Inside The Gang: Getting Out

Gangs operate in most of London’s inner cities dealing drugs, thieving and committing acts of extreme violence. The drive to gain respect among members means that inter-gang violence is ruthless, revenge escalates quickly, and young people are dying on the streets.

There are many reasons why teenagers join gangs. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving to a postcode that is dominated by gang culture, sometimes family members or friends pull them in, and often older gang members are on the lookout for young people they can initiate into their gang, to raise their own status and rise up the ranks.

Gang life can seem very glamorous – with opportunities to get rich quick – but there is much more to it than meets the eye. Along with the criminal life gang members lead comes the risk of not only going to prison or getting seriously hurt, but developing serious mental health problems.

I’m in a gang – why should I leave?

Though it may not seem like it at the beginning, there are always consequences to being in a gang:

1) Mental health problems

Being involved in gang activity is stressful and frightening, and witnessing extreme violence can cause emotional trauma. Emotional trauma impacts on your mental health not only as traumatic events happen, but for a long time afterwards.

Gang members will often develop mental health problems due to emotional trauma, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Take ‘Gripper” in part 1 of Into The Gang. He witnessed his friend’s death, and described how he was experiencing constant nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety, reliving the traumatic event every single day. ‘Red Rum’ described how he couldn’t sleep, despite smoking weed all through the night to try and relax. These are all symptoms of PTSD.

Traumatic events can also cause psychosis, where you experience hallucinations and delusions. Bad psychotic episodes can land you in hospital and mental health institutions.

It’s important to be aware that it’s not just emotional trauma that can give you mental health problems. If you’re using drugs frequently you may be putting your mental health at risk. Smoking weed over a long period of time, for example, is linked to serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia. Click here for more info on what drug misuse can do to your brain.

Your mental health is important and mental health problems can’t be fixed overnight – if you develop a mental health problem due to the gang culture you’re living in it could take years for you to feel in control of your life again.

2) Prison

If you get caught doing gang crimes you’ll go to prison. Prison is not something to be taken lightly – you’ll waste years of your life behind bars.

It’s also a mistake to think you’ll be escaping the gang culture in prison. What if you’re put in the same cell as an opposing gang member? Prison is full of very dangerous criminals that you wouldn’t want to mess with and new inmates can get picked on. But in prison, unlike on the streets, there is nowhere to run.

3) Death

The reality is that gang members die all the time. Violence escalates quickly and for beating someone up you might get shot – revenge is always carried out and there are no rules on the street.

Gang life is a dangerous world where it’s eat or be eaten so while you’re involved in a gang, your life is in real danger. You could get yourself killed.

 

How do I leave?

It’s much easier to get into a gang than it is to leave. But, while leaving can be scary and dangerous, there is a way out and there are people and organisations out there who want to help you.

1) Make the decision – and stick to it

It’s important that you 100% make your mind up before starting the process. It may be a difficult journey, but it will be worth it in the end.

2) Contact an organisation who deals with getting gang members out

Gangsline is an organisation that’s run by ex-gang members who know the ropes. If you call them up on their confidential helpline number they can help you with your individual case and set you up on their mentoring programme.

St Giles Trust is another good organisation to get in contact with but only if you’re serious about leaving your gang. They can offer you one-to-one mentoring and can help you set up your new life away from gang crime.

I’m in a gang and I need to talk, who can I call?

If you’re feeling anxious and unhappy it’s important to talk your feelings through. When you’re in a gang it’s hard to find people you can really talk to and trust.

While organisations like Gangsline and St Giles Trust are great for helping you to leave your gang, their helplines aren’t supposed to be used for day-to-day counselling.

Call Childline’s confidential helpline or contact The Mix via phone or online chat to talk to professionals who know about mental health and can help you work through things that are worrying you.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this programme, the following websites may be able to help.

Helpful sites:

Crimestoppers

St Giles Trust

Childline

Gangsline

The Mix