RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — With the arrest of dozens of alleged MS-13 gang members on Long Island yesterday, many are asking; how do we keep people out of gangs to begin with?
One anti-gang program in the jails is being expanded to convert gang members in hopes they can influence others once they get out.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff got an exclusive look behind prison bars inside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead where a group of present and former gang members meets weekly trying to figure out how to put their fractured lives back together.
“I joined the gang at 14, I’ve been shot three times, and I’ve been shot five times altogether,” Terrone Newsome said.
Newsome, 20, of Central Islip said now he just wants to stay alive.
Keia Armstrong, 21, of Amityville joined up with gangs and also got shot.
“Hanging around a crowd of people that was out there hanging around being a follower, wanting to be somebody I wasn’t.” Armstrong said.
Facing hard times for their crimes, inmates said they’re ready to turn their backs on the gangs, but wonder if there is any place for them to go once they get out. Their counselor said there has to be.
“We hire people, we help people get jobs, and that’s what’s gotta happen — school-wide, community-wide,”Council of Unity, anti-gang counselor Bob Desena said.
In communities like Hempstead that have been terrorized by gangs, you’ll get mixed reaction as to whether gang members should even be helped.
“The major problem is it starts in the family, and I do believe they need education and help,” Natalie Vaughn said.
Others favor the toughened law enforcement crackdown that led to the bust of 41 gang members of Thursday.
“If they’re killing people, sure, they have to pay for what they’ve done,” Cindy Perry said.
The inmates agree, they’ll have to serve their time, but said the gang intervention counseling has changed them. They regularly counsel young children visiting the jail on special school trips.
“I just want to help the kids, I don’t want them to follow us, or follow people who join gangs because they still have a future,” Adriana Sanchez said.
It’s a future they hope never involves closing prison gates.
There are plans now to expand the program to the Yaphank Jail in Suffolk County.