How an Organization Helps People in Gangs Choose a Different Lifestyle
Date:  05-06-2015

Never giving up on youths in the face of laws that almost guarantee re-arrest is the mission of Massachusetts non-profit
The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell, MA is determined to help teenagers and young adults reclaim their lives before prison or murder makes a claim on them. The core of the UTEC staff include people who are familiar with how people get sucked into the gang lifestyle, but lso know firsthand that there is a way out. UTEC outreach workers had previous ties with various street gangs and use that experience to reach out to those whose lives are at risk.

On April 19 the Boston Globe featured an article about UTEC and their dogged determination not to give up on the young men and women affiliated with gangs but dreaming of a better life.

Providing GED classes, connecting young people to services, and helping them find employment are just some of the components of UTEC. Perhaps the most important aspect of the organization is the commitment to not give up on a person if he or she takes a step backward. Those who work for UTEC consider it their duty to offer a helping hand to pull back from the abyss of lost hope those who have been rearrested or sent back to prison.

The Globe follows Angel, a young man with a gang affiliation as he transitions from jail to the community. The article highlights an issue that has been generally ignored; how people can get thrown back in jail or prison for violating probation or parole rules that forbid association with those with a criminal conviction, or who have a gang affiliation. In large cities it is difficult not to bump into friends, neighbors or even relatives who have a criminal history or have gang ties. Punishment reform advocates argue that re-incarcerating people for hanging out with old friends who happen to have a felony conviction is a waste of tax dollars and further perpetuates the revolving door of “catch-and- release.” Most people who are incarcerated are released back into the community where they resided at the time of their arrest. Is it realistic to believe that they can avoid running into someone with a felony conviction or a person with a gang affiliation? Hanging out with old friends should not be considered the same thing as committing a crime with them, but the law doesn’t see it that way.

Read about UTEC’s mission to reduce recidivism here.