Ventrell Jenkins was a teen when he entered a gang.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -
Young kids are being targeted and recruited into gangs across Richland County. The Sheriff's Department's Gang Unit works to track gang activity and curb gang-related violence. But why do gangs start in the first place?
We might find a clue in the story of Ventrell Jenkins.
Jenkins was in a gang for just six months, and that was enough for him to know gang life was not for him.
"I felt like it was kinda like a brotherhood," said Jenkins. "Like I was searching for something I was missing."
He was in high school then. Now 10 years later, he says he knows what lured him.
"I think I was just missing a positive influence -- a person to push me in the right direction," said Jenkins.
Jenkins says he was recruited because of his physical stature and influence.
"I played sports -- football, basketball star in the community at my school. It was just natural for people to flock to me. So if they saw me doing particular things they would do them," said Jenkins.
Jenkins' intake process was a little different. Because of his size and strength, he was not 'beat' into the gang like most new recruits.
Staff Sgt. Vince Goggins says being beat up is just part of the initiation process.
"They're beat by several gang members for an amount of time and after that they're blessed in and honored into the gang. And that's a physical fight they have to engage in with several members of the gang," said Goggins.
The initiation is different for females.
"One of the more popular ways - being sexed into the gang," said Goggins. "That's where gang members would roll the dice and whatever that number lands on, they would have to give sexual favors to those members of the gang."
After Jenkins was blessed in, he says his role was to fight.
"I found out they were only using me because I was a bigger guy," said Jenkins. "They were always trying to push me to the front lines when it was time to fight."
He says he would fight and recruit new members, but adds it wasn't a lifestyle he wanted to continue.
"Once I found Christ, I knew that was my way out," said Jenkins. "Been with Him ever since."
Jenkins says he also found an outlet in sports.
"I always knew that I always wanted to be a professional football player. I always knew that I wanted to go to college, and I wanted to make something of myself. And I always knew that what I was doing -- it was going to be temporary," said Jenkins.
Jenkins played for Kentucky. Then he went on to play professional for the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. Now he's a defensive tackle for the Canadian Football League. He says kids need to re-direct their energy into something positive.
"Find anything recreational. Any kind of hobbies. Anything. Anything other than doing the wrong thing," said Jenkins.
The wrong thing is still sometimes hard to avoid. Even with the gang behind him, Jenkins deals with demons. In November, he was charged with criminal domestic violence. Lexington County deputies say he beat his then-fiancee unconscious.
"I'm not perfect," said Jenkins. "Things do happen and sometimes it's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately for me, being in the wrong place at the wrong time has left me with regret that I'm probably going to regret for the rest of my life."
Jenkins says he considers himself a better man than the gang member 10 years ago, but he still struggles with serious issues and will have to face the consequences.
"Everything that went on, I'm just going to have to deal with it," said Jenkins.
It's a path he's not proud of, and one he wants kids to avoid.
"There is always a way out," said Jenkins. "Don't ever think you're in a situation and you can't get your way out. You can get out."
Clearly Ventrell Jenkins has issues he's currently working through, but his main message is: kids need to re-focus their energy. Instead of being destructive, be productive.
Tonight, we'll have the final installment of our series. We'll look at some programs happening throughout the county that help kids see a better a way.
Thursday, May 23 2013 5:06 PM EDT2013-05-23 21:06:30 GMT
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