Mentor John Harriel talks to his students about choices, consequences and self worth during a 2nd CALL life skills training course (Jennifer Bihm photo)
Community based gang intervention group focuses on individual healing
Ask any member of 2nd CALL what they do and the answer will be simply albeit emphatically, “we save lives”. While this could be said about any gang intervention/ prevention program, 2nd Call is unique in its approach, in that life saving comes with teaching participants how to go from being reactive to their circumstances to being proactive and taking control of their lives. They do it, they said, hoping to mitigate the violence and subsequent destruction that has plagued Los Angeles’ County’s impoverished communities for so long.
They begin with teaching life skills.
“Before we can teach them how to handle life and a career, we have to teach them how to deal with their anger (for instance),” explained John Harriel, a long time mentor with 2nd CALL.
On Thursday nights Harriel holds a life skills training course, one of several throughout the county, for ex offenders and parolees hoping to reenter society under better circumstances than they had before. That process begins inside the heart and mind of the individual, if the class is any indication. It begins with an around-the-room discussion where each student is strongly encouraged to reflect first on who they are and second on how they are truly feeling.
Most have served significant time behind bars or inside “the gated community”, as the group jokingly calls it. Most are feeling grateful to be free. The ones who have progressed are grateful to be free still but more so are thankful to be viably so… they have garnered careers as electricians, carpenters, construction workers and people who make $50 per hour or more.
Some of the mentees are currently involved in the construction of what will be the new Kaiser Medical Center in Marlton Square.
2nd CALL (actually an acronym for 2nd Chance At Loving Life) was borne out of the peace and unity movements of post-riot Los Angeles. Townsend had been a part of activist Bo Taylor’s Unity One and while he was dedicated to the peace efforts, in 2006 he decided to take a different approach. Townsend, an ex L.A. gang member had been enjoying success as a business owner and realized that one being able to take ownership of his lively hood as opposed to being told to get a low paying job, was a better way to empower a community… one psychcologically healed person at a time.
And so the story goes, according to their website something like:
“2nd Call has continuously grown each year with a bright glow shining proudly on the name and has quickly become the organization often referred to when mentioning Trauma Informed Care with facilitation of Parenting, Anger Management, Domestic Violence and Re-Entry programs. However 2ndCall just like the moon has no direct light and can only shine bright because of the reflection of the light above. We at 2nd Call thank our Divine Intervention for allowing the light to shine on us. We are also thankful for our guide and our mentor and the vision and life of Darren Bo Taylor…”
During Thursday night’s course, Harriel teaches the importance of knowing what choices one has and making the best of them. A recent one focused on self esteem, where each individual was encouraged to think about what his or her life was worth. The question brought about an array of emotions and conversations about students’ experiences.
A student had been angry that night about how she was being treated at her current job. She was ready to quit or worse, she said, commit violence against some of her co workers. The others listened… then encouraged. When they were done, Harriel patiently gave them some of his own words of wisdom.
He understood how she felt, he said and he did not try to persuade her to feel otherwise. Rather, he encouraged her to think about the consequences of each choice she would make and about whether she could live with them.
“To be able to walk on water you have to know where all the rocks are,” Harriel told his students towards the end of the session.
This was part of the intense work 2nd CALL does.
“You can’t be afraid to be a leader,” He told the Sentinel/ LA Watts Times during a recent interview.
“Some people say, ‘you can’t help them’ but that’s because they don’t have the capacity to lead.”