As gang-related shootings and criminal activity ramp up in the Portland metro area, outreach services to youth on the edge of trouble are strapped for resources.
Yet even when the area's dedicated cadre of youth advocates succeed in persuading individuals to leave the gang life, there are few avenues for those who want to go straight.
One recent success story in that area unfolded even as another tragedy played out in the news.
Trailed by a television crew with cameras rolling, Dion Weeks walked into the Multnomah County Courthouse at noon on Monday, March 9, right into a hive of armed sheriffs deputies.
Weeks was there to turn himself in, face possible jail time for gang-related drug charges, and officially begin a new life with his young daughter.
Levell Peters was not so lucky. After spending his youth in North Portland racking up
| 'When you man up like that, you deserve support from the community' |
– Roy Jay
multiple arrests for gang-involved misdemeanors, Peters last year joined the Oregon National Guard.
However a splashy article in the Willamette Week this month smeared Peters as a "G.I.Crip," drawing public attention to a court case naming him as the driver in a gang-related drive-by early last year.
Peters was subsequently convicted and, despite the efforts of a military lawyer who advocated that he be allowed to stay with his unit, all the negative publicity led the National Guard to prevent him from shipping out with the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team to the Middle East war zone this summer – even though his 90-day sentence will be complete by then.
At a meeting of the Portland Office of Youth Violence Prevention late last year, one city official said that youth had asked him for physical protection that would allow them to break their gang ties, but that it was unclear if such an arrangement could be made.
Eric Glass, one of Dion Weeks' oldest friends and the president of his own outreach effort, Kids in Need of Guidance Gang Intervention, was the key player in bringing Project Clean Slate onboard with this new effort to work with gang-involved youth.
"There's not many options, once you get a conviction on your record it's going to be hard to get a job," Glass says. "There are other options as far as getting in school, there are some programs out there that you can get into that deal with felons. But they're more programs that you have to get out there and try to find.
"It's not like anybody's going to be out there on your front step, you've got to be someone who gets out there and works – and mostly you might have to end up being an independent business owner – you might have to start your own thing," Glass said.
Project Clean Slate founder Roy Jay believes the need for focused efforts to support young people trying to get out of gangs is only going to increase.
"This city is going through a drastic amount of budget cuts including thousands of dollars that were used for gang intervention prevention, things of that nature," he said. "Therefore it reduces the amount of options that young folks regardless of what zip code they live in, have to get on in life.
"So with no money for gang intervention, no money for additional law enforcement support, it gets down to programs like Project Clean Slate, KINOG and some of the rest of the programs that are out there to do the best that we can."
Weeks says his decision to work through Clean Slate to pay his debt to society was made possible by Glass' intervention, as well as the determination of Roy Jay and Joe Nunn, the organization's program administration director.
"I was telling Emac (Glass) that I was tired of running, and I was getting ready to give myself up," Weeks said. "He was telling me about Clean Slate, and I had heard of it before, and he was telling me that he'd gone through it and it was a great program.
"And we came up here and we talked to RJ and we talked to Mr. Nunn, and they were telling me that everything was going to be alright, so I went ahead with it," Weeks said. "I tried to back out but they were like – unh unh!
"I felt that it was a good thing to do for myself so I went ahead and went along with it. I'm thankful for this program."
Jay says there are no guarantees that Weeks will not serve prison time as a result of turning himself in.
"The next step for Dion is probably the most important step for us, because he's taken a bold step," Jay said. "What's next for us is to make sure he makes sure he goes through this process, and he's done everything the court tells him to do."
"The reason he's doing this is not because he had five years – he could have probably ran forever and not been caught. But he did it for two reasons: his kids," Jay said. "And when you man up like that, you deserve support from the community."