When we first met them years ago, they were men who, as troubled youths, had survived the mean streets of Memphis. But, they weren't absolved of the memories seared into their minds forever.
"It's beyond hell. I've seen stabbings. I've had to walk over puddles of blood. I've been to the point where I been conversing with guys and the next couple of days, they're being pushed out on a stretcher trying to kill themselves," said former convicted murderer Andrew Collins in 2006.
"I went to the streets and sold crack cocaine. (I) started selling crack when I was eleven, living a real fast life. Toted guns and all that stuff and learned how to hustle at a really early age," said former gangbanger Delvin Lane in 2008.
Yet, as they stood side by side with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Collins and Lane pledged their willingness to go back to the streets to pull out youthful survivors themselves. The duo along with Link Fisher, Lonnie Gauldin and Trevon Toney were introduced during a Thursday news conference as the newly hired street intervention team called the "BLOC Squad." They were tabbed to work in the Frayser and South Memphis areas as part of the Wharton administration's Youth Gun Violence initiative. In the places where they were once problem, they be counted on to help find the solutions to youth violence by de-escalating conflicts.
"To do this work you first and foremost have to have a pulse. Have to have a heart for it. You have to be called to do it," says Gauldin.
The group began weeks of intensive training under the tutelage of the National Youth Gang Center. The job will require them to connect with youth and their families in finding alternative solutions to a life of crime such as educational and employment training.
Their assignment will often require them to enter crime scenes immediately after police have left the scene to talk to victims and their families. But, they made it clear, "snitching" on perpetrators won't be their primary objective.
Simply go and say, look man, I know that was your partner. I know he was a part of your posse. I know that, but let's talk. Let's do it this way so that is not ‘snitchin'," says Mayor Wharton.
"Police do police work. Our job is to stop retaliation and decrease youth violence. So, we'll go to the hospital and we'll grieve with their families. Because we know these kids, we show them a way they can deal with...without retaliating," says Lane.
Gauldin adds, "These kids come from desperation, operating in frustration and our job is restoration."