Redemption: Stories of Hope, Resilience and Life After Gangs

By Anne Mahon, Great Plains Publications 2017

Why do people join gangs? Once entrenched in a life of crime with it’s realities of incarceration, addiction, power, and money, is it possible to walk away? This triumphant collection of nine personal life stories from ex-gang members enlightens, surprises and inspires. These first-person accounts tell of the grit of living marginalized, often neglected and in poverty, but unexpectedly give heartfelt commentary on topics such as peace, joy, forgiveness and hope. These stories challenge the readers’ preconceived notions, giving an illuminating look at the individual lives behind crime statistics. This book covers territory that often doesn’t get into the news media and creates connection through our shared humanity. 

It takes courage to forgive. A lot of people have so much pride and anger, it makes it hard for them. But if you can’t let go of things, you continue to carry that burden inside of you.
— Justin
Anne Mahon shows us through these clear voices the possibility of our exquisite mutuality. That if we imagine a circle of compassion…and then imagine no one standing outside of that circle, our “standing with” dismantles the barriers that divide. Only then, in this kinship, can we obliterate the illusion that we are separate. This fine book helps us stand against forgetting that we belong to each other. No “Us” and “Them”…only “Us.”
— Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries

Chris- Told to care for himself at age eleven, Chris got a gun and began his phase in crime, eventually giving up gang life for his children. He speaks of the joys of fatherhood and the empowerment of a responsible job. 

Regina- A real female gang members, Regina grew up in an Aboriginal family where gang life was the family business. A single mom to five kids, she speaks passionately about motherhood, independence and sharing her life experience with young marginalized girls from the streets. 

Ian- Ian left gang life early when a bullet from a drive by shooting paralyzed him. Ian speaks candidly about his early years of crime and his focuses and supports now as he works to create a new life.

I wouldn’t recommend prison to anybody to work out their problems and to get their career straight, but it worked for me. There’s a lot of change that can happen in jail. Probably most of my growing up was inside, because really, you don’t need perfect conditions to grow, you just need to be willing
— Garry

Ervin- Once a leader in a notorious Aboriginal street gang, Ervin is now focused on filmmaking, peace through meditation and yoga, and a relationship with his life partner who once taught him literacy in jail.

Justin- A struggling student with ADHD and labeled a bad boy, Justin entered gang life early, and was entrenched in Asian-based gangs and drugs until during a period of disillusionment he had a near death experience that affected him deeply. 

Garry- As a new member of a biker gang, Garry murdered young but while incarcerated had a vision he would play in The Canadian Football League and did. Garry has found peace in caring for his dying mother and paralyzed sister, and teaching kids Martial Arts. 

Ryan- Ryan speaks candidly about the abuse that began his spiral into gang affiliation, and serious addiction. Today, Ryan is clean, a student, a focused single dad, and grateful for the enormous support he has received and his newfound Aboriginal spirituality despite being Caucasian. 

Jamie- Once a nomad patch holder entrenched in international motorcycle clubs, drug crime and addiction, today Jamie speaks with great self awareness of working to live clean, managing his PTSD and creating a new life. 

Anonymous- Was born in South Sudan and eventually became a teenage refugee in Canada. Disillusioned by a lack of family and community support after a young friend was murdered, he and his friends formed a gang, only to leave it years later for a life of single parenthood, academics, leadership and ambition.

If you really want to help someone then don’t ask them, “So what did you do to become a gang member?” People feel intimidated when you ask them that question. I wouldn’t want to share any of my life with someone who’s going to sit there and judge me. Instead you need to ask them, “What are you good at?
— Regina

Thank You

Thank you to the Winnipeg Foundation for valuing these stories and honouring them by funding the distribution of Redemption in school and public libraries, correctional facilities, and support providers to gang members and youth at risk, in Winnipeg and the greater area. 

Interior photography for Redemption by Keith Levit Photography. Cover photography by Andrew Mahon Photography. Copyright 2017, Anne Mahon. All rights reserved.