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Former gang members talk violence, breaking free

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

In the basement of a Washington Park church, former gang members talk with mentors about gang violence, after a weekend that saw five people die and more than 30 others get injured in shootings across Chicago.

"It was very easy at a young age," former gang member Joe McKinney says of getting sucked into gang life. "You see the fast money, the cars, the women and then after so long it's gets old."

20-year-old Joe McKinney, once a gang banger, is now involved in the BAM program, which stands for Becoming a Man.

The program is run by the KLEO Center, an outreach agency that helps young men leave gangs, get summer jobs and a new start on life.

"We work with them on anger, and integrity and different things on how to become a man," KLEO Center Mentor Brandon Reynolds says. "A lot these guys don't have dads, so it was important for them to learn from men how to be men. Once we employed them, once we told them and showed them how to do great things, the attitudes changed, the attire changed, their onlook and outlook on life changed."

But it's not an easy transition. 

"It's really hard trying to get out after you get in, but what I can say about it is Rome wasn't built in one day," McKinney says.

For Joe McKinney, the turning point came about a year ago when he was beaten in the head with a bat by rival gang members and nearly killed.

Now, he beams talking about the new job he starts on Wednesday.

"After a taste of work, I love to work for it, I'd be proud to work," he tells FOX 32's Craig Wall.

But the reality for those who get involved in gangs is that even when they break away, they will still be associated with their gang in the eyes of rivals and have to always watch their backs.

In fact, one of the young men in the program got jumped by rivals on his way to Tuesday night's KLEO meeting.




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