Getting into a street gang in Winnipeg is not all that difficult, getting out is the hard part. In fact, getting out of a street gang can be an extremely dangerous and scary proposition. That’s all going to change if the people working for GAIN (Gang Action Interagency Network) and GAP (Gang Awareness for Parents) have anything to say about it!
The group is determined to do whatever it takes to develop a gang exit strategy, the first of its kind in the City of Winnipeg.
As the Executive Director of Gang Awareness for Parents, GAPManitoba.com, I meet a lot of gang-involved kids. After I get past the bravado, I find a little boy, a truly innocent little boy, who, once I get into his core being, doesn’t want to be in a gang at all, he just doesn’t know how to get out. The gang is his “family.” They provide him housing, food, clothing, and most important of all, respect.
To many readers, I’m sure that’s a hard concept to grasp, how can a gang be a family?
Last week I was in a nice Southdale home, yes Southdale, not the North End, where most people think the gang problem is. A mother and father asked me to talk to their son, as they feared for his life. I met with this 15-year-old for several hours. He was respectful, listened intently, and asked questions. He told me he was now a formal gang member, and described several “missions” he had done to prove his worth, and how the “gang” was his real family.
He was insecure, failing in school, saw himself as a follower, and most of all, was looking for respect. He found it. Yet, after all his tales of gaining this respect, I found the real little boy. When I really dug down into his soul, he admitted he knew he was going down the wrong path, but didn’t know how to get out. I didn’t have the ability to really help him get out. Winnipeg doesn’t have a gang exit strategy. All we seem to want to do is lock them up in the Manitoba Youth Centre, the College of Criminal Knowledge.
He’d already been there, and knew he’d be back soon. After all, his family was waiting for him.
What are we doing about getting a kid out?
Three years ago, I took on the challenge of becoming the first co-chair of GAIN, a network of agencies working to solve Winnipeg’s gang problem. It’s been an amazing learning experience. The agencies worked effortlessly to try and solve the gang problem in our beautiful City. Today, GAIN has two new volunteer co-chairs, Jamil Mahmood and Tammy Christensen, along with many other dedicated individuals.
On April 16th, 2013, the second city-wide gang forum will be hosted by GAIN. The forum this year is based on a year of research and data collection on different gang strategies, gang exit programs, youth consultation and key stakeholder interviews. Based on all this work GAIN will be highlighting three key aspects of a Gang exit strategy and working to develop strong action plans at the forum that will lay the foundation for a Winnipeg based gang exit strategy.
“It’s insane that in a City like Winnipeg with a gang problem like we have that there is no strategy for getting kids out of a gang,” says Jamil Mahmood, GAIN co-chair, “We are tired of watching our children be killed, abused and left for the streets to decide their futures. We need to step up and develop a city-wide comprehensive gang strategy before we lose any more of our children. We are a group of dedicated grassroots agencies working to make a change, we have tried 20 years of suppression and gangs are only getting bigger. We need to have suppression, intervention, and prevention programs all working together and on the same level in order to make real change.”
The forum will be a one day workshop where the morning groups will be prioritizing the areas of focus for the year, and then the afternoon will focus on creating concrete action plans with next steps for tackling the gang problem through a comprehensive gang exit strategy. Participants include representatives from government, police, academia and many agencies who work with youth on a daily basis.
GAIN would also like to share the Youth consultation video developed to be shown to different youth groups, schools, youth correctional facilities, anywhere youth gather, not just to watch but to respond to what they hear and engage in presenting solutions to gang issues that are tangible to youth living in those situations.
The information gathered from these youth consultations will then be analyzed and become part of the overall strategy. The youths in the video are not actors and they were not scripted in any way.
“We know the research and the evidence that have come from past anti-gang projects from all over North America but we want to hear from the youth who are feeling the pressures to turn to the streets each day, or have already turned to gangs, what they need to make a change, and what we need to be doing to stop gangs,” adds Mahmood.
If you would like to attend, please contact me at Floyd.GAP@gmail.com or 204-229-9633
Author: Floyd Wiebe
Edited by James G Jewell
UPDATE – CTV VIDEO
ABOUT FLOYD WIEBE:
Floyd Wiebe’s 20-year-old son TJ was brutally murdered by four young men on January 5th, 2003. The motive for the murder involved conflict regarding a love triangle along with elements of illicit drug involvement. TJ was a typical middle class suburban kid with dreams, goals and aspirations that were all cut short by the diabolical quartet of criminal conspirators. Over 1,000 people attended TJ’s funeral. The entire Wiebe family was subjected to the rigors of four separate grueling criminal trials and spent a total of thirty-two (32) months entangled in the legal system. Three convictions and one acquittal later, Floyd is now heavily involved in helping victims, not only through the court process, but also post conviction. Floyd quickly became, and is still today, one of Winnipeg’s best known and most determined victim’s advocate.
After TJ was laid to rest, Floyd and his wife, Karen established TJ’s Gift Foundation, which raises funds for drug education in schools. To date the Foundation has raised over $250,000 by organizing annual gala dinners. One hundred percent (100%) of the funds raised at these functions goes into school programs or large events, some with as many as 4,000 young people participating, all learning TJ’s message, “Choose To Be Drug Free”, the Foundation’s motto.
Throughout the court process, and continuing today, Floyd simply refuses to accept what is presented to him as his limited “rights” as a victim. If his expectations are not met, he asks the question “Why”? He knows his refusal to accept substandard policies and practices will bring about change and improvements for all victims.
Floyd’s is currently employed as Executive Director – Gang Awareness for Parents, a program that the Manitoba Minister of Justice asked Floyd to pioneer.
Floyd provides presentations to many schools and has shared his story with over 20,000 students urging them to make better choices. There is no doubt that TJ’s story has encouraged countless young people to make better choices regarding drug use.
Current Community Involvement:
Founder – TJ’s Gift Foundation – www.TJsGift.com
Chairperson – Prairie Region – Victim Advisory Council – Parole Board of Canada & Correction Services Canada
Co-Chairperson – Gang Action Interagency Network
Board of Directors – The John Howard Society