Ex-gang leader: members and wannabe's will listen - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Ex-gang leader: members and wannabe's will listen, if you've been in prison

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Charmane Goins calls the Bistro at the Beth, inside Alton Park's faith-based Bethlehem Community Center, his "businesstry."

Seven months after doing 15 years in state and federal prisons for armed robbery, soul food has become his ticket to salvation.

"My parents wanted me to not have that project mentality," he says. "Because of it, I was an outcast when I went to school. I took a lot of beatings. When I was older, and got bigger; enough of that."

Joining a gang brought him acceptance. And bought protection.

"I didn't really get strong in gangs until after I went to prison," he says.

Incarcerated, he was a leader. Feared and respected, he says, with 300 inmates in his corner.

He would get out 11 years ago, only after almost losing only son, "D.L." to a car wreck that killed his mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law.

"I said you know Lord, I don't know you, but for some reason you spared my son's life," Goins says. "Because of that, you can have my life."

Now almost 16, "D.L." works at the Bistro when he's not in school.

And Dad works to break the gangs' grip on others, by playing into their own mindset.

"You play chess," he asks.

"You lock a pawn up, you just made him a bishop or knight! "Because he got locked up, street credibility when you go to prison just goes through the roof!"

"Because I had been in prison, the respect I had from the street, is so amazing."

It makes him one of the front-line troops in Chattanooga's formalized war against gang violence.

"We need volunteers," Gangs Task Force co-coordinator Fred Houser told members of Calvary Chapel Church during a prayer service Thursday night. "We need people out on the streets, we need people in the schools."

But how do you persuade gang members, or at-risk teenagers to cross "The Street" to come to you for help? Or vice versa?

Houser and Goins agree that the key is to start trying, and let them know you'll be in there trying, no matter what comes your way.

"Now, you've got a bond," Goins says.

"We need to know which programs work," says Ken Chilton, CEO of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.

Chattanooga city leaders have commissioned the Ochs Center to "assess" the gang threat, and develop strategies to lessen it. The data collected could make programs eligible for federal grant money.

"We're looking to make sure, that, all of these horses, for lack of a better metaphor, are pulling in the same direction," Chilton says.

"The Beth", as many in the neighborhood know it, has been serving up mentors and counselors for years; well before Goins' Bistro opened.

It was Goins' ticket into society, but off of the streets, when his prison sentences ended.

His recipe couldn't be more simple.

"We need to give our children something else to do; jobs, fun, help," he says. "They need to know that we love them, more than the gangs."

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