STR8UP BOOK LAUNCH — Stan Tu’Inukuafe and Rev. André Poilievre of STR8UP attend the launch of the book STR8UP and Gangs: The Untold Stories at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon. (Yaworski photo)
Anti-gang book for youth produced
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
SASKATOON — A book about the pitfalls and realities of gang life
was recently published in Saskatoon.
STR8UP and Gangs: The Untold Stories was written by 13 men who got caught
up in the gang lifestyle, struggled to escape and now want to prevent
other at-risk youth from falling prey to lives of violence, crime and
Produced through STR8UP, a Saskatoon program of support
for those who want to leave gang life, the book features the complex,
harrowing and inspiring life stories of ex-gang members, as well as poems,
song lyrics and descriptions of STR8UP’s history and philosophy.
Two of the 13 authors were on hand for the book launch May 14 at McNally
Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon. The other 11 are still incarcerated.
Phillip Charles Bear Morin, 21, whose story opens the book, spoke about
growing up surrounded by gangs, and experiencing pressure to join.
“There’s a lot of gang-related behaviour where I live. It’s
kind of hard sometimes because you always have to watch your back, watch
the colours you wear,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like
that, living in your home, you shouldn’t have to worry about walking
down the street and someone trying to jump you or shoot you or try to
make you join.”
Morin said he wants to help others deal with that pressure. “My
hope is that my message that I wrote in the book for the kids, that they
get something out of it; that they take what we all said in the book
into consideration, even though it may be hard,” he said. “Because
it is hard, especially for the young ones — the older ones are
after them to do the dirty work.”
Author Cory Cardinal, 28, read an excerpt from the book
and described his struggle to break free of the gang code. “It
was very hard to leave the gangs, because it was all I knew.”
Then one of Cardinal’s cousins introduced him to STR8UP and its
founders Rev. André Poilievre and Stan Tu’Inukuafe. “It’s
the best thing that ever happened to me, because, look at me now. I’m
in treatment; I’m dealing with my addictions. . . . I’m getting
healthy, I’m dealing with my past,” Cardinal said.
Tu’Inukuafe described STR8UP, the only program in
Saskatoon that specifically works with individuals who want to get out
of the gang lifestyle.
“In Str8Up we have five conditions that over time, those who are
interested, who want to be part of must be willing to commit,” Tu’Inukuafe
described. The first requirement is to drop “colours” and
leave the gang. “How they do it is up to them. Each gang has a
different process,” he said.
“The second condition is that they have to deal with their addiction.
All gang members are addicts. And so they have to figure out a way of
how they are going to manage their addiction, as well as over time get
healthy enough where they don’t need to rely on drugs,” Tu’Inukuafe
“The third condition is ‘be honest’ and that might kind of sound simplistic, but when you have lived a certain lifestyle, a lifestyle of manipulation, a lifestyle of lying, a lifestyle of muscling people for what you want, it’s kind of hard to be honest, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
The fourth condition of STR8UP is be
humble; you have to get rid of your street attitude that you can ‘do
whatever you want, to anybody you want, whenever you want.’ ”
The final STR8UP condition is to give four years to STR8UP. “What
we mean by that is that you can’t live a certain way, where you
stick needles in your arms in the morning and stab people at night, and
change that in 48 hours. It’s going to take time.”
The book came about when STR8UP members who were healing
began to look for ways to use their talents to give back to the community,
“By sharing their story, they want to give hope to
young people who are experiencing challenges in their own lives.”
Poilievre stressed the grassroots origins of STR8UP, which began in 2000-01
when two young men high up in the gang structure approached him for help
in leaving the gang.
“From two, we now have over 100 guys who have left the gangs. Not
because of Stan or myself, or anybody else, but because of their decision.
The power in STR8UP comes from the bottom, it doesn’t come from
the top,” said Poilievre.
Poilievre said he is extremely proud of all the young men
and women who make the “radical, drastic and dramatic decision” to
leave gangs and seek healing.
“They are heroes. They are our sons, they are our daughters, they
are our nephews and nieces. They are our relatives,” he said. “STR8UP
is all about relationships. And it’s a struggle, but I tell you,
the 10,000 little steps that they have to take to succeed, every little
step is a success.”
Proceeds of the book sale will go to STR8UP, but asked what else would
help meet the challenges facing at-risk youth, Poilievre called for a
change in attitude about those who are struggling in our society.
“The attitude is that the guys in jail, the guys on the street,
all these people are bad people,” he said, calling for a change
among politicians and religious people who want to punish and condemn.
“We’re not dealing with bad people, we’re dealing with
hurting people. One thing about hurting people is that they can heal,” he
stressed. “Our guys are hurting. They’re sick. They’re
Political pressure calling for longer prison terms and stiffer penalties is not going to work, he said.