Jails, Prisons, Gangs and Broken Lives
Still, today, it breaks my heart to see young men flaunt the foolish gang lifestyle, not realizing that they are making a mockery of themselves. Desperate to find community, most gang members come from broken homes. Fathers are either not present, abusive, or part of a turnstyle relationship. For those leading the gangs, how they are teaching their younger brothers how to waste their lives. Instead offering something positive, they offer hopelessness.
With great irony, you might see a gang member wearing a cross. At first glance, you might think he is a Christian, but nothing in the manifestos reflect anything of the sort.
The Short Version:
The longer version would go to explain specific adventures helping one young man leave the Black Gangster Disciples, a knife at my throat that was later handed to me by a weeping man, visits to most Illinois prisons and day long visits meeting inmates in the Florida Everglades prison system.
There were tough talks with young men about how God and crime are in conflict, that a true man of God will set down his gang colors and pick up a Bible and learn how live a life that's true. The rebellious ones would try to tell me how the Nation of Islam is the way and related lies. Not only is that blasphemous before God, but even the Nation of Islam condemns the thug life.
I could tell you about the funerals I went to. Saw three people buried. Two men, one women. Missed the funerals of a few others. Or the young men I met facing life in prison for murders they admitted they committed. Or how I played chess with one guy several times a week over the phone through a thick glass barrier. He was full of hate, but could play a decent game.
The best stories, though, are the ones in which a guy earned his GED, left jail, got jobs and married a beautiful woman. That man honored his God, helped his children live a life that did not involve incarceration and/or violence.
How Did this Happen? A Few Details
Sometime during college, I stepped into assist with a Bible study in the county jail. Eric, a friend from church, presumed that because I grew up near Chicago, I must be an expert in connecting with those from a tough background. I knew a little, at best, about any of these kinds of things.
What started as a few week fill-in turned into over a seven-year commitment leading a small ministry. I learned quick, served as a jail liaison to the press on gang issues, and fell in love with evangelism. I worked with adults inmates of all flavors, and became involved in one of Illinois's' most noted cases, a murder retrial looking at whether or not a man killed his wife and three children. I volunteered to do research for the defense. He was released, one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.
Although there's just two paragraphs here, the jail ministry changed my view on humanity. I became friends with rapists, murderers and innocents. I learned that the worst criminal deserves the same fate as I do… all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but to whom will God deny who humbly approaches His throne?
No, I do not respect gangs. I do not respect a man who wastes his life. That is no man. Human, yes, but not a real man. The real man knows he needs to serve God, not the Crips, not the Gangster Disciples, not the Latin Kings, or the Bloods or any of the other gangrene groups ruining an urban citizen's life.