If you ever have the chance to hear members of STR8 Up speak, don’t miss the opportunity. They tell their stories of how they became gang members and how STR8 Up helped them leave gang life. Sometimes it just seems there is only hopelessness and a sad future for so many of our young people who are struggling with unhappy home lives, and who are enticed to join gangs in order to gain a sense of belonging. The STR8 Up members offer hope through their own experiences and an alternative to living a violent life.
STR8 Up began through the work of Father Andre Poilevre. He was the chaplain at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre and worked daily with gang members. He knew full well of their struggles and hopelessness. Inmates began to speak to him of leaving gang life and asked Father Poilevre how to get out. He replied that he didn’t know, but he would work with them and find a way out. And so, STR8 Up was born.
A program was developed in which gang members who leave their gangs are given assistance in whatever way they need, including applying for social insurance numbers, finding housing, accessing treatment (medical and mental health) or help with resumes. There are set conditions that participants must agree to before they are accepted into the STR8 Up program. STR8 Up has what they call four “pillars” to help their members succeed: outreach, training, personal development and community understanding.
The mission statement of STR8 Up is: “STR8 UP assists individuals in mastering their own destiny in liberating themselves from gangs and criminal street lifestyles
I have listened to presenters from STR8 Up talk about their childhood and what led them to join a gang. One young woman spoke of the heartache of losing her daughter because of her own drug addiction and the pride she now feels in having “cleaned up” her life and having her daughter back. She talked about how her daughter was her inspiration and the reason she was able to leave the street life behind. She wanted to be the best mother she could be and with the help of STR8 Up, she is doing just that.
Others talked about their addictions and their time spent in prison. One man, who said he was thirty-eight years old, said this past year was the first full year since he was the age of fourteen in which he did not drink or spend any time in jail. He said STR8 Up helped him to do that. He is now the husband and father he has always wanted to be.
The success of STR8 Up is testimony to the fact that no matter what happens in your life, it is not hopeless and everyone can change. This is a successful made-in-Saskatchewan program started by one man who wanted to give young people a chance to change their lives.