EDITORIALS

THE EVOLUTION OF A STREET GANG MEMBER – Options & Opportunites

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about a former Aboriginal Winnipeg street gang member named TM.

The story ran in the Winnipeg Free Press last weekend after an editor contacted me and asked if I would mind if they ran the story in the Sunday Xtra.

Of course I didn’t mind.

It was a feel good story and a rare one at that.  Winnipeger’s are far more conditioned to hear stories about Aboriginal street gang members participating in horrific crimes, getting shot or being sentenced to life in prison.

When TM read the story he sent me a text message expressing his appreciation.

“Hey there I just read the article! It was awesome, you’re a great story-teller. Karma lately is exposing a different path for me.  I haven’t been involved in street issues for a very long time. Your article reminded me of some of the struggles I’ve had to overcome.  So thank you for that! There are so many elements to changing not just dropping that rag. Thx again, it was a great article.”

I could tell from the text message my article had touched TM.  It undoubtedly provided him with the validation that his struggle to stay on a righteous path was worth the effort.  I don’t imagine TM has had the benefit of much positive reinforcement in his life, no less from an ex-member of Law Enforcement.

The story only gets better.

After reading the story Floyd Wiebe, Director of GAP (Gang Awareness for Parents), contacted me and asked if I thought TM would be interested in participating in a speaking engagement for a GAP presentation at a West End Community Forum.

When I reached out to TM I was surprised at how quickly he seized the opportunity.

The event was to take place at the Winnipeg Central Mosque at 715 Ellice Ave.  The presentation was going to be an informational session facilitated by the Islamic Social Services Association in partnership with the Winnipeg Foundation.  I knew this was going to be a giant step for TM and I wanted to be there to show him I supported him and his efforts to stay on a good path.

When I arrived at the Mosque I met with Floyd, TM and Nathan Thomas, another ex-gang member with an equally remarkable story.  As I reached out to shake TM’s hand I could see he was somewhat nervous but I also sensed he was eager to participate and share his story.

Before the presentation started I had an opportunity to learn a bit more about TM, after all, it’d been over thirteen (13) years since we’d met.  In speaking with TM I’d learn the gang related murder of his best friend Adrian Bruyere was a life changing event for him.  Not long after the physical and emotional wounds started to heal he realized he wanted to “drop the rag” and get out of the gang life.

In order to do so he was going to have to be “beat out,” a common street gang ritual that involves taking a beating from your fellow gang members.  TM’s “beat out” was especially vicious as the rabid pack of gangsters punched, kicked and stomped him to the extent he was nearly killed.  The metal plate in his head and the scars on his face are a testament to the harsh realities of a street gang exit.

For TM reconnecting with his Aboriginal culture was key to turning the page on his former life.  Part of his evolution involved taking a traditional name.  He is now known as “Niigani Nabbe.”  In translation, the name Niigani means “leading the way,” while Naabe, from the word Anishinaabe, means “male.”  When you put it all together its interpreted as, “Man who leads the way.”  And so the evolution began….

The GAP presentation was well attended with approximately thirty to forty inquisitive people from the Muslim community represented in the audience.

As Floyd started working through the presentation he continually invited Nathan and Niigani to share their stories and wisdom.

Nathan was an “original gangster” and started gang banging when he was ten (10) years old.  Nathan ran wild in the streets with no parental influences other than his grandmother and grandfather.  Tragically, the only modicum of family he had would be gone forever when his grandmother murdered his grandfather.  Life for Nathan was all about crime, drugs and money.

“When I should’ve been graduating from high-school I was graduating into the Federal Penitentiary,” he told the riveted crowd.  “What saved my life was my culture, for the very first time in my life I felt at home.”

That was five years ago.

Nathan Thomas now has a full-time job, pays taxes and speaks at community events and forums in partnership with Floyd Wiebe.

The majority of his former gang brothers are deceased.

The stories, insight and message shared by Niigani and Nathan were appreciated by the community members who attended.

After the event concluded I shook Niigani’s hand and asked him how he felt.

“I really enjoyed it, it’s a very positive thing,” he said.

As we said goodbye I challenged Niigani to “Be the difference.”

A challenge he seems ready to take.

It’s all about Options & Opportunity!

RELATED LINK:

The Police Insider – “Street Gangs, Murder & Fate – An Odd Combination

The Winnipeg Free Press – “A Leopard Can Change its Spots”

16 Comments

  1. I will pass that on, really appreciate your offer and comments…

  2. Very inspiring story! I don’t know what TM is currently working at, but if he would like to try a career in the trades I would be happy to help him on his way. Please pass this along for me! Great job – keep making a difference yourself!

  3. Nice of you to say so, much appreciated.

  4. You need a “thumbs up” button on this website buddy. Keep up the good work.

  5. Stay tuned…..

  6. But is it “book time” James? LOL

  7. I’m sorry if you truly believe that.

    The fact of the matter is the Police and Justice department make the decision when a young offenders name is to be released.

    The criteria usually centres on the serious nature of the charge and public safety.

    In many of these cases, Police and Prosecutors also have significant concerns for the safety and well being of the suspect as their life may also be in danger. That is often true in gang related cases like this one.

    I’ve been involved in these discussions and race never even remotely entered into the decision making process.

  8. If the perp was a Caucasian the Caucasian community wouldn’t allow the name to be released. But, as he is an Aboriginal, no problem releasing his name.

  9. Appreciate your comments, thank you!

  10. Very interesting correlation….

    Thank you for commenting…

  11. Thanks Phil…

    Always appreciate your comments….

  12. Thank you James for this great article. When Nathan Thomas came into my life as part of Gang Awareness for Parents, http://www.GAPManitoba.com, I was overjoyed and saddened at the same time, as to how great it was that Nathan was working with me and how sad it was that his road to our meeting was so hard. I only met Niigani 48 hours before he, Nathan and I presented at the Mosque. Think of that, here we are, only 48 hours from our meeting and this young man is sharing his thoughts with an audience to help these parents prevent their child from gang involvement. For James’s readers that may not know, James was a leading investigator in my son’s homicide investigation almost 11 years ago. That story: http://www.TJsGift.com

  13. I am stricken by the similarity I see between a gang member’s “beat out” and how whistleblowers are treated when they act on their conviction that something in the sub-culture they are attached to is unbearably wrong. How the wounds (physical, emotional, financial) are inflicted, but seen to be worth it to those who just have to do something to maintain a sense of personal integrity, despite the costs.

    None of us truly “belongs” in a culture that is violent, that devalues and demeans others, or that values conformity over intellect. We are much more similar than we realize, and that in itself is something to celebrate.

  14. Great article my friend. Good to see you getting more and more of your insight to bigger audiences. (book time?)

  15. Appreciate that Jay…

    Thank you!

  16. You do good work Jimmy. You’re touching lives.

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