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Former gang member shares story

Christin Kloski | Monday, February 27, 2012


Saint Mary’s Student Government Association (SGA) kicked off its “Proud Past, Promising Future” leadership series with speaker Chad Gaines on Monday night.

Gaines, who is a professional speaker and a 2004 winner of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award, was a former gang member, has overcome drug and alcohol addictions and survived two car accidents. 

“I was physically abused, addicted to cocaine, stabbed, shot in the face and survived cars accidents,” he said. “But God had a plan for me.” 

The Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award is given annually by the United States Junior Chamber to ten Americans between 18 and 40 years of age who “exemplify the best attributes of the nation’s young people.” 

Gaines has spoken to thousands of students around the country to help inspire them to start off new lives.

“There are four parts of change that you need to become a leader,” Gaines said.

“They are what you hear, what you see, what you read and who you hang out with.”

Negative influences of peers, as well as an unstable family, greatly affected Gaines’ life, he added. 

During his younger years, Gaines said he lived a life of corruption and was sent to prison 15 times. 

His participation in gang life destroyed his teen years up to his young adulthood, and he was sent to prison for gang involvement, he said.

But one day, he knew he had to change.

“One morning at 4 a.m., I woke up to the bells of the court house and thought, ‘I do not want to live my life like this anymore,'” Gaines said. “I asked God if He is real, then I would do whatever He needs me to do to live a better life.”

After being released from prison at age 26, Gaines said the first thing he did was go to a Goodwill outlet, buy a $15 suit and go to church. 

He said that when he entered, the entire church stared back at him. 

“Half of those people in the church I had terrorized in some way,” Gaines said.

Gaines had never been to church before that day. The pastor noticed his arrival and called Gaines to the front to give a speech about his life. 

Gaines said he spoke about his struggles and his search to find a better life. 

After his speech at the church, Gaines was asked to speak at Notre Dame. Weeks later after visiting Notre Dame, Gaines said he received hundreds of emails from other colleges asking for him to visit, he said. 

“Going out and speaking changed me, but I took everything for granted,” he said. “I did not give any glory to God. If you do not humble yourself, God will humble you.”

But Gaines said only weeks after he was finally financially stable again, he went back to prison. 

While in prison this time, Gaines had a stroke, was left by his wife and son and lost all of his money. 

When he was released, he said he wanted to start over. Gaines moved to Warsaw, Ind., and worked to provide food and a roof over his head.

After taking on various jobs, Gaines said he realized God had a plan for him: Keep speaking to more and more schools across the nation. 

“By putting God first, I learned where I needed to be,” he said. 

Gaines now works to help students find their way even while they struggle with personal issues. He said it is important that students find a person who they feel comfortable around. He added teachers should relate more to their students. 

“Think about your choices, because they can so easily change your life,” Gaines said. “Think about who your peers are to see if they are leading you to make good or bad choices. Mistakes of the past do not equal the future.”