It is not easy to leave a gang, for several reasons. A person wishing to leave a gang may have to endure the “Jump-Out” ritual, which is similar to the “Jump-In” rite of initiation where the person must fight several gang members at once. Yet the challenges faced by a person who wants to leave a gang aren’t limited to tests of physical endurance. Leaving a gang means losing all the protection that was provided while being a member without losing one’s former enemies. In addition, the person must find a way to successfully re-integrate into mainstream society and support himself/herself.
To re-integrate into society, a former gang member needs the support of the larger community, support which unfortunately is not always found. Former gang members may experience discrimination and mistrust from the established society, which affects their ability to find a job. Many employers refuse to hire former gang members. The visible tattoo mark often is an obstacle, communicating to others, including potential employers, that the person is a gang member, even though he/she no longer is associated with the group and has reformed his/her life.
A former gang member also may be asked to testify against another gang member. Witness intimidation often occurs in court cases having to do with gang-related crimes. Intimidation may be overt when “someone does something explicitly to intimidate a witness into withholding, changing, or falsifying testimony”.1 Intimidation can also be implicit when “there is a real but unexpressed threat of harm.”2 Fear is an example of implicit intimidation. If the intimidation is extreme, the court may have the plaintiff enter Witness Protection, where he/she will have his/her identity completely changed.3
1. National Institute of Justice, Preventing Gang and Drug-Related Witness Intimidation, U.S. Department of Justice, November, 1996, p. 1.
3. This knowledge comes directly from my own experience with a former gang member who had to testify in court against a gang member and a former gang member of several years. Correspondence stopped once this person entered into the Protection Witness Program.