There’s always a moment, and it’s usually a bad one, that finally leads someone to decide they need to leave gang life behind.
For Dakota Toto, a former Native Syndicate member, it happened the day he last got out of prison.
“It took me almost dying from getting shot at,” he said.
Leaving a gang involves much more than just submitting your two weeks’ notice. There is no goodbye luncheon or farewell cake.
“Oh, that was a nightmare,” echoed a fellow former NS member, Cody Francis.
As part of his original initiation into the gang, Francis says he was beaten by other members — something called “taking a minute.” When it came time for him to leave, he says he took eight separate “minutes.”
But that was only the beginning of his battle.
“After I dropped my rag, and I was done with that lifestyle, the hardest thing I had to deal with was drug addiction,” he said. “Everybody is fighting it.”
Successfully leaving a gang is rarely done without support, and Regina’s Street Culture Project has helped many turn their lives around.
“When that window opens, we ram that crowbar in there as quickly as we can,” said the organization’s operations director, Mike Gerrand.
Street Culture provides employment opportunities, health and fitness education, and even housing in some cases. It caters the programming to meet the needs of the individuals it supports.
“If we try to make someone walk to the beat of our drum, it usually doesn’t have much success,” says Gerrand.
Regina police also acknowledge the value of community organizations in the fight against crime and poverty.
People like Francis and Toto are the success stories. They both work for Street Culture, hoping others can follow in their footsteps.
“It’s a good life out here,” Toto said.
Francis is hoping his story comes full circle, by becoming an addiction counsellor to those who may be battling the same struggle he once was.