Former 'UN Gang' Member Shares Story
Former UN Gang member, James Coulter, speaks at the Anti-Gang Summit
Prince George, B.C. - He was the right-hand man to the leader of the Lower Mainland's infamous 'UN Gang'...
Speaking to 160 people attending this evening's public session of the Anti-Gang summit in Prince George, 36-year-old James Coulter says he lost his marriage, his house and he almost lost his mind before breaking free of the crack cocaine addiction he developed during his 10-years within the gang's upper echelons. He is also a rare individual in that he freely walked away from the gang -- the leader, Clayton Roueche, is in a U.S. jail, the number three man, Evan Appell, is dead.
Coulter says his parents struggled with addiction and he was actually born while his mother was incarcerated -- at six months, he was placed in foster care before his mom got him back when he was five. "I lived with her until I was about 12 and then from 12 to 15, I went through about 20 different foster homes." Unlike many who join gangs for the money and 'bling' it brings, Coulter says he became involved for the sense of family the life brought with it.
But after friends helped him beat his addiction, Coulter told Roueche he was walking away and he moved to Central America to start selling real estate. "My main goal, though, when I went down there was to buy 100-kilos of coke and bring it back -- when you get up to the level that I was at, you start to think big, you start to think 'What's the last score I can make so I can retire?'" What changed his mind was seeing kids as young as six addicted to crack cocaine because buying a gram is cheaper than buying food. "I came back to Canada broke, decided to go to school, I took a substance abuse counselling course, got my diploma -- a year and a half in school -- and I started working in the 'heart of it', on the Downtown Vancouver Eastside, working with homeless addicts." He currently has 200 clients.
Coulter has also developed a presentation for high school students that he shared with attendees at this evening's session. The main message is that gang involvement leads to three outcomes: death, jail, and addictions. "That's the only way it goes." He showed a picture of UN Gang members all dressed in black and posing together at the 2005 funeral of his best friend, Evan Appell. "About 50-percent of the people in this picture are either dead or in jail -- there's about 60 people in this picture."
When asked if anything would have stopped him from joining the gang when he was 19, Coulter says simply, "No." He says, by then it was too late, he "knew everything" and there was no changing his mind. Coulter says the anti-gang message needs to start on a soft-scale with kids as young as nine and 10, up to about 12...then ramp up with the cold, hard truths of gang life for youths 13 and 14. "I think education is the answer, I think awareness is the answer," Coulter says. "Making these kids aware and educating them on the 'real truths': not that gangs are, you know, flashy clothes and bling bling, there's a lot of bullets flying and death out there."
The 36-year-old admits he is risking his life by going public with his story, although he says the UN Gang is a little bit different than a lot of other gangs. But he also says he feels the risk is worth it, "I think I have a really powerful message for kids." Coulter says he'd be willing to come back to Prince George to speak with area high school students, if asked.
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