to pay, my kids are hungry. Whether you have got kids or not, somebody’s hungry—that’s what it leads to: hungry, and needs of peace.”

“When you’re used to living that same way of life for…more than, yeah, half of all your life, then that’s what you’re used to, but you really want change. And it’s hard, because there’s really no opportunities, as a matter of fact there’s none at all, without a piece of paper, or certificate saying diploma or whatever the type of certificate may be.”

“But there’s a lot of Brothers who don’t have no certificate, and is the wisest man on Earth. That leads to how I’ve been, because it’s like I’m very knowledgeable, intelligent and above, but it’s just a struggle. People been stealing my car, honestly it’s been a hassle feeding my kids in and out of shelters. But I’m trying not to break from losing control, and honestly really going out and doing something that would either put me underground or in a cage—which is, you know, prison.”

“It’s getting really crucial, harder, is [around] Christmas time. A lot of cats like me want to give their kids at least one toy. You know because, you know, you’ve got churches out here that’s willing to help, but we can’t get to them opportunities. So we got to do what we got to do, whether it’s a Dollar Store toy or not, it’s just to see the smile of our child’s faces, and we’d be all right. ”

“Yeah, that’s the victory to me: me just waking up, and seeing my family; staying around positive people that keep me positive.”

“The thing that I would like to tell people actually living in my shoes: patience is the key to success. Yeah we are struggling, it’s hard. But if you really, really put it in your mind that you’re going to get out of it, and, I say, you possess the powers of your tongue…just…hold on.”

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