Rival Gang Members, United On the Same Canvas

July 20, 2009 8:24:05 PM PDT
He's 16, and for the last eight months an admitted gang member has called Fresno County's Juvenile Justice Center home. He said, "My color is red, I'm a Bulldog." But in here the only color recognized is the one everyone wears, gang member or not, the color is yellow. Samantha Canales is a professional artist who works with young male inmates at the JJC once a week. She said, "Overhanging rules of the world they come from are so strong that it keeps them from doing things they enjoy."

Canales got a crash course on "street rules" when some kids with "red" Bulldog Gang ties were expected to use blue paint, a rival gang's color, on a mural about respect. She said, "They just refused, they sat down and refused to do it."

An 18 year old inmate said, "It's like that everywhere here because everyone's in different gangs." It took a while for the rivals to finally agree to work together. By putting paint to canvas each young man took away something unique. The 16 year old Bulldog member said, "That I have some potential. I never realized that. I didn't know what I could be capable of doing."

Nancy Pressley is the Executive Director of Focus Forward which brings programs to the juvenile jail. She said, "Kids who participate in our programs tend to earn more furloughs, earn more points so they can be released sooner, they get more positive commendations rather than negative incident reports."

What may be harder to track are the long-term effects of such programs when the incarceration ends. When I asked the young Bulldog gang member if the "street rules" will apply again when he gets out of detention he said, "Um, yea sort of, it would. But not like how it used to be." Then I asked him if he could get along with rival gang members at the JJC why he couldn't do it when he was free and he said, "Because the world is different than in here.

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