HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - A News 3 investigation has uncovered how gangs are recruiting in Hampton Roads.
It’s a widespread problem throughout the region and right now there are people working to try and recruit the youth to join their criminal organizations.
Thurston White Jr. is a former gang member who spent 12 years in prison.
Today he has transformed his life and is working to help others.“I have my freedom, I’m not looking over my back,” said White.
During his time in prison, White met Chris Yarborough, a professional fighter and former gang member who spent several years in prison.
Both men used to live in Hampton Roads.
“I've held other gang members down while I’ve watched for the perimeter trucks inside the prison while they were jumping other people in for other gangs,” said Yarborough.
“The first time I held a gun it actually gave me a feeling that I couldn't believe it,” said White. “Joining a gang, joining the Bloods and Crips or whatever local gang brings a feeling of fulfillment and desire and belonging but what they don't realize is that it’s going to bring them death, destruction, probably life in prison.”
The FBI said there are about 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs active in the U.S. today.
They said many are sophisticated and well-organized using violence to control neighborhoods and make money by robbing, selling drugs and guns, and engaging in prostitution, human trafficking and fraud. Many also continue to be active from behind bars.
“Peer pressure is very hard to stay away from,” said Yarborough.
And part of the pressure is to create a sense of unity or family-like connection.
The News 3 Investigation team uncovered court documents that expose these types of recruiting tactics, highlighting the language used in recruiting techniques:
"I take this oath and solemnly swear to uphold, honor, and respect the rules and regulations that govern the empire of Shine under the banner of the United Blood Nation. I take this oath to be responsible, trustworthy and militant for I am a reflection of this hood (empire). From this day forth I no longer think of myself, for now I am for the upliftment of my people and I understand that others can be affected by my actions. I take this oath to otherwise stand by my sisters and brothers in a time of need and give them a sturdy shoulder to lean on for my loyalty lies in G-shine Empire."
Then there was a questionnaire that reads the following:
Inside every person, there is a blood trying to come out! So recruit crude at least 10% of the population in your hood. While a person is in the process of being initiated into UBN set, that person must be regarded as “5 love" and not allowed to wear any red until the initiation is over.
Interview for questions read:
- So how would you like to be a Blood?
- (NAME) would you like to be a Blood?
- Do you know being a Blood is truly special and respected?
- Do you know that the Bloods are a well-known organization around the world?
- Are you willing to obey and carry out rules and regulations?
- Are you willing to respect your commanding officer?
- Are you willing to respect your fellow Bloods?
- Do you know that with being a Blood comes before anything else or anyone? Except for your mother, father, brother, sister, or your kids
- Are you willing to give your life for a Blood?
- Did you know that once your Blood there’s no turning back?
“There was things you had to know, things you had to recite, different creeds and different places and different laws and stuff that we had to follow inside that in prison,” said Yarborough.
The Department of Justice says gang affiliation is not something that students leave behind when they come to school.
They say there’s a strong correlation between gang presence in schools and guns as well as drug availability in schools. They say the presence of gangs more than doubles the likelihood of violent victimization at school and is very disruptive to the school environment, creating fear among students and staff.
Leaders with Virginia Gangs Investigators Association tell News 3 it is difficult to gauge how much gang recruitment is happening in our area's schools because there is no way to measure it.
Portsmouth Police say a lot of their gangs are considered homegrown – small groups of people who live near each other involved in anything from petty crime to violent crime – many conflicts beginning on social media.
Portsmouth Police Officer Shannell Porter works as a School Resource Officer.
“We want to reduce the tragedy, the loss, the pain and heartache families feel when they lose a loved one in relation to gang violence,” said Porter.
Portsmouth Police say they’re working to bring the G.R.E.A.T. program into their schools. It is called the Gang, Resistance, Education and Training program and it starts in elementary schools.
“There’s always an alternative through G.R.E.A.T, we teach that whether it be talking to somebody like me, a school resource officer, whether it be going to community counselor, going to a rec center just talking to someone,” said Porter.
White and Yarborough wanted change after spending time behind bars.
“The last time I got out in the end of 2016, I was 36 years old, and I wrote a plan in prison about what I was going to do, but more importantly the role to play and what I wasn't going to do,” said White.
He said he decided not to sell drugs, hang out with negative people or hang in the streets and he got married to a wonderful woman who he attributes much of his success to.
“You know there's a lot of people that can change like myself,” said Yarborough.
Yarborough said he bought a house, started a trucking company, and has a contract with Amazon.
Now both men are working to share their stories in hopes of helping others and preventing others from making the same mistakes.
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