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Counselors will tell you that getting out of a gang can be a tough proposition. Gang members don’t like losing recruits and they’re not averse to violence to keep numbers up.
But a program at one Portland, Oregon, hospital is having success bringing gang members together with counselors at just the right time — that is, immediately after they’ve been shot. They call it the “golden moment.”
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson then speaks with former gang member José Ferran, who was 16 years old when he was shot by a member of a rival group.
Ferran’s friends wanted to retaliate, but shortly after the shooting, case workers from Healing Hurt People intervened. They helped Ferran leave the gang, graduate high school and move forward with his life.
On getting shot
“My friends, their approach was retaliating. When I came back from the hospital, they was already talking about retaliating. I didn’t go with them to retaliate, but they went over there looking for the person that shot me, and they was telling me stories how they had them shook and stuff like that. But, I don’t know. For me, my approach was like — I wasn’t so amped about retaliating. For me, it was like, ‘Wow, man, look what happened.’”
“What made me come to the decision was thinking like, ‘Wow, I could have died.’ It was a .22, you know, it hit my right arm and it traveled to my shoulder. So I think about that — wow, if the bullet didn’t hit my shoulder, it could have hit my chest, and it could have moved and hit my heart, so who knows. I could have died. I could have died, and I think about it as I get details of how the story went.”
On his experience with Healing Hurt People.
“I was really skeptical about them. It wasn’t so hard for me to share the story, but it was hard for me to share how I felt about the story, and they helped me express the story and feel more confident and understanding that things happen, and it happens for a reason, and that I have purpose. They help me take mature steps in my life.”
“I believe it did make a difference. When I got comfortable sharing with the caseworkers, you know, and I got comfortable in my relationship with them, they helped me open up to seeing beyond myself. Like, I honestly said I was hopeless, and I thought it was just day by day, trying to survive, you know, trying to survive, going through the daily routines and finish school. I did want to go to college, but I really wasn’t looking forward to that, and they helped me open my mind to get started to it. Take a left foot, and then later I can take my right foot, and then my left foot and my right foot. So they helped me take the little steps to that make me motivate myself.”
What he wants other at-risk youth to know
“What I would like young people to take is that you have meaning — a meaning in life, you know, a purpose. It’s more than just following a trend, you know, the status quo. Nowadays, people want points, you know what I mean? We honor how you look, you know, if you look this certain way, you get honored. If you do certain actions, you can be respected. And I think that’s more amplified today than being honored for who you are and being respected for who you are inside. We’re all different. I think about it as, be different, you know? Don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be afraid to make different decisions than anybody else wants to make.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
And while we're talking federal legislation, there was a little-noticed item in that big federal spending bill that was signed into law earlier this month: $18.5 million to combat gang violence. It was touted by Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, the state with the most gang members per capita.
Getting people to leave gangs once they are in them, of course, is not easy. But a program at one Portland, Oregon hospital called Healing Hurt People is having success by bringing gang members together with counselors at just the right time - that is, immediately after they've been shot. They call it the golden moment.
From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Oregon Public Broadcasting's Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We don't know what the motive to this shooting is, but police say it is likely gang-related. We talked with a man who lives nearby...
KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: Lots of people watch TV news or have it on in the background, but Healing Hurt People counselor Joshua Lathan listens a little differently.
JOSHUA LATHAN: More often than not, I'll see it on the news, and then my phone will ring. Breaking news, and then (makes noises) right at the same time. Josh? And I'll be like, yup, I'm looking at the TV now, I'm on my way, I'm getting dressed.
FODEN-VENCIL: He drives to the hospital immediately because he says there's a golden moment, just after someone's been injured, and it lasts about four hours.
LATHAN: That's a moment in time where they may be more apt to listen to you. A fresh wound, they're scared. They may be thinking to themselves, man, this may be my perfect time to get out. And they see someone come into the room and offer them a doorway to leaving. They may be more apt to be like, hey, yes, I'm with it.
FODEN-VENCIL: And it's not just the young man who's open to change at the hospital. Lathan's co-counselor, Cheryl Johnson, says it's a good time to catch the family as well.
CHERYL JOHNSON: If Josh and I happen to go out on a call together, it's usually him that's interacting with the young person, and it's me relating to the mom and just really checking in and getting the story, right, finding out who has the influence in the family, you know, sort of getting a sense of what happened, how are they feeling about this, are they interested in retaliating, are they upset, just really getting a good sense of what the mood is.
FODEN-VENCIL: Legacy Emanuel Medical Center has allowed the Healing Hurt People program to come to the hospital for the last six months. The program is new to Portland, but similar efforts are now running in 22 gang-affected cities. Its webpage says it's aimed exclusively at males of color between the ages of 10 and 25. And once a young man has made the decision to leave the gang, Lathan works with the family, the school and anyone in his life to keep him on the straight and narrow.
LATHAN: We all stay in communication with each other as well, and just form like a small village around the young man.
FODEN-VENCIL: Healing Hurt People will help the families move if the victim doesn't feel safe in his neighborhood. The program will also help him set up a safety plan: So who is he going to avoid when he gets out of hospital? What's he going to do during the day? Is he going to get a job?
LATHAN: It may take a little prodding for some, but for the most part, they're you know, with, look, staying out of trouble. If I've got to get a job to stay out of trouble, that's what I'll do.
FODEN-VENCIL: But giving counselors access to someone who's just been in surgery can be a worrisome proposition for a hospital. Lori Morgan is the CEO of Legacy Emanuel and a trauma surgeon. She says Legacy went to great lengths to make sure counselors don't badger patients when they're frightened and at their most vulnerable, that they get HIPAA. HIPAA is the federal law that covers health care and privacy. Morgan says the hospital basically treats the counselors like contractors.
LORI MORGAN: So they do carry contractor badges so that they're always identified. I think the most important thing for me as we were developing the program was to make sure that there wouldn't be interference with medical care.
FODEN-VENCIL: But, Morgan says, after six months she's been impressed.
MORGAN: They often interact with the families in a way that is a little bit more difficult for medical personal to do. I mean we had one instance of actually one of our physicians called Josh while the patient was an inpatient and having some difficulty and saying, hey, can you come over here and talk to this guy. That wasn't planned, that was spontaneous.
FODEN-VENCIL: Morgan says the hospital agreed to take part to reduce the loss of human capital from gangs but also to save money. Gunshot victims are expensive to care for, and most aren't insured. Healing Hurt People has worked with about a dozen Oregon gang members. So far the group says none of them have been re-arrested or re-injured.
But does the Healing Hurt People program reduce gang violence in the long run? Theodore Corbin, an emergency room doctor at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, has been working with the program for six years. He says more research is needed on that question.
THEODORE CORBIN: It's very challenging to kind of say that we're having an impact on decreasing violence because you really don't see anything like that until 10 years out.
FODEN-VENCIL: Corbin is working to get the program into every level-one trauma center in Philadelphia so it becomes clear whether the men who've been through the program are really staying out of trouble or just going to another hospital when they're re-injured. The program in Portland costs about $200,000 a year, with two-thirds of the funding coming from donations and one-third from fees.
Supporters are hoping the state will pick up part of that cost in the future. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland.
HOBSON: And stay with us because in a moment we're going to speak to a former gang member in Philadelphia who went through the Healing Hurt program after he was shot, and he is now not in a gang. This is HERE AND NOW.
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HOBSON: It's HERE AND NOW, and we're going to pick up now on the story we just heard about gang violence and the group Healing Hurt People, which aims to get to gang members right after they've been shot to try and end the cycle of violence. Joining us now from Philadelphia is Jose Ferran. He is a former gang member who was shot and was contacted by Healing Hurt People about a week later. He is now 19 years old. Jose, welcome to HERE AND NOW.
JOSE FERRAN: Hey, how are you doing, Jeremy?
HOBSON: Doing well. So why did you first of all get into a gang in the first place, back when you were 14 years old?
FERRAN: Well, at the time I was in middle school, and I was just, I was an athlete at the time. So I wasn't like - I wasn't a negative person. I just was bored, you know, following all my friends.
HOBSON: And it wasn't long, it was, what, two years into that that you got shot. Tell us about what happened.
FERRAN: Well, we were going to parties, and we already had a conflict with this group around the neighborhood. And we had already gone back and forth, you know, fist-fighting and stuff like that. And out of nowhere, just playing Xbox at 4:00 in the morning, and one of my friends come and says, like, there was a group of them, they threw a rock at his car.
And we went over to the fight, and out of nowhere I get shot as they were shooting at the car.
HOBSON: This was a rival gang?
HOBSON: And so you got shot. Where did you get shot? What happened to you?
FERRAN: What happened was when we go over there, and then the kid that I have fought before, he was in the street by himself, and he just started shooting at the car. And I was the last one to get out of the car, out of the passenger side. I got shot. My friends didn't get shot.
Yeah, so what happened was we just walked right into the trap that he had.
HOBSON: Now, your golden moment, as we just heard about, did not happen right after. It didn't happen within the first four hours. It didn't happen until about a week later. Tell us about that.
FERRAN: After I had got shot, I got released that same night, but I had to stay with the bullet in my shoulder for two weeks. And the outcome for that was, like, OK, I really can't sell no more because, you know, I got a bullet in my shoulder. So I stopped selling at the moment. And I would just hang, like basically linger around my friends and stuff like that, even though I wasn't too much outside.
But before I got surgery, it was like, wow, my friends, their approach to it was retaliating. Like my friends were really - when I came back from the hospital, they was already talking about retaliating. And I didn't go with them to retaliate, but they went over there looking for the person that had shot me.
And they was telling me stories of how they had them shook and stuff like that. But I don't know - for me, my approach was like I wasn't so amped about retaliating. For me it was like, wow, man, look what happened, following, and I just get shot.
HOBSON: How did you come to that decision? Because that's something that a lot of people do face. They want to retaliate for what has happened to them.
FERRAN: What made me come to that decision was knowing - being honest with myself, like, wow, look what happened, like being honest. Like if I would have never followed, I would never got shot. Secondly, what make me come to the decision was thinking about like, wow, I could've died. It was a .22, you know, it hit my right arm, and it traveled to my shoulder.
So I think about it, like wow, if, like, the bullet would never hit my shoulder, it could've hit my chest, and it could've moved and, you know, hit my heart. Who knows? I could've died. I could've died, and I think about it as, if I get into the details of how the story went, I don't know why I got shot. Like I didn't get out of the car first out of everyone. Somebody got out of the car before me, went towards the person that had the gun. And he didn't get shot.
He was going towards the person before I even got out of the car. So it was like, wow, like it's like, it was destined for me to get shot.
HOBSON: Did you blame yourself?
FERRAN: I didn't blame myself. Me, my friend Mohammed(ph) because he - we blamed the person that came and got us. We were like, man, look what happened. Like I remember that time that we - like I wasn't so nervous that I got shot. I was just complaining to the fact that I followed. Like look what happened. Out of nowhere, following him, and I got shot.
HOBSON: Well, what would you say about how the Healing Hurt People program helped you?
FERRAN: Well, they came to my house. Two caseworkers came to my house like a week after, a week after I had got shot, and I was really skeptical about them. It wasn't so hard for me to share the story, but it was hard for me to share how I felt about the story. And they helped me express the story and feel more confident and understanding that things happen, things happen, and it happens for a reason and that I have purpose.
And they helped me take mature steps in my life. I act confidently, and I'm glad that I can say that, that they helped me take mature steps. And being myself, being myself and being accepted as to how I felt, because I really felt really bad about telling. Like I told on the person that shot me, and my friends were looking at me like I was inferior for that decision.
So they - I really felt bad about even telling on the person that shot me, but they helped me make the decision of expressing myself and being more open.
HOBSON: Do you think that if counselors hadn't come to you within the short period of time that they did after you had been shot, that you would've turned your life around in the way that you did?
FERRAN: Yes, I believe that they make a difference because they made me - when I got comfortable sharing with the caseworkers, you know, and I got comfortable with my relationship with them, they helped me, like, open up to more - seeing beyond, seeing beyond myself. I can honestly say I was hopeless. I didn't - I thought it was just day by day trying to survive, you know, trying to survive and, you know, go through the daily routines and finish school.
I did want to go to college, but I really wasn't looking forward to that, and they helped me open my mind and get started too, you know, like take a left foot, and then later I could take my right foot, then my left foot and my right foot. So they helped me take the little steps to make me motivate myself to you know what, I could do something different than everybody else in my own family, even in others' family.
HOBSON: What are you doing now? You're 19.
FERRAN: Right now I'm actually - I had just graduated from Frankfort High School. So at the time when they came, I was in disciplinary school all my high school. I got kicked out of the school district. They helped me take steps forward to, like, even get restored back into the school district. I took my last - my senior year I went to Frankfort High School. You know, I graduated from a regular high school.
They helped me get my ID. What I do now is actually, I'm a college student. I go to Esperanza College. I serve the lord. I participate in a lot of community activities and stuff like that, and I play sports here and there.
HOBSON: What would your advice be to other people who are in the same situation as you, who might still be in gangs and are in their early teens and don't see what you see now yet about why you want to be not in that situation?
FERRAN: What I would like young people to take is that you have meaning, a meaning in life, you know, a purpose. It's more than just following a trend, you know, the status quo. Nowadays people want to point, you know what I mean. They - we honor how you look. You know, if you look this certain way, you get honored. If you do certain acts, you can be respected. And I think that's more amplified today than being honored for who you are and being respected for who you are inside.
We're all different, and I think about it as be different. You know, don't be afraid to be different. Don't be afraid to make different decisions than everybody else wants to make.
HOBSON: Well, Jose, keep on doing what you're doing. You're moving in the right direction.
FERRAN: Praise the lord.
HOBSON: Jose Ferran, who got help from the Healing Hurt People program, which helps gang members get out of gangs after they have been shot. Jose, thanks so much.
FERRAN: Thanks, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And by the way, I mentioned earlier that federal money that was just added to the budget to deal with gang violence is $18.5 billion. That includes 7.5 million for anti-gang investigative units at the U.S. Marshal Service, $8.5 million for violent gang and gun crime reduction programs, and 2.5 million in violence education. None of that money is going to the Healing Hurt program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.