KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- After court testimony from two separate criminal trials this week revealed a serious gang problem in Knoxville, some former gang members are coming forward to show how they have turned their lives around.
Now, they're helping steer others away from a life of violence, prison and death, which they say is inevitable in gang life.
Anthony Workman didn't have a typical childhood. "I was initiated at 14," he says.
Initiated into the violent street gang known as the Gangster Disciples. "The way we were initiated back then was called a 'jump in'. We fought six guys for six minutes," he says.
Workman says a feeling of emptiness led him to the streets. "A combination of following my friends and looking for something greater than I had known."
As a full-blown gangster, Workman's life spiralled dangerously out of control. "I had been shot twice. It was directly from the gang mentality."
Workman says he paid a high price for years of living a gangster life. "I sacrificed school. I've done a lot of time, in and out of jail."
But after almost twenty years on the streets of Knoxville, Workman turned to Connect Ministries to turn his life around.
"The only thing the street life has to offer is death or the penetentiary," says Prince Gillenwaters, a mentor at Connect Ministries. He was locked up for 13 years. Now, he's helping steer others back on the right track.
If people started thinking about the consequences of their actions before they makes choices, they might choose to do other things," he says.
As for Workman, he says leaving the gang life hasn't been easy. "If I sat here and told you I didn't miss the streets I'd be lying, but I don't miss what comes with it."