The History of STR8 UP
History of STR8-UP : From Despair to Hope.
STR8-UP was conceived, not by foresight, intent or planning. It came about, not by collaborative, comprehensive or of the initiative of agencies, institutions and community organizations. It came about by active gang members wanting assistance and support to gain-confidence and support networks to aid in their desire to abandon an organization, which for them had become abusive, destructive, dysfunctional and alienating.
Gangs in the city. Gangs in the jail.
In the mid 1990s the phenomenon of gangs became a quiet but increasing reality in Saskatoon. Recruitment on the street as well as within the Saskatoon Correctional Centre was rampant. Father André Polièvre, who was the co-ordinating Chaplain at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre (S.C.C.) at the time, introduced a two-pronged program within the S.C.C. to address the growing phenomenon. Inmates who qualified for Temporary Absences (T.A.) and who had expressed positive attitude and values would volunteer to participate in speaking engagements, workshops and presentations outside the S.C.C., in schools, Treatment Centers, various youth groups and community organizations (i.e. EGADZ) to talk about their stories and experiences. The second segment to this program was the involvement of inmates, who did not qualify for T.A.’s but were potential speakers and participants, and who were willing to assist the chaplain in welcoming community organizations who wished to visit the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. These inmates would act as guides and provide information and answer questions from the visitors.
Roots of gangs. The Medicine Wheel.
Issues in both groups dealt with addictions, prostitution, criminality, negative life-style choices, and incarceration. Inmates were invited to share their life story particularly the influences which impacted their childhood and youth years, which they believed had led to their experiences and involvement within the Young Offender and Adult Correctional systems. This program became quite popular where numerous workshops and presentations were created both in S.C.C and in the city of Saskatoon, between 1997 and 2011.
It was during these many presentations that inmates were able to share and create with community organizations a First Nation Medicine Wheel to aid in identifying what it meant to be a “healthy” person versus someone that was considered “unhealthy”. This First Nations Medicine Wheel model has assisted inmates and participants, in identifying the source of dysfunction, criminality, and addictions which lead them to the negative lifestyle of criminality and gang involvement. Several incarcerated gang members volunteered and assisted the Chaplain in the presentations, workshops and institutional guides for visitors. The level of respect and positive relationships between chaplaincy and inmate provided a foundation which enabled this positive and creative cooperative group activity. The Saskatoon Correctional staff provided extreme support and assistance in the enablement and actualization of this program. Father André retired in the summer of 2002. However, workshops and presentation continued as before thanks to the full support of the S.C.C. Inmates with legitimate T.A.’s as well as ex-offenders who were living in the Saskatoon community continued to be the aides for these workshops and presentations. In the Fall of 2002, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nation (F.S.I.N.) approached Father Andre for names of inmates who were gang members, but who questioned their on-going membership within their gang and would be willing to assist the F.S.I.N. Gang Strategy Committee in planning and organizing a one week summer camp for at – risk First Nations youth. These youths were labeled as those – who were at the highest risk of being influenced and recruited into membership of embryonic gangs in Saskatoon.
Exiting gang life. STR8 UP identity emerges.
Father André approached two gang members, who were not only involved in workshops and presentations in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre but had confided to Father André of their desire to extricate themselves from their respective gangs. One had his partner stabbed and murdered by a hostile gang, another had two younger brothers who had followed in his footsteps. Both were highly disillusioned with ‘gangsterism’ and were searching for a way out of their membership. They eventually left the gang and are presently productive citizens. This was the beginning of the group of young men and women, who would eventually identify themselves as STR8 UP.
Numerous requests and invitations from treatment centers, inner-city schools, reserves, churches, community agencies, have heard of STR8 UP and have since requested their presence to speak to their respected audiences. From 1997 to 2012, STR8 UP gave approximately 1000 presentations throughout the province of Saskatchewan. Currently, many of the STR8 UP members have returned to school, enrolled in various trade programs, have attended treatment centers, are enrolled in parenting classes and have worked at developing and maintaining healthy relationships and life-styles choices.
Caring for Others. STR8 UP grows.
Soon it was seen these young men and young women were developing a sense of their own worth and value whenever they had the opportunity to be of value to others. Healthy relationship is based on caring for people rather than using and manipulating people. It is learning to understand others’ feelings. It is respect for people, allowing others to grow and develop as they are able. This pursuit of individual goals — that is sobriety, abandoning illegal activity, earning honest money, developing positive life-styles — enabled STR8-UP members to discover that to help themselves they had to help others. Thus, over time they discovered the need to abandon unhealthy relationships even unhealthy family members, and to search out healthy relationships.
Sometime during the summer of 2009 Father Andre met Stan Tu’Inukuafe who was a youth worker at the John Howard Society. It was also at this time that conditions for membership and the Vision of Goals of STR8 UP were clarified. Eventually, STR8 UP became a program under the umbrella of the many programs offered at the John Howard Society. In 2013 STR8 UP decided to leave the John Howard Society to become its own non-profit agency. In 2014 STR8 UP became a registered non-profit charitable organization. In 2014, they were give registered charitable status and began to implement their newly developed strategic plan.