Former Denver gang member says mentorship program helped him escape

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DENVER -- A local teen and his mentor are on the road to change thanks to a program known as GRASP: the Gang Resource and Support Project.

“I was a part of the Crips," a teenager named Sam said. “It goes back to when I was about a 6th grader developing and hanging out with the wrong group of friends in middle school. [I] already had a rough past, lost my mother."

Sam said he often felt isolated.

“I always felt like the kid on the island. I always felt out. I wanted to feel in, so being around a bunch of people my age, who [had] been through what I [had] been through, who want to get the same thing, who want to get money like me," Sam said. “My thing, what I was good at was committing crimes. That’s what I would do to make my money and to earn my rep and my stripes."

Sam said he eventually went to jail at age 16. He spent 8 months behind bars.

"Yeah, I deserved it. But like, I did something else: I flipped my life, I changed my life, I let that do something to me, and it did something positive in my life," he said.

Some say change can't happen in such a short amount of time, but it did. Changed happened because a man named Jason McBride stepped into Sam's life.

McBride is a mentor with GRASP.

“The path he was on he was going to end up getting shot in the right eye like me, and I didn’t want that for him," McBride said. “I have an old Chinese proverb that I tell the kids when I talk to them. It states, 'If you want to know what’s on the road ahead, talk with the guy who’s walking back,' and that’s me. I’m the guy that’s walking back, and I'm trying to show him everything that’s on the road ahead that he’s trying to walk down. And I’m like, 'I’m walking back from there, so there’s nothing up there that you want.'”

The advice didn't stick with Sam at first.

“Down there on that trail, one of my homies got robbed, and I tried helping him out. And you know, eventually, it let us to getting shot at," Sam explained.

“I still get goosebumps when I come here, just from being shot at and things," Sam said. “It shot seven shots at us."

It took several incidents for Sam to realize he wanted something different. 

“Temptations are always there, but like, you know, I’ve told myself I’m going to stop and I’m going to move forward," Sam said.

When asked where Sam is without his mentor, he said, “Without Jason really being there by my side and GRASP, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be either dead or in jail.”

“I think he’s worked hard," McBride said. “He’s in school, he’s on the Juvenile Justice Board, so he’s going to be helping shape policies on how juveniles are sentenced in the state of Colorado.”

McBride added that Sam joins him when he speaks at staff training sessions or at schools, which is a weekly occurrence.

“I always use him as, you know, my liaison between the students and myself," McBride said.

When asked if he's involved in gangs at all anymore, Sam said, “I can say that confidently, that’s something I’m leaving in the past and I have left in the past," he said. “I want also my story to not just influence gang members, but like everybody to just know you can be somewhere in life where you don’t feel like nothing’s going to be better after this and you can move on, and you can do what you want to do. No matter if you have a felon, no matter if you you’re different than somebody just the way you look or your color."

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