Written by attorney Mark A. Broughton

California Criminal Street Gangs - Dropping Out (Part 1)

I have represented many, many gang members over the years in hundreds of cases - from petty thefts to drive-by shootings to special circumstance murder cases, and everything in between. At some point, if a gang member does not end up in prison for life, or killed in activities related to the gang, a select few ponder getting out ("dropping out") and leaving gang life behind. Those unfamiliar with gang culture might think this is an easy task - like quitting the boy scouts or a little league team. For a variety of reasons, in most cases, leaving a criminal street gang may be an exceedingly difficult challenge.

In this article we will explore some of these reasons and suggest a formitable path that may lead to successfully severing ties with a criminal street gang forever. Among other things, that journey will have to overcome law enforcement barriers, such as constant harassment and seemingly endless pursuit; barriers that will try to imprison you as a gang member for the rest of your life.

The First Step - Make the DECISION to leave the gang.

As simple as this seems, the first step to any life altering action is the decision to change. A decision is a conscious choice and a commitment to take action in another direction - to get married, to quit drinking or using drugs, to change careers, to lose weight, to buy a house, to "take this job and shove it!"

The decision is often proceeded by a festering sense of discomfort, restlessness, or discontentedness. Comes now the thought, and a quiet conviction, that something has to change. Sometimes this thought comes in a prison cell; sometimes after a friend has been killed in a senseless act of violence over a color or a minor dispute; sometimes it is spurred by love and a child on the way. Other times, when age mellows anger, the lingering sense that there just has to be a better life takes hold. In that moment of clarity you realize that "I am on a dead-end street to hell and this just ain't working anymore." You see that whatever was missing in your life that drew you to the gang in the first place - inadequate love, lack of parental support, acceptance, feeling of importance, or emotional guidance - will never be satisfied by the gang. It strikes you that those things that lured you into the gang - peer pressure, fear, security - were nothing more than illusions.

To those few who listen to that inner voice, comes a desire to change - if you don't want to change, you will never make the decision to do so. You have to want it first. It won't just happen. Now, with a little courage, you make the decision - "I am getting out of the gang." When combined with the commitment to take action to change, you have take the first step!

So now what? What do you do? What do you have to change? The short answer is simple: The only thing you have to change is everything! In the pages that follow we will explore what you need to do to effectively leave gang life behind. It takes courage, commitment, dedication, and in many cases, a little help from your family and friends. Sometimes, it also takes other people or organizations that are dedicated to helping you change your life. Many former gang members have taken the path before you and are now living successful, happy lives. With the right attitude and conviction, you or your loved one can do it too.

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