Canadian gangbangers bound by hardships: Book

Mark Totten's Gang Life: 10 of the toughest tell their stories.

Mark Totten's Gang Life: 10 of the toughest tell their stories.

Chris Doucette, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

TORONTO -- They are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters — each with a shocking story of how they joined the ranks of Canada’s toughest gang members.

But the commonalities shared by 10 hardened criminals — profiled in Mark Totten’s latest book, Gang Life: 10 Of The Toughest Tell Their Stories — are just as stunning.

The fact they were all badly damaged at a tender age and, against all odds, lived to tell their tales is perhaps the biggest thing that binds this group.

“These are the high flyers,” Totten said recently of the gangbangers he interviewed. “They’re some of the most high-profile folks we have in the country.

“But even though they’ve done terrible things at times, they weren’t born that way.”

Totten, a professor in Humber College’s criminal justice program, spent much of the last 25 years working with troubled youth in frontline roles.

“None of the people I’ve worked with were born bad,” the sociologist said. “They turned into gangsters because of their situation, the adults around them and the suffering they’ve gone through.”

For his new book, launched earlier this month, Totten chose seven men and three women to share their eye-opening, often frightening stories.

The ex-gangbangers came from big cities, smaller towns and remote reserves across Canada, and they’ve all been convicted of violent crimes, “really sadistic things.”

They served as enforcers, drug and gun runners, and even presidents in various gangs — from street level to high-level international organized crime groups.

And they’ve all witnessed or been involved in killing someone, Totten said, explaining their names have been changed for their own safety and to protect the identities of victims.

He also made slight changes or omissions, careful not to identify neighbourhoods they terrorized, as he weaved together their stories, mixing his prose with the often less eloquent words of his subjects.

Most of the former gang members profiled grew up in poverty, surrounded by addiction, sexual abuse and other violence.

Some, like Jafar, fell into gang life after coming to Canada, but the damage was done long before arriving in their new homeland.

Jafar was four years old when his family fled a civil war in Sudan and he’d already seen horrific atrocities.

“Kids nine years old were forced to become child soldiers. Girls were sex slaves,” Jafar recalled in the book. “I saw dead bodies on the ground — bodies with bullet holes and bodies with heads and arms and legs blown off.”


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