When asked Friday if any one person could maybe prevent them from affiliating with a gang, a panel of real-life "experts" often pointed to their parents or friends.
The forum was the 1995 Utah Gang Conference. The "experts" were a group of teens - and a single adult - who, for one reason or another, opted to speak out about their gang ties.Some have broken previous gang relationships in hopes of a new life. Others repeatedly maintain they've resisted the urge to join up, despite a circle of friends who are largely entrenched in the gang culture.
Without exception, the young faces of the panel made it difficult to equate them with a violent lifestyle that still has the ability to shock an audience of veteran edu-cators, correction workers and community leaders.
"I've been shot at. I've seen my friends get shot," said Tina, a 17-year-old honors student who dates a gangster. "I'm really trying to break away from the gangs. The thing that holds me there is, again, back to my boyfriend. But if it wasn't my boyfriend, it would still be my friends."
Their speech was littered with gang colloquialisms. They talked of shootings and threats, tough friends and relatives and strangely placed honor and respect. But when it came down to the bottom line - what can prevent someone from turning to gangs - many turned inward for their answers. Largely, they said it's a matter of security, trust and love.
One young woman, 18, was skeptical. She had watched her aunt do everything possible to prevent a son from joining the gang lifestyle. It didn't work. Tina claimed it is her friends and those she's around socially who have the most influence. But many of the girls' panel cohorts pointed to a parent as the dominant figure who has the ability to affect their life decisions.
Billy, a smooth-faced 14-year-old with soft brown eyes and a wide smile, said his mom supports him and has made it easier to turn away from what is often a natural, or expected, decision to embrace gangs.
Gilbert, 29, appeared clean-cut and responsible Friday in his chambry button-down. With a self-described rap sheet an inch thick, he's led a troubled life of juvenile and adult crime that landed him at "The Big House," he said.
Now he's on a road of self-renewal. With school and new employment opportunities, he's got his eye on a better future. Key to that is his parents' support, he said.
"My parents are agreeing with me right now to do what I've got to do to go on with my life," he said. "But if I didn't have my parents, I wouldn't be getting my education right now."
A Murray teen, Andres, said he started his own gang when he felt that no one around him cared.
"The thing that changed my life is because my mom had me arrested," he said. His mother sat in the front row Friday.
Wanting a quick-fix - a solution to the city's growing gang problem - many audience members demanded answers. Among their ques-tions: "If you had to spend money on one program, which would it be?"
Predictably, each panel member supported the group they represented - Colors of Success, Unity Movement or others.