Former gang member discusses why young people turn to gangs

Carlos Vega is a former gang member who served 14 years in prison. Since he turned his life around, he's been on mission to stop other young people from going down the same path.

Vega is an intervention navigator for BUILD Chicago. The nonprofit, based on the West Side, focuses on high-risk youth. Vega said money is fueling the gang violence in the city.

"When I talk to them. When you see them they have a certain mindset. They want to be hustlers. They want to make that money. And the way they make the money is by being on the block. When you are on the block, you have to have weapons to secure yourself," he said.

Vega said the way police and elected officials have attempted to tackle gang violence in the city hasn't worked. He said the city can't arrest their way out of this problem. Vega believes mentorship is key.

"Our approach is we work with them where they're at. We try to change their mentality. We try to teach they can work. If you want to hustle, hustle a job, work two jobs," he said.

Vega said the mayor's plan to sue gang members to take their property doesn't address the underlying conditions that lead young people to gangs.

"You are going to make it worse for them instead of reaching out and helping them and try to get them out of the lifestyle, teach them something different," he said.

Vega has worked with gang members as young as 9-years-old. But typically he said many join at 12 or 13. Most are from low-income families.

He said he has helped countless teens escape gangs and become productive members of the community. He sees himself in them. And they see themselves in him.

"I tell them if I'm working. I went to prison. I spent 14 years of my life in prison. You haven't been to prison yet. Think about it. You can be successful if you complete your high school, go to college, go to trade school," he said.
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