The gang culture is an easy pitfall for a lot of youth that some never recover from. The usual consequences for being involved in a gang involve a coffin or jail. But fortunately for Michael Felton, that was not his story.

Felton grew up in Southside Queens in the mid 90’s when the gang culture was very prevalent in his neighborhood. At 12 he joined the eight tre crips because the older males in his neighborhood that were of great influence, were apart of the gang. “If I’m walking around all day and all I see is red flags, and all the people I want to be like is wearing red flags,” said Felton. “The drug dealer that gives me $2 when the ice cream truck come, he a blood, so when I become of age, what am I going to want to be?”

The drug dealer that gives me $2 when the ice cream truck come, he a blood, so when I become of age, what am I going to want to be?

On the surface the gang was like a brotherhood or fraternity. The “O.G.s,” who were older men whose ages ranged from high school to no older than 30, took care of the younger men and showed them the ropes. “A properly run gang is like a militia,” said Felton. “You can disobey the teacher in school, ain’t nothing going to happen, you might get suspended from school or they might call your mom, but you disobey your O.G., it could mean your life.” Even though the gang lifestyle taught Felton about discipline and how to deal with different people, it was the extreme violence over different turfs and drug dealing that turned him off from the lifestyle. “Being in a gang is not wrong, it’s the activities you partake in while you’re in a street gang that’s wrong,” said Felton.

You can disobey the teacher in school, ain’t nothing going to happen, you might get suspended from school or they might call your mom, but you disobey your O.G., it could mean your life.

Gang membership is for life. There is no release form or formal way out, but fortunately for Felton, when his mother caught wind of what he was doing, she moved him down south to get away from the gang lifestyle. Being away, helped Felton realize that life is more than having the latest fashion accessory or claiming gang sets. It was also having his daughter that inspired Felton to make a change in his life. “For the first time I started thinking like I got this little girl and that’s my world,” said Felton. “I wanna be here, I had a reason to live.” So he attended school for a little bit and started getting entry level positions that would eventually lead to his current position now as an office manager. “You get a good little resume together and God bless you with a little bit of favor, next thing you know, you got a new life,” said Felton.

You got to be willing to make that change and whoever ain’t with me, ain’t with me.

Although Felton is not actively gang banging anymore, he still is affiliated with the gang and when he goes back home to Queens to visit, some of his friends are still involved, but they just know that Felton is not involved with the life to the extent that they are and they respect it. So his advice to other people that might want to get out of gang life is to go somewhere that there isn’t any gang activity and to not actively pursue negativity. “Your homies understand, because they want to do the same thing too, it gets to a point where it gets old,”said Felton. “You got to be willing to make that change and whoever ain’t with me, aint with me.”