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Voices from the West Side: DeAndre Turner

The 23-year-old construction trainee in West Garfield Park explains how easy it is to get pulled into a gang—and how he got out.

Photo: Sebastián Hidalgo

Age: 23
Lives in: West Garfield Park
With: His sister
Grew up in: West Garfield Park
Currently: Just completed a job training program, and is working on his high school diploma

We grew up in this organization called Off the Street Club, from three to nine o’clock, it was a place you could have fun and it took you off the streets. My favorite thing was around Christmas time, we would go to a big Christmas party. And you had the chance to have a picture with Santa Claus and then they’d give us a toy and a bag of candy.

My experience, growing up in K-Town, we didn’t have no job opportunities. You want to fit in with the crowd. So it’s just everybody just gangbanging, and I fell up to that trap.

I grew up in the club until 16 or 17. I was starting to be disrespectful and fighting and I got kicked out of the club. That’s when I became more into the streets. I just got addicted to being outside.

The violence here has affected me a lot of times, seeing friends getting killed. I lost three friends literally the next day behind each other. Three in a row.

My homie Myron, he got killed. We was crying and mourning. We put up a memorial board in front of Myron’s house showing our condolences. My other two friends, they were signing the board, and somebody came by shooting. And they got shot right there. One of them died on site and the next one, he made it to the next day but he died, too.

They were in their twenties. I was 17 or 18 years old. I wanted to change because I didn’t want to be the next victim. But the anger made me start being out there even more. Hanging out more, gangbanging harder.

Eventually I slowed down, because I was watching my friends getting locked up.

I started going to the open gym across the street from [New Mount Pilgrim Baptist] church. After four years, they said, we have this program we’re going to start called the Maafa Redemption Project. And it’s basically about teaching construction skills and it’s a residential program. So I just signed up.

It was exciting ‘cause I didn’t have sit out in the corner, or worry about no police. I got my first first check. It felt very good.

I started enjoying work, ‘cause it was fun doing construction. I like to do demolition the best. Breaking stuff is fun, just tearing down houses and walls and stuff, I get a thrill out of it. Especially if you’ve had a bad day, you can release some stress.

Ten years from now, I want to have a family. I just want a daughter and a son.

I’ll tell them how easy it is to get pulled into the streets and how to stay focused in school. Don’t quit. And how God is important for them, to be in His light. Because I didn’t know that. I just started becoming Christian. Back in the day I never cared for our church.

We won’t live in West Garfield Park. I’m taking them probably to the suburbs. Because it’s more quiet, and less violence. Our community needs more job opportunities and mentors and positive role models around the neighborhood.

Most of the people that are gangbanging are doing it because their parents aren’t there or they can’t get the stuff they want. We need more programs to show them that the streets ain’t the only answer to get what you want.

We met with the alderman. What I took away from it was that he didn’t really care. He was just there for the money.

The police around here, they mess with people, put drugs on people sometimes, they ain’t no good cops.

Now I’m doing this online schooling for a high school diploma. It’s getting me back on track with school and I’m motivated to finish. I wish I hadn’t dropped out. But things happen.

The Maafa Redemption project is bringing me back as an assistant. I see my future going in a good way.

This report was supported by a fellowship from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia Journalism School.

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