Calaaga T. Stringfield doesn’t have knife wounds on his arms or gang tattoos on his neck.

His scars and the symbols of his past are etched in his mind clearly enough.

Stringfield, 36, is a convicted felon and a former member of the Long Beach, Calif., street gang the Insane Crips.

He now travels the country as a speaker for Prison and Prevention Ministries of Chattanooga talking to children about the poor choices he made while in a gang. On Thursday he spoke at the Whitfield County Courthouse to a group of teens on probation.

“I want the kids to know about choices,” he said. “I don’t want to say, ‘I didn’t have this, I didn’t have that,’ in life. I had it all. I made a choice.”

Authorities in Dalton said in February that there are up to 300 active gang members in Dalton. The Conasauga Safe Streets Task Force was created in the fall of 2005 to investigate gang-related crimes.

Stringfield grew up in a stable home and his father was a minister, he said. In 1988 he and his friends decided to join the Insane Crips, changing his life forever.

In 1990 Stringfield was involved in a homicide, he said, although he declined to talk about his role in the crime.

“A man was shot and I was involved,” he said.

He was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison but he spent only seven of them behind bars because of a technicality.

Stringfield said his initial conviction was overturned because of “ineffective assistance of council,” meaning his attorney presented evidence with errors in it.

He spent time in both Pelican Bay and San Quentin prisons, two of the most notorious institutions in the country, according to Gretrell Watkins, program manager of the Prison and Prevention Ministry.

He was released from prison in 1995 and lived in South Central Los Angeles before moving to Chattanooga in January.

Stringfield said he felt God gave him a second chance to make a difference in the lives of kids.

“I don’t want to ever minimize the pain and suffering the family (of the victim) went through,” Stringfield said. “I just feel like God gave me a second chance. But someone has still passed away and I have to live with that the rest of my life.”

Stringfield has now devoted his life to keeping kids off the streets and out of gangs.

“I want them to know the choices you make last your whole life,” he said. “There are things I cannot have and cannot do in life. I can’t have some types of jobs (being a felon). I want them to know there is no future in gangs.”

Stringfield said parents can help prevent kids from joining gangs by monitoring their involvement in the gang culture.

From music and fashion to the shows they watch on television, Stringfield said kids receive messages about how it’s cool to be in a gang.

“It’s celebrated in music and videos and it’s dangerous,” he said.

Watkins said Stringfield reaches the kids to whom he speaks.

“He talks in a way they can understand,” he said. “And he can tell them about it because he lived it. He didn’t hear about it on TV or read about it. He lived it. It has been very positive everywhere we’ve been.”

For more information about the Prison and Prevention Program visit www.prisonprevention.org.

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