- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - The story of Sad Girl isn’t an unusual one.

Growing up in the Stratton Meadows neighborhood of southeast Colorado Springs, she was always around violence and crime, her mother says. The daughter started getting caught up in that lifestyle around age 12.

Now 16, Sad Girl is a gang member who was on the run from the law and her family before she was arrested on Dec. 18, her mother says.

The mother, who asked that her name not be used, says she has tried everything to steer her daughter in the right direction, such as taking her to court sessions, introducing her to mentors and simply showing motherly love.

Why can’t Sad Girl leave the gang life?

“I think she’s involved with a guy who’s involved in it (the gang lifestyle),” said the mother, who did not disclose her daughter’s name or alleged crimes because of safety concerns. “She’s just kind of stuck on him and she just won’t get out of it right now.”

About 4 percent of the 700-plus gang members in Colorado Springs are females, but many more are suspected to be affiliated with gangs, according to Colorado Springs police data. They don’t often fall into the roles of leaders, and people who are familiar with the lifestyle don’t believe there are any local girl-only gangs.

“In Colorado Springs, female associates and confirmed gang members often support the criminal activity of their male counterparts by providing cars, houses and accounts in their names,” said Sgt. Jason Ledbetter, who supervises the Police Department’s Gang Unit. “Therefore, it makes tracking the male gang members more difficult.”

Though “there is very little data” about female gang members, Ledbetter said, programs such as Second Chance Through Faith make an effort to reach at-risk girls at a young age.

Lisa Medina, the program’s executive director, visits juvenile facilities. Though her program is faith-based, she doesn’t force religion on them. Medina tries to connect with the girls personally, telling them about her own harsh past.

Because she wanted to “fit in,” Medina lived a gang lifestyle in southeast Colorado Springs. That decision led to a drinking problem and an abusive relationship with her then-boyfriend. At age 15, she was at a party when her friend got into a fight with another girl there. Medina said she felt like she had to “step up” for her friend, so she got in the face of the girl’s brother, who was a gang member. He was about 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and equipped with brass knuckles.

“He chased me up to my apartment complex,” she said. “By the time I got to the parking lot, he had me up against a car and beat me so bad that I blacked out and I woke up in the hospital.”

More than 15 years later, Medina often tells this story to girls she mentors.

Second Chance Through Faith was founded in 2009. Most of the youths in the program are boys. Medina and her husband, Estevan, take them out of the streets and corrections facilities to have them help feed the homeless or go on fishing trips. Their words and encouragement usually hit home for the youths because the husband-and-wife duo used to be part of the gang life.

About 60 girls have been through the program since its inception. At present, she works with five girls. Not all of them have gang backgrounds, but some are considered at-risk because of their history of alcohol and drug abuse.

Medina said boys in the program typically enjoy being in groups while the girls tend to argue and fight among each other, so her sessions with the girls are one-on-one. Usually, the girls talk about what they’re going through. Other times they watch movies together and do each other’s makeup.

“Let them be girls and have fun with it,” Medina said.

Medina says it’s easy for girls to look for love elsewhere when they come from fatherless homes with mothers who aren’t always around.

“I try to teach them how to love themselves, how to set their standard higher and focus on school,” she says. “Focus on things that are important right now and not get into that path of destruction right away because they’ll regret it later.”

Nazareya Auglia, 15, is trying to find a better path.

She is from Pueblo, where gang violence is reportedly on the rise. Her father was close to that lifestyle. And when she was with her friends, she said she’d start “random fights (with) people just for the fun of it.”

She wanted to make a change after a friend shot himself dead this past summer, and she learned of Second Chance Through Faith. Nazareya met someone she could relate to in Medina.

And the mother of Sad Girl hopes her daughter will take advantage of that kind of help.

“I’m praying for her to do the right thing because there’s so many opportunities for her right now,” the mother says. “Lisa is there for her, Estevan is there for her. They’ll be there for her, and I’ll be there for her. Just like before, I’m not going to leave her.”

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Information from: The Gazette, https://www.gazette.com

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