Amid the Lower Mainland’s dangerously escalating gang conflict, two former gang members are sharing their perspective on the situation.
Stanley Price and Shenan Charania were both able to transition out of the gang life, and now work with the KidsPlay Foundation– an organization that aims to guide youth away from criminal activity through mentorship and sport.
There have been 11 shootings in Metro Vancouver over the last month, nine of them fatal. Many of the killings have taken place in extremely public locations, including the Langley Sportsplex and the Vancouver International Airport.
Many of those on the front lines of the conflict, said Price, are youth recruited early who the gangs see as expendable.
“That’s what I was seeing the last five years I was an active gang member, was watching a lot of my friends dying or ending up in jail. A lot of the guys I know are doing life sentences now,” he said.
According to Price, the lure of quick cash and power draws many youth in — but once they’re on the inside, it’s hard to see a way out.
He said he’s living proof that that’s not the case. Price decided to get out of the lifestyle when he realized it was hurting his family and kids.
“It was affecting me as a person, it made me an evil person. I knew I could do so much better,” he said.
“There is a life after. The guys who think you can’t leave? It’s possible man, there is a life out there. I’m doing it.”
Charania, who spent a decade in the gang life after getting sucked in as a teen in the late 1990s, said the recent escalation of violence left him with a feeling of sadness.
“Whatever happened in the nineties, where we saw that spike with the South Asian community particularly, it’s the same context. The content is different, the people are different, it’s a little bit more careless, but it’s the same thing,” he said.
Charania got into drugs and stealing cars after being bullied in school, and dropped out of high school by 15.
“I was looking for a sense of belonging. I didn’t see that and I got trapped into looking for that everywhere,” he said.
Police enforcement is a necessary aspect of tackling the gang problem, he said, as is communicating the very real consequences of gang activity to young people.
But he said the only way to cut off the pipeline of young recruits is to give kids support and positive outlets.
Rather than being scared straight, give youth the help and the resources to develop their own aspirations and goals, he said, or the message risks going “in one ear and out the other.”
“I’ve spoken to youth and they feel like they’re being imposed upon a lot: here’s what’s good, here’s what’s bad, here’s what’s right, here’s what’s wrong, do this, do that,” Charania said.
He also had a message for parents.
“Connect with your children. That’s very, very important. Don’t play the parent role 24 hours a day, connect with them, listen to them genuinely,” he said.
“Why I say that is when a child faces crisis they go to who they trust. And if they don’t trust a parent, if they see them as a punisher, they’re going to the boys, automatically.”