RICHMOND, Va. -- At a Richmond School Board meeting Monday night, three different people mentioned gang activity as a problem facing our high and middle school students.
Two former gang members spoke exclusively with CBS 6 in the hope that their story will convince kids not to join gangs.
“I was proud of this,” Al-Ghanee Kamau said while showing Melissa Hipolit a prison booking photo. “It kind of bothers me now to admit to my ignorance, but it's okay.”
Kamau reflected back on his days in a Georgia Prison when his life revolved around his gang: the Black Mafia.
“When I was regarded as being a threat to security or a security threat, that just, man it was no greater feeling to me back then,” Kamau said.
Kamau now lives in Richmond, but grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He said his dad drank himself to death, and his mom brought home an abusive boyfriend when he was 10.
“Those are a lot of the things I was lacking as a kid. My parents didn't protect me, my father left me when I was a kid,” Kamau said.
Still, Kamau said he resisted offers to join gangs until he was 26 and incarcerated at Rikers Island Prison in New York City.
“I went in the back of the room, and I fought five of them for 30 seconds, it was over with,” Kamau said.
After that initiation, he said the Black Mafia gang shielded him from harm.
“So that protection, that guidance, that leadership, that boundary, hey listen man we’re not going to let anything happen to you. Those are the same principals I was lacking in the family dynamic of my life, I never had that before,” Kamau said.
For the next 25 years, Kamau was a loyal servant.
“Anything that had to be done to protect our organization and what had to be done, I made sure that it happened, including and not excluding, shooting,” Kamau said.
Chris Miller, otherwise known as “Big C” started gang banging at a much earlier age in Los Angeles, California.
“The gang is your family,” Miller said. “I was 14 and it was a way of life to us, it wasn`t something we could get away from.”
Tattoos all over Miller’s body show his past affiliation with the Kitchen Crips.
“Back then to most 14,15 year olds with no father in the house, that`s all you had in the ghetto, that`s all we had, we had each other, so we wanted to look out for each other,” Miller said.
Yet to do that you had to hurt others and risk being hurt yourself.
“I went to 5 funerals in one month,” Miller said.
Miller eventually moved to Virginia where he committed a violent carjacking, and went to prison for nine years. He said it was hard to escape the gang banging until he found God in prison.
Now, more than 30 years after joining the Kitchen Crips, Miller lives gang-free in Richmond.
“Church and work. That`s all I know now,” Miller said.
His work includes cleaning his Brookland Park church, and an office downtown.
Kamau also cleaned up his life.
“I didn't start out as a gang banger, I didn't start out as a violent individual, I started out as a giggling baby and I wanted myself back,” Kamau said.
He said he left the gang lifestyle seven years ago and was homeless for two years before working five jobs and finally starting his own business.
“I tried working for the first time in my life, and I loved it. I loved every sweating minute of it, and I just never knew that,” Kamau said.
Now, both Kamau and Miller want to share their stories with kids in Central Virginia who remind them of themselves 30 years ago who might be looking for a way out and are easy prey for a gang.
“I understand people want to have monetary gains, people want to have money, people tired of being poor, guess what hard work, motivation and drive will get you those same things,” Kamau said.
“I want to reach out and let people know that 14, 15, 16 don’t do it bro, it ain’t worth it,” Miller said.
Kamau said the community needs to make sure kids are educated about gangs.
He said guys like himself and Miller should be going to classrooms to share their stories to explain to kids that gangs lead to prison and even death.