Calgary artist escapes gang life and hopes his journey helps youth at risk: ‘Art has saved my life’

Click to play video: 'Calgary artist escapes gang life and hopes his journey helps youth at risk' Calgary artist escapes gang life and hopes his journey helps youth at risk
WATCH: It's a powerful story of transformation. A Calgary man involved in a violent gang lifestyle is now a successful artist hoping to inspire others. Jill Croteau reports. – Jun 8, 2021

Calgarian Kale Barr, 32, is sharing a very private pain in the hopes of inspiring others about the potential of overcoming all the odds.

When he was a young boy, he was traumatized and survived sexual abuse. In his late teens, he turned to violence to cope with it.

For nearly 10 years, he was part of a gang.

“They allowed me to be myself. I didn’t have to apologize for being mad, and I didn’t have to apologize for hurting people, and I didn’t have to ask forgiveness,” Barr said.

“Because of the trauma growing up, it took me a long time to take ownership of my past.”

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Read more: Youth the key to long-term disruption of gangs, says B.C. cop

He knows he can’t change the things he did but is working on righting those wrongs.

“There was a point I was perfectly OK with taking someone’s life. I had zero guilt or second thoughts,” Barr said. “I had no problems taking flesh, breaking bones or hurting people.

“It was this moment and I made the decision to kill somebody, and we were on our way to go and do it. There was such a bad blizzard. We couldn’t get to where we were going. I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I remember in that moment what it was to discover taking ownership of who I was.”

He eventually escaped that life and discovered his past wasn’t going to define him. It led him to his true calling as an artist.

“It’s a type of freedom you can’t get anywhere else. Art has saved my life.” he said.

“Art was that missing piece to my life, my purpose and my passion,” Barr said. “I get to go forward in this life and have the opportunity to be a better man.”

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Click to play video: 'Debunking the myth of glamour in the gang lifestyle' Debunking the myth of glamour in the gang lifestyle
Debunking the myth of glamour in the gang lifestyle – May 21, 2021

Much of his work is featured in galleries in Calgary.

“When I get to take something that has hurt me because of what I’ve done to someone, to be able to take that pain and translate it onto a canvas to make something beautiful, I’ve found a healing,” Barr said.

The potential of what’s possible is part of what drives Calgary’s Youth At Risk and Development (YARD) team. Sgt. Tom Lang leads the gang intervention program that sees an average of 180 clients a year.

“Our program is in place for 10- to 18-year-olds who are either involved in gang activity or find themselves on the periphery or involved in criminal offending that may lead to gang activity,” Lang said.

They are seeing an increased demand.

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“A lot of these kids are at the lowest of lows and realize if they continue, their life isn’t going to amount to much, so our job is to put that belief back into them.”

Read more: Notorious Calgary gangster and self-admitted killer now free

Barr is proof of what can happen when you see your own worth and said he feels a responsibility to inspire hope in others struggling alone.

“It doesn’t get to own your life. The choices we’ve made — those don’t get to decide who we get to be,” Barr said.

“You can go into tomorrow, and you have the choice to make a different life.”

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