First-of-its-kind program helps gang-affiliated teens break free in Nashville

Photo: WKRN

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Davidson County Juvenile Court launched a first-of-its kind program to help gang-affiliated teens break free of a life of crime.

It’s called the Gang Resistance Intervention Program, or GRIP, and it includes probation, compliance with school attendance, court-mandated mentoring, and other requirements.

The program was created by the combined efforts of the Davidson County Juvenile Court, Metro police’s gang unit, and support from local clergy.

“We wanted to do something to help the high-risk kids and the gang involvement that was going on within the city,” said Kelly Gray, supervisor of the Davidson County Juvenile court gang unit. “You have got a drug court and all these other courts that are represented. We have the drug court, the recovery court and now the infant court here, but there was nothing to combat this issue that we were having.”

Juvenile Court Magistrate Carlton Lewis oversees the cases in the gang court and GRIP.

“The predominant thing that I noticed was the peer pressure that young people today face,” he said. “Additionally they have difficult home environments that some, not all, teens are facing.”

Magistrate Lewis said students commonly are coping with absent parents, mental health issues, housing instability or abuse within the home.

There are also a number of teens who come from a family history of gang affiliation.

“We have young people who are second and sometimes third generation gang affiliated,” he said. “They have parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents who are gang affiliated and that makes intervention that much more difficult.”

Teens who are accepted into GRIP are assessed for drug and alcohol use. Probation officers make home and school visits and also stay in close contact with parents.

“The probation officers who work with gang behavior and high-risk youth are very committed,” Magistrate Lewis said. “Our youth develop an even stronger relationship with our probation officers through this program.”

The probation officers review each teen’s case file with Magistrate Lewis and Gray weekly. The students also undergo an alcohol and drug assessment. They meet with a therapist and their family is provided in home counseling.

“We try to look at every area that is being disrupted in this child’s life and we try to hit it head on,” Gray said.

The program is still new in Davidson County and is a first of its kind nationwide that focuses on juvenile gang members.

In addition to meetings with probation officers, the teens must also actively seek a job and attend classes at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church as part of the G.A.N.G program lead by Bishop Marcus Campbell.

G.A.N.G stands for Gentlemen and Not Gangsters. It is an eight-week program.

MORE: Nashville program helps high-risk teens with gang ties

The men mentoring teens in the program are all former gang members, many have lengthy violent criminal histories and they have all made a change in their lives they want to help young gang members make at their still young age.

“There is an old saying that if you haven’t been through anything you can’t tell me nothing,” Bishop Campbell said. “A lot of these young guys are like that. They want to be able to connect and know somebody who has been where they have been and gone through what they are going through.”

Bishop Campbell told News 2 he joined the Gangster Disciples at the age of 18 following the death of his father, who he was estranged from for many years.

But the anger he had started many years before.

Photo: WKRN

“My father was not a part of my life and at the age of 5, I watched him rape and beat my mother,” he said. “She sent me off to live with my grandmother and she never stayed with me. It was almost like I didn’t have my mom or my dad with me.”

Bishop Campbell began to live the gang lifestyle, including selling drugs. Then, in July 1997, something happened that changed the trajectory of his life.

“On the Fourth of July, I was at a party and some guys put some stuff in my drink and also in the marijuana I was smoking,” he said. “I died of a drug overdose at that party, and then I died once going to the hospital and died once in the hospital.”

Bishop Campbell survived and devoted himself to Christianity.

“Some have similarities. Some of them might be a little different but same thing,” he said. “A lot of them can really relate to what went on in my life and I can really relate to them.”

Every participant must attend the weekly classes taught on various topics, including job interviews and how to tie a necktie.

Parents must sign their child in for every session to insure parental environment.

One of the teens is working to leave the gang life behind him for not only himself, but for his young son.

News 2 is not naming the teen to protect his identity.

“I am taking away that I don’t want to be in that group, not saying they are bad people, but I don’t want to be in the predicament they are in,” he said. “Having my son made me want to strive harder.”

He continued, “I don’t want to be gang banging and doing stupid stuff and get locked up and not taking care of him.”

Teens in the program also get a look at life outside of gangs and as a successful member of society.

“We take them on campus tours,” Bishop Campbell said. “They love being on campus and meeting college students.”

The teens also take field trips to other places like CMT, where they learned about the music industry and entertainment.

“We give them a look at life in a different way,” Gray said.

The program is extremely structured but there is flexibility at times surrounding graduation.

The majority of the teens in the GRIP program said they felt like they needed more time on probation and in the program to feel confident enough to stop participating.

Magistrate Lewis and Gray agreed, so the teens will stay in the program longer.