When I was serving as a mentor in the youth prison system, one of the things that those teenage boys shared in common was that they had been (or were) members of gangs. We were in a small group discussion and there was a revelation for one of those young men when he said something like, “you know, I think I joined a gang because I wanted to feel loved. ” What led him to that realization was that we were able to connect the dots of dysfunction he had experienced in his own family.
His family was a mess so he went to the gang to fulfill the voids left by a broken family. Being a member of a gang was a perverted fulfillment of a legitimate need.
On a different occasion, another young man shared about a time when he and his fellow gang members were preparing for a retaliatory drive by shooting against another gang. I stopped him and asked, “what does the preparation look like; sitting around with drugs and alcohol, talking about who would drive, who would sit where, who would carry which weapons, etc.?” He said that was about right.
I pressed in on this and tried for figure out why a 15 or 16-year-old would be driven to put themselves into harm’s way such as that. What was the motivator?
We went back and forth and ended up at purpose. They did it because they saw it as an extension of the purposes of the gang. They didn’t care about school or work, just gang business along with street credibility and reputation. When a gang threatened them, it threatened the community which facilitated their purpose. Purpose is a legitimate need and this was a perverted fulfillment of that need.
They are no different from the rest of us, really. The contrast of their perverted attempts to fulfill legitimate needs is more glaring than many of us experience. At the core, however, we are the same. There are things we need and if we buy into lies that lead to illegitimate attempts to fulfill legitimate needs, we end up in some form of trouble.
We will enjoy the consequences or benefits of whichever path we pursue. Where we pursue legitimate fulfillment through the One that designed us with the legitimate needs, we will know the benefits of satisfaction. Where we take shortcuts or detours, we will have to deal with the consequences.
Those young men were not serving life sentences and neither are we. Where we miss, we can change our minds. We don’t have to stay in the incarceration of our poor choices forever, but getting out of those internal prisons comes with the discipline of one day at a time. One day at a time, seeking Jesus where we have depended on our own form of gang to replace Him and His family.