Why a 14-year-old honor student joined a gang, and what it took to get out

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An honor roll student says he was peer pressured into joining a gang. The initiation sent him to the hospital and persuaded a family friend to step in.

“I was a quiet kid. Always separated from the crowd,” Therrin Wilson said.

Wilson grew up in the Raleigh area of Memphis

“Grew up in a single-parent household. My mom and dad were separated. I stayed with my mom for the most part,” he said.

His home was full of love, but his neighborhood and school, Craigmont High, didn’t feel as secure.

“A lot of students who came to school had broken homes. They just kind of fell into the environment they lived in. They were products of their environment. That unfortunately led to a lot of gangs,” Wilson said.

In 10th grade, his friends began gravitating to those bad influences. The peer pressure grew stronger.

Wilson said deep down, he knew it wasn’t the path he wanted to be on, but he craved being a part of something. So at 14 years old, he decided to join the gang, hiding everything from his mother and sneaking out of the house on the day he was set to be initiated.

“I left her a sticky note on the door, and I said I was going to play basketball,” he said. “There was a group of guys. You stand in the middle of a circle, and there’s a certain amount of time you take a beating. After that amount of time, you are part of it.”

His mother knew something was wrong. She kept calling him and put a pause to the brutal beating that still sent her child to the hospital.

“My entire family was [in the hospital]. Just at that moment, I was like I don’t want to do this to myself or my family,” he said.

His aunt called her friend, Jimmy Chambers. He’s a gang investigator in Shelby County and at the time, had began mentoring boys in similar situations to Wilson’s.

“I said bring him right now. Bring him to me,” Chambers said.

The two had a long talk, and Chambers didn’t hesitate to step in.

“I went back to the hood and found the little leaders, and I advised them he is off limits. He is mine now, and if you want to continue to bother him, then you bother me,” Chambers said.

Chambers told Wilson to be ready to work bright and early.

“It was 100 degrees outside. Long shirts. It was seven in the morning,” Wilson said.

Chambers had him doing yard work at churches and abandoned lots. The goal was to keep his mind busy.

“If we change this bad boy right here,” Chambers said pointing to his mind. “We got them.”

Chambers continued to offer advice, guidance and unconditional love.

“August comes around, 11th grade, and I’m back on track. Back in AP courses. Back in the book,” Wilson said.

He graduated from high school in 2015 and went to the University of Tennessee where he earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

“I just grin from ear to ear. That was one of my successes,” Chambers said.

He didn’t think his smile could get bigger, but then Wilson went to the Ohio State College of Optometry.

Wilson continues to thrive but remains humble.

“There’s a very big chance I would have fallen into that street life. I think nowadays, a lot of crime being done is because there is a lack of guidance,” Wilson said.

His friends from the 10th grade are still in the gang, in jail, and some are dead.

“It is easy to mold a teenager into a certain mindset. They’re still developing. They’re still trying to learn themselves,” Wilson said.

That’s why he believes mentoring is vital to ending the juvenile crime problem.

“They sincerely need guidance. There is always a reason why a child does what a child does,” he said.

Want to learn more about Chamber’s program?

Chambers has gone on to partner with Juvenile Court System to help kids at risk of detention or incarceration. His wife Ressie Chambers helps him with the program. To learn more: Click here

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to WREG.com.