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Life after the gang

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November 7, 2007

Tift County  -- A Sunday afternoon teen murder is a tragic indicator of the gang problem in South Georgia. In some areas of town, people tell us the gangs control their neighborhoods.

And all the talk we hear about deadly gang initiations? It's true. I know because I sat down with a former gang member who says the time's come to Take Back Our Neighborhoods.

"Something needs to be done about all this stuff, 'cause it's getting a little out of hand now," Jimmy Walker says.

So he spends hours every week talking to kids. "You got young kids out there, 7 & 8 years old out there in gangs and stuff," Walker says.

He knows these youngsters are vulnerable. "There's a lot of influences out there in the street."

So on this day, he tries to steer them in a different direction. You see, Jimmy Walker speaks from experience. "I been on both sides of it. I been shot at and been doin' some shootin'."

 He's a former member of the Crips. "I was 13 when I first started."

 And for 6 years, he lived life as a gangster. "I almost came that close to killing somebody one time, one time."

And one time, it was almost his turn to die. "I had bullets go by my head and got hit in the leg with one. Right there and it didn't go all the way through."

At 17, he took a gun to school because the principal made him mad. Did he plan to kill the principal? "Um hmm. That was my intention when I got up that morning.'"

 He was expelled after the assistant principal caught him. "I'm glad he did, I'm glad he did that. 'Cause right now, I probably wouldn't be sitting here. I'd probably still be locked up right now."

 These days, at 29, he sees life through different eyes. "What made me want to change my mind about it was when I had my first child."

 And now with five children, his priority is family. "If a child ain't got no family at home, they gone find it out there in the street."

 He knows, because the street was where he found family. "My daddy killed my mama over domestic violence at a nightclub when I was five years old."

He wants his kids to have it better than he did. "A whole lot better. And by any means necessary. If I have to work my fingers to the bone, I'll do that.'"

 So he does, by night a stock clerk at K-Mart, and by day, a devoted father who's traded his signature Crips bandana for an R. L. Mack cap, the Headstart program where he served as president.

"If I don't see them in school, I try to see them in the streets."

 The streets are where he delivers his message, anywhere children will listen. "First thing I tell them is that joining a gang and selling dope ain't gone lead but to two places. And I always point down there to the funeral home or over there to the police station."

And he doesn't stop there. He evens talks to gang members themselves. "I used to wear blue, I used to be a Crip, and they Bloods down there. I go and I sit down and I talk to all of them and they don't give me no problem, no static, no nothing. They sit there and they listen."

They listen to a man who's been there. "I wasn't supposed to live to see 18. The way I was going, I was supposed to die before I turned 18."

And lived to talk about. "You know it's a wonder you're not either dead or in prison. 'That's what I know. I thank God for that everyday, too.'"

And everyday, he works with these kids to Take Back Our Neighborhoods.

Jimmy Walker lives in Tifton and says his dream is to get a degree in criminal justice.

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