"So, now I understand His amazing grace. I once was lost and now am found, was blind and now I see."
Justin shared about his journey from his street life into the kingdom of Jesus in my one-to one visits at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent over these past months.
One day, several months ago, he was visibly shaken and nearly in tears after learning about the depth of his legal charges and potential future prison time.
Justin came to saving faith. Jesus found Justin.
He shared being actively involved in the gang scene in South King County since he was 13 years-old first in the South Seattle Rainier Beach area. He started hanging out even earlier than that--when he was nine with older people in the apartments and neighborhood.
He was looking for an older brother and positive father figure. He was raised by his single mother who tried to teach him good morals and about being a good person. She wasn't able to dish out, as Justin put it, the discipline needed to a hard-headed young kid. His Dad was long gone and could have supported her to do more.
The gang provided exactly what he lacked at home in an older brother and a father figure. He was every bit as hard-headed as ever and never graduated from high school although several coaches did everything possible to encourage him through football.
In the unit at the MRJC, some of the other gang members are meeting around a table for daily Bible study, "to find out what is real, as Justin says, "The lyrics and music videos of the rappers is a fantasy entertainment. If they were really doing what they are rapping, they would be in the jails and prisons and wouldn't be on-stage. They portray a lifestyle for fantasy entertainment and to make money."
In the wake of the gang-related shooting that injured 13 people at a Kent car show in July, King County leaders are looking to refocus efforts on combating gang violence, as reported by Greg Allmain in the Federal Way Mirror in August.
According to statistics provided by the county:
• In 2008 and 2009, King County averaged 29 gang-related homicides and 200 reported gang-related shootings, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
• The King County Sheriff’s Office believes there are more than 10,000 gang members associated with an estimated 140 active criminal street gangs.
• Gang-related crime has increased 165 percent since 2005, with much of that crime shifting out of Seattle city limits into South King County.
During an August 23 meeting of the King County Council’s Law and Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, council members and local law enforcement officials addressed the growing issue of gang violence in South King County.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said July’s events in Kent are a clear example of why the issue needs to be addressed. “The Kent car show shooting is the highest profile incident in a long-running gang war in South King County. Police and prosecutors have launched an intense initiative to identify gang leaders who are responsible for shootings and other violent crimes.”
After the July shooting, the Kent Police Department convened a “Gang Violence Intervention Summit” that was attended by more than 60 high ranking law-enforcement officials. The intent of the meeting was to “identify strategies to respond to the problems posed by organized street gangs and the impasse of the increasing gang-related violence in South King County.”
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas echoed those thoughts. “We have to tackle the gang problem from multiple angles, Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said, "to be effective, and need a mix of approaches that includes suppression, intervention and prevention,” he said. “Gangs are a problem that affects every community, which is why regional cooperation and coordination is so important.”
Justin awaits trial at the MRJC and continues to grow in faith and even invited several to join with the others to fellowship, pray, and read the Bible.