Twenty-six-year-old Alex Fernandez witnessed the hell of gangster life up close and personal.
"It was pretty rough. A lot of my friends ended up dead, crippled or in jail for a long time," Fernandez said.
Fernandez spent six years hustling the street, before rejecting the gang life. Now a proud father, he's helping others resurrect their lives at events like Saturday's Gang Awareness Seminar in Belvidere. The discussion zeroed in on silencing gang activity, especially the influx of new members from the Windy City.
"If you're a nobody in Chicago, you come to a smaller town and try to make a name for yourself. Plus, we don't know who they are, we haven't had contact with them, and until we do and we can investigate what extent they are in, they are kind of unknowns," Belvidere Police Detective David Dammon said.
Police estimate nearly half of Belvidere gang members originate from Chicago, leading to new gangs and new problems. Because of that, the speakers say interaction at home and with the community is more vital than ever.
"Get into a hobby, little by little you're getting away and then eventually you're just away from it," Fernandez said.
"Get the children involved in activities. Ask who the children are going out with, who the children's parents are, know what your children are doing and where they're going," Dammon said.
Fernandez now fixes up cars, bringing in former gang members to assist in legitimate work. He's happy to call Belvidere home and pave a better life for his three daughters.
"It's a better lifestyle. I don't have to worry about somebody looking for me or stuff like that. It's a more peaceful living,"
Anti-gang groups ALERTA help sponsor the event. For more information, contact ALERTA at (815) 547-3800, or Lucrecio Gonzales at (815) 289-7039.