Former gang member tells of life in gang | NevadaAppeal.com

Former gang member tells of life in gang

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Alejandro Ibarra knows about gangs. He was a member of one in the early ’90s and is now dedicating his life to helping other youth stay away from them.

Chief deputy Scott Burau also knows about gangs. He has been fighting to keep them off the streets for more than 12 years, dating back to his tenure as chief of detectives.

He said six to eight deputies from different departments target gang activity and about 380 gang members have been identified in Carson City from about seven different gangs.

“Percentage wise, it’s minimal when you compare it to a population of 50,000,” he said. “But more than one gang member in a community can be considered a bad situation.”

Speaking from his own experience, Ibarra said teens turn to gangs in search of belonging.

“A lot of people are rejecting you,” he explained. “You find a group of people who are going through the same problems. You’re searching for a friend and the gang is like a big family — a close family.”

But it is, at best, a dysfunctional family.

To join the Eastwood Tokers in 1992, Ibarra — known as “Tiny” then — had to be “jumped in” by fighting three gang members at the same time.

For a 15-year-old kid who moved from Mexico to Long Beach, Calif., then to Carson City, any sense of stability was welcome.

However, it had a stiff price.

“I got into a lot of trouble, like any gang member,” Ibarra said. “I got kicked out of Carson High School and I went to jail for fighting and stealing.”

Although gangs can sometimes seem a natural draw for Hispanics trying to adapt to a new culture, Burau said it’s not always the case.

“We see all races,” he said. “Gangs are not specific to any one race.”

Once a member of the gang, Ibarra could not let it go despite having gone through various rehabilitation programs.

Then in 1995, he was incarcerated for about a year for stolen property. It was there he found God.

“I was so desperate to change,” he recalled. “I told God I would give Him my life if He would help me.”

Ibarra walked out of jail a different person.

“I haven’t turned back,” he said. “I haven’t even touched a cigarette since then.”

Old friends taunted him for carrying his Bible in public and they told him he wouldn’t stay straight long. However, after months went by, some of them appeared on his doorstep asking for help themselves.

He lent a hand to his old gang members and continues to visit the juvenile detention center to help steer teens away from gangs.

Burau said gang activity fluctuates from time to time.

“It’s actually cyclical,” he said. “But it’s hard to put an exact figure to that.”

However, Ibarra said he sees less gang activity now than he did while he was involved. He credits some of the decline to the death of Sammy Resendiz who was beaten to death in 1998 over a gang altercation, even though he had left the gang years earlier.

“I think a lot of people realized you could really get hurt — you could die,” Ibarra said. “I was surprised when I heard about it. He left a long time before that.”

Ibarra is planning to start an in-residence rehabilitation program in Reno for gang members through his Apostolic Assembly Church.