Why do people join gangs? Once entrenched in a life of crime with it’s realities of incarceration, addiction, power, and money, is it possible to walk away? This triumphant collection of nine personal life stories from ex-gang members enlightens, surprises and inspires. These first-person accounts tell of the grit of living marginalized, often neglected and in poverty, but unexpectedly give heartfelt commentary on topics such as peace, joy, forgiveness and hope. These stories challenge the readers’ preconceived notions, giving an illuminating look at the individual lives behind crime statistics. This book covers territory that often doesn’t get into the news media and creates connection through our shared humanity.

Recorded Discussion

CBC Sunday Edition Interview. Hear Anne, along with Chris from the book, and F. Greg Boyle (of Homeboy Industries in LA) interviewed by Gillian Findlay, talking about why people join gangs, and life after gangs. 

  1. What were your expectations before reading? How were the stories similar or different to those expectations?
  2. Were there specific stories that challenged you? Surprised you? Which ones and why?
  3. Do you know anyone who has been incarcerated or drug addicted?
  4. How do the stories in this book differ from the stories we see in the media about criminals and gang members?
  5. What attributes helped the participants in the book to get out of gangs? Stay out?
  6. What role does faith in a higher power play in these personal stories?
  7. Is joining a gang a choice? What role does survival play in joining a gang? Discuss these concepts in the context of the stories in the book.
  8. Almost all the participants in the book were quite successful in their gangs (founding members, officers). Why do you think this was the case?
  9. What stories inspired you?
  10. Anonymous tells of being close to deportation. Do you feel the judge should have deported him, or was wise to give him a chance?
  11. Did you react to Regina’s story any differently than to the men’s stories in the book? Why?
  12. What contributes to people joining gangs? What contributes to them leaving successfully?
  13. Winnipeg has been called “Canada’s Aboriginal street-gang capital.” Do you feel colonization and residential schools have any role in the prevalence of Indigenous gangs in the city? Explain.
  14. Do you believe people can change?
  15. How do gender, class, race, poverty and culture affect the participants in this book?
  16. Compare and contrast the story of Anonymous who was a refugee, with the stories of the Indigenous participants (Ian, Chris, Regina, Ervin, Jamie). How were their circumstances similar? Different?
  17. Participants seemed to be affected by witnessing violence early in their lives through either their home or community.  Can cycles of violence be broken? If so, how?
  18. Were you surprised at how participants articulated concepts of goodness and virtue in the stories? Why?
  19. Jamie speaks of his old view of how a man was supposed to act, versus his current view today. How did suppressing emotions affect the participants in this book? How does this affect men today?
  20. What role does opportunity and hope play in exiting a gang? What forms does this take in the book?

Thank You

Thank you to the Winnipeg Foundation for valuing these stories and honouring them by funding the distribution of Redemption in school and public libraries, correctional facilities, and support providers to gang members and youth at risk, in Winnipeg and the greater area. 

Interior photography for Redemption by Keith Levit Photography. Cover photography by Andrew Mahon Photography. Copyright 2017, Anne Mahon. All rights reserved.