STR8 UP, Another Lens of Hope

Criminals receive punishments, but the struggle remains even after they have served their sentence. In many cases when an inmate comes out of the prison they struggle with finding a job. Thus, they are forced back into the vicious cycle of perpetual crimes and lost opportunities.

Haywood Speight went to jail for receiving stolen property. He couldn’t find any jobs after being released. He ended up back in prison for convicted burglary. After being in prison, only 45% of Americans had a job after 8 months found a 2008 study from the Urban Institute. According to a research done by Rand Corp, our of the 700,000 people being released from prison every year, 40% will end up back in there for either committing new crimes or breaking their release terms.

It is really important that people who have done their sentences or are trying to lead life on a good path get a second chance to do better. But sometimes it is really hard to do so without a support network. There are groups and organizations that support inmates who have come out prison.

One example is STR8 UP. A few weeks ago, I was able to interview the executive director of this organization, Alex Munoz, and got to learn a bit more about them.

STR8 UP is a grassroots organization in Saskatoon that was created to help ex-gang members and their families. The number of individuals who have left their gangs after associating themselves with this organization surpass 450. This organization uses four pillars that are behind such success.

The first pillar is outreach, both while incarcerated and in the community, which includes making sure that the members of the program are being represented in courts with lawyers, receiving programs designed to help them and so on.

The second pillar is personal healing. To make healing programs more competent, they take the person’s experiences and requirements as an individual into special consideration. Some healing areas include anger management, establishing boundaries, developing healthy relationships, dealing with depressions, P.T.S.D. and addiction.

The third pillar is professional development. Last year, they initiated a social enterprise which allowed the member to gain work experience.

The final pillar is community education. It is where STR8 UP members share their stories and educate the public about the effects of poverty, gangs, trauma, racism and addiction from a first-voice perspective. So far, they have given over 2,000 presentations, healing and sharing circles and workshops.

The healing model used here is the indigenous medicine wheel, which takes into consideration the four aspects of health, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It also focuses on the belief that as human being we need to nurture, develop and sustain these four aspects of our nature. Here, nobody is labeled “good” or “bad” because the reality is that there are a lot of factors which play into people joining street gangs.

STR8 UP’s member profile shows that many members grew up in violent/abusive households and foster care. They all have been through the young offender system, adult correctional or federal penitentiary system. From experiencing racism, bullying and rejection, most lack self-esteem. One thing they all have in common though is the fact that they were all a member of a street gang at one point in their lives to find a sense of belonging, family, and identity.

The most common North American strategy of dealing with gangs are prevention, intervention, and suppression. Most of the financial and human resources are put into suppression, and it really doesn’t solve the problem. This organization puts special attention to prevention and intervention because it will stop people from joining gangs and getting caught up in the vicious cycle.

It is a member-run program which means that everyone who is a part of it has their voice heard. This engagement is something that lacks in the mainstream justice system. People who get incarcerated are seen as less since they are labeled as “bad” people find it easy to ignore the struggles that these people have experienced. But it is through the involvement of everyone healing takes place. “Healing is a process, not an event.”

Our society is designed in a way that makes it easy for us to turn a blind eye towards people who are suffering simply because of the complicated questions we would have to ask in order to fix a problem makes us uncomfortable. We should introduce more support networks for people who are trying to do better. We must be empathetic towards people who are experiencing systematic oppression and inter-generational trauma. To help, we must engage with those who are experiencing the issues first hand.

Photo: Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix



Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published.

Click on the background to close