* Photo by Kageaki Smith. Pastor Leroy Bean says kids have handled firearms at young ages, some as young as 12. "Some have said they have been used as runners, as lookouts or carrying drugs back and forth."
* Photo by Kageaki Smith. Pastor Leroy Bean says kids have handled firearms at young ages, some as young as 12. "Some have said they have been used as runners, as lookouts or carrying drugs back and forth."
A home could be set up for 'at-risk' youth amid fears that children as young as 12 are being drawn into gang lifestyles.

Anti-gang organization CARTEL has submitted detailed proposals to Government for a residential centre to offer live-in treatment for young people on the fringes of local gangs.

The organization - which has also helped several gang members leave the island to try to transform their lives overseas - is at the heart of the community battle against gun violence.

Pastor Leroy Bean, president of the organization, said he had counselled middle school aged children who had confessed to handling firearms and running drugs for gang members.

He said many of them aspired to be gangsters themselves and looked up to street corner dealers as heroes.

Pastor Bean and his colleagues, including former gang members, currently work with troubled youths to convince them to take a different path.

But he believes more concentrated intervention is necessary - both for senior gang members and their young protégés.

CARTEL - a mediation and intervention organization which aims to help gang members who want to get out of the 'life' - has primarily been involved with older thugs.

In the most extreme cases they have helped gang members leave the island and get into Christian based residential programmes in the U.K.

As many as 20 gang members are understood to have left the island, many of them with the assistance of CARTEL.

Now the organization is looking to establish a Bermuda based in-house treatment centre where gangsters who want to change their ways can get the help they need without going overseas.

Pastor Bean said providing counselling, lifeskills and vocational training in a safe environment was the main principle behind the proposal. Ideally he would like to see two centres set up - one for adults and another for young people.

He has submitted a proposal to Government and is looking for funding for the project.

The proposal cites a survey of 300 gang members and affiliates conducted by the organization last year, suggesting there are currently 18 gangs in Bermuda and a total of nearly 1,500 gang members.


It cautions: "Many of our young people are being targeted daily to become 'soldiers' or loyal followers to advance the cause."

Anecdotal evidence from the survey suggests kids as young as eight have been targeted for recruitment.

And Pastor Bean said he had personally counselled children, aged 12 and 13, who had handled firearms and carried drugs for gang members.

He said many parents felt they had nowhere to turn.

He believes, in the most extreme cases, a residential intensive treatment centre would provide them with the structure and professional help to change the course of their lives.

"We want to work with some of the younger generation from an intervention standpoint. If we don't salvage this younger generation we run the risk of repeating the cycle again and again," he said.

CARTEL is also attempting to train volunteers as 'neighbourhood mediators' in their communities.

One former offender, calling himself Hector Hernandez, spent almost three years in prison for drug-dealing and now works with CARTEL, said it was important to provide children with role models beyond the street-corner dealer.

He said he had got involved in the criminal lifestyle as a 15-year-old hanging out on the streets in Southampton.

"I grew up in a single parent home and some of the older guys on the streets were like father figures to me. They were looking out for me, that's how it seemed."

He said he had changed his life when he came out of jail and met Pastor Bean. Now he is using his experiences to help convince young people not to go down the same route.

"It is better for them to hear it from somebody who has been through it rather than someone who has read a book on it," he added.

For more information on CARTEL's proposals or how to support call Pastor Bean on 734-7972.