A Second Chance in Salinas

January 21, 2011

Brian Contreras created 2nd Chance in Salinas, California in 1989 after a shooting took place outside of his home. For the last twenty-two years the non-profit has worked to address the city’s growing problems with gang violence and empower residents. Megan Baier interviewed Contreras in Salinas. Here is his story:

Brian Contreras

My kids were outside playing, I was in school, and then my wife at the time called me and told me there was a shooting. Kids were screaming and yelling, so I came home. I lost it then.

I redirected my anger and starting looking for people, something out there, because you know, it was only going to get worse. What I found was that there was nobody in Salinas that wanted to do anything with those kids on the east side.

So I wrote an English paper. I wrote about kids and gangs and what’s going on. The community was not getting assistance, so I said something needed to be done and then I briefly described a program to work with kids. That paper ended up getting circulated.

The English teacher then became a city council member and then the city council member and I met and we ended up traveling up and down California looking at different programs and we put something together. We ended up going to bid for the city.

We met with gang members and said, “Do you like this?” And they said, “No we don’t like that.” “Do you like this?” “Yea, we like that.” And so we put together the program. They’re the ones who came up with the name, Second Chance. Everybody deserves one.

Reentry, which is job development, counseling, the street outreach, and then of course tattoo removal, those have been the core for this agency since day one.

They (outreach staff) keep track of what’s going on with the gang stuff on the streets, who’s fighting with who. Who’s at war with who. Who killed who basically. We don’t want to know names, but this gang killed this gang. And so we try and mediate through it.

They (outreach staff) work closely with the families of the victims. We have community response teams, they will actually go and make contact with loved ones. They will work with the local churches, provide meals for them for the next few days, get them some groceries, some care packages. And then we have staff that can help them maneuver the systems, going through taking care of a buriel, dealing with the police department, district attorney’s office, trying to get some assistance from victim’s assitance funds and then other things social securtity, death benefits. And then provide grief counseling.

We are the first and the only one (non-profit) in Monterey county who was doing tattoo removal in the beginning as far as non-profits, still are.

When I first started we struggled to bring awareness. The police department said there are only a handful of people doing this, but we knew it was hundreds.

It’s entrenched now, two or three generations deep. The level of violence, the kind of violence has gotten worse. Before there was never shootings at funerals, now we have them.

We can change it. I think the priority for us is to start building relationships between the residents and the police department. There is none. They (residents) don’t like the cops, cops don’t like them. That just exacerbates our gang violence.

Last year in Salinas, we had 29 homicides, all of them were gun related, all of them were gang related. We are the only city small, medium, or large in the U.S. that can say that.

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