Gangs, meth and heartbreak

Yesterday I heard a presentation from Moe, our Manager of Case Management (the one who oversees all of the plans of care our youth workers put into place for our young people) and I was very inspired yet again to hear about what we do to ensure that our young people are receiving individualized and comprehensive care.

The young people we serve come to us with several barriers to independence and their plans have to take into account many often complicated factors. Such was the case with Tuck, a young man who was with us a few years ago – his story illustrates the complex needs our youth have and their often profound desire to be loved, nurtured and encouraged.  This story was written by a past youth worker, Andrew, who worked in all three of our core programs over many years.

Tuck was a 19 year old who was born into a family that had brothers and sisters from two different marriages. His home life was not like the one you may have experienced. His father was/is affiliated with organized crime. As you can imagine, this would be a difficult place for any young person to grow up in. Tuck shared with me on different occasions some of the illegal activity that he had to take part in due to who he was and who he was connected to. The lifestyle involves drinking and drugs on a regular basis and he became addicted to Crystal Meth in his early teens.


Yesterday I heard a presentation from Moe, our Manager of Case Management (the one who oversees all of the plans of care our youth workers put into place for our young people) and I was very inspired yet again to hear about what we do to ensure that our young people are receiving individualized and comprehensive care.

The young people we serve come to us with several barriers to independence and their plans have to take into account many often complicated factors. Such was the case with Tuck, a young man who was with us a few years ago – his story illustrates the complex needs our youth have and their often profound desire to be loved, nurtured and encouraged.  This story was written by a past youth worker, Andrew, who worked in all three of our core programs over many years.

Tuck was a 19 year old who was born into a family that had brothers and sisters from two different marriages. His home life was not like the one you may have experienced. His father was/is affiliated with organized crime. As you can imagine, this would be a difficult place for any young person to grow up in. Tuck shared with me on different occasions some of the illegal activity that he had to take part in due to who he was and who he was connected to. The lifestyle involves drinking and drugs on a regular basis and he became addicted to Crystal Meth in his early teens.

Tuck’s step-mother attempted to give him as normal a home life as possible by trying to keep him in school and get him involved in sports. He was not a strong student but he did like sports. Tuck is not a tall person but he is large and strong. So with this body stature and his drive and determination he became a very, very good rugby player and, as a result, was able to travel internationally to play a game that he loved. The problem with him loving the game so much was that he wouldn’t hold anything back, which resulted in him having 12 concussions by the time he was 17 years old.

He was told by his doctor that he couldn’t play anymore due to the danger of further or permanent injury. This message affected Tuck in a few different ways. It shook his foundation, as his ability to play well was a large part of his identity, and playing rugby was the only reason that he went to school. It didn’t take long for him to drop out of school completely and get more involved in the Gang’s activities.

During this time he ended up in jail for a short period. He states that the jail time wasn’t a problem and in some ways he gained more respect in the gang, but he became aware that it wasn’t what he wanted for his life. You see, the way/code of the Gang is loyalty, honor, respect, dependability, covering your fellow gang members’ back, and taking care of your own. This last point was especially important to him because at this time he had a girlfriend and a baby that he loved more than anything in the world and would do anything for them.

I have a hard time telling this next part as it is just so tragic: Tuck painfully relived this story, through tear filled eyes and mournful sobs shared with me that while driving with his girlfriend and daughter, they got into a car accident where he ended up going off the road and the car flipped over. All three of them were critically injured and his girlfriend and the baby died.

This was the turning point for Tuck. He knew that he needed out of his current way of life but he wasn’t allowed to just leave. After the funeral, he approached his father, a high ranking member of the gang, and asked to be let out. He was told that he could not just walk away, that he would have to take a beating. He agreed and while standing in front of his father and looking him straight in the eyes his father hit him in the side of the face with an aluminum baseball bat. Tuck says that he almost went down but managed to stay standing. After he had to regain his footing and was hit once more in the head.

Then he was told he could go. Tuck walked away from his family and that lifestyle that day and never looked back. He moved downtown and stayed at a hostel for a while. Shortly afterwards, he became connected to Covenant House and moved into the Shelter where he stayed for some time.

He worked full time for a furniture moving company where he enjoyed the hard work. After two months in the Shelter, he enrolled in a program that has young people working towards their GED two days a week and has them doing landscaping the other three days.

Shortly after that he applied to and was accepted into the ROP program.

That’s when my journey with Tuck began. He brought a lot of life to the building; he was loud, funny, opinionated, outspoken and very direct with everyone. He was working hard at his recovery from drug addiction and when we first started meeting he told me that he would discuss anything with me except for his family, that as far as he was concerned he had no family. I accepted this and we moved on to the issues that I identified as being in front of us at that time: social interaction, education, recovery and hygiene.

Education was taken care of through an employment program and his substance abuse was addressed through our in-house drug and alcohol counselling. That left the social skills and hygiene. Let me explain the hygiene issue, it’s not that Tuck was dirty or smelled. It’s that through his extensive Crystal Meth use, he damaged his nose to the point that he can no longer smell anything, including himself.

Tuck became a strong member of the ROP community and would help anyone out if he could. After a few months at the program he was ready to write his GED exam, which he did. He then left the program

Over the past few months of his stay, Tuck stated that he thought his time at ROP was coming to an end and that he was ready to move out on his own. I had to agree with him, and together we put an exit plan in place. He had worked on his education in two different areas as well as an employment readiness training that secured him a job. He saved $1,000.00, maintained full time employment for over six months, consistently worked on the issues in front of him, including his recovery, and showed us proof of an apartment that he was moving into.

Tuck came back to meet with me on a weekly basis for the next month or so and he knew that he will always be welcome to drop in to visit as all our ROP graduates are encouraged to do at our weekly community dinner. 

Even though this story is from a few years ago, I had to share it as it so clearly illustrates that a "one size fits all" approach is not an effective appraoch to working with our young people.