A Chicago researcher studied the lives of gang members over a long period of time. She started interviewing inmates at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in 1995.
Among the findings, more than 80 percent of juveniles who enter the system have belonged to a gang. Seventy percent of boys and 40 percent of girls have used a firearm.
Now, as adults, 71 percent of the men and 59 percent of the women are unemployed. Of the 1,829 youths in the study, 119 have died, most of them violently. As a group they show high rates of psychological stress, depression and/or other disorders.
At any time, 20 percent of the group is in jail.
Those who have been successful in leaving the gang culture credit their families, girlfriends, religious figures, the community or having a family as important factors.
Government programs or crackdowns by police seem to matter very little.
One gang member interviewed for the study spoke about changing his life after years in prison or in trouble. He started thinking about the people he hurt. He began to reflect about how his life could have been different. He thought about his sister who was starting to get involved with gangs. He said “ …it started to eat away at me.”
With regard to his old neighborhood, he said, “A great part of who you are is that culture. You are always going to identify with that group…your neighborhood.”
He went on, “This is what you were born into, this is the misery of your reality. But you yourself have the power and strength to rise above this.”