HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — It took a near-death experience for Donnie Walton to realize he deserved a better life than the gang life.
Gang violence is taking lives and robbing the futures of vulnerable young children. Police say a majority of the 126 homicides reported across Hampton Roads in 2015 can be traced back to one of nearly 150 gangs across the seven cities.
Walton, 25, moved to Hampton from southern California, where he was born into the Bloods.
He never imagined he’d be standing in front of more than a dozen young kids in Norfolk’s Diggs Town neighborhood talking about gang prevention.
“Saying no to something you know is not right, that makes you somebody,” said Walton.
Walton’s story starts in Inglewood, Ca., where he was born to a mother who abused drugs and a father in the Bloods. ‘Blood for life’ was the label given to him from birth.
“I was always pushed to twist my fingers up,” said Walton.
As a young boy, Walton says he remembers learning from loved ones how to break into stores and homes. He says he illegally purchased his first gun at age 14.
“I didn’t feel right doing the things that I was doing, but I was looking for acceptance and a family,” he said.
In 2008, the then 17-year-old decided college far away from home was the best way to get out of the gang. He lasted just one year at Hampton University before he returned to the streets in California where he grew up.
About nine months after returning home, Walton was stabbed in his abdomen with a blade while visiting a girl in a nearby neighborhood.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “[The suspect] launched at me like a ninja and juked me, and [the blade] went through and came out … he pulled my stomach out and it slid off the knife into my hands.”
Walton woke up after a three-month coma with 16 tubes running through his body, from his nose to his legs. He says he flat-lined two times and spent about two years recovering in the hospital.
“I had to learn how to walk again and talk again, said Walton. “It brought me to a point in my life where eventually I was tired of being around people who were not bringing me happiness.”
In 2012, Walton returned to Hampton. He says it was the only other place he knew.
It’s been three years since he left the Bloods. Walton calls himself a success story, but he says he knows why there’s not more stories like his.
“Once you get incarcerated you become institutionalized,” said Walton. “A lot of guys come out and they feel like they graduated after being in jail.”
Walton says the felons then start recruiting new members to commit crimes. Police tell WAVY.com the recruitment starts as young as eight years old.
“12 or 13, that’s the prime. That’s when a young man is strong enough to carry his own, definitely strong enough to carry a gun or a weapon and definitely strong enough to carry out a mission from someone who is misguided.”
Walton says he’s never killed anybody, but he knows others who have committed murder. Walton says many of his partners are serving time in jail on various charges, including his father who is serving 15 years on a weapons violation.
The choice to be in a gang is not always a decision kids get to make, according to Walton, who says he understands why the cycle of violence will likely never stop.
“They’re just looking for a sense of belonging, and by the time they get slapped on the hand it’s too late. They are in jail.”
Walton says kids need heart and faith, not money, to get out of the gang. He says changing his environment by moving nearly 3,000 miles away was the key to his success.
Walton says he’ll continue to speak out against the gang life in hopes of saving kids from the pain the gang life caused him.
“It’s on people like me to get into the hoods and showing them a path out of there.”
You can connect with Donnie Walton by email at email@example.com or on Instagram by searching ‘d3film’.
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