Former Gangster Painting Over Graffiti - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

3/30/04 - Tyler

Former Gangster Painting Over Graffiti

On a school day like today, a few years ago, Alex Martinez would have been skipping class and out causing trouble. But today, Alex and his mentor, Mr. Phil, are out painting over graffiti, reminding Alex of the days when he used to spray paint his gang sign on city property. Alex started hanging out with the wrong crowd when he was 13 and had just moved to Lufkin.

"They were like, you want to hang around with us?" Alex said. "You know, I was like, all right 'cause, you know, I had nobody 'cause I was new at that place 'cause we moved around a lot."

Drive-by shootings, drugs, alcohol, and fights became a way of life. Alex's family later moved to Tyler, where he joined another gang. His crimes got him arrested and locked up twice. Just over a year ago, the court put Alex on probation and ordered him to get his GED at the Boys & Girls Club in Tyler. That's where he met Phil Anderson, who helped Alex clean up his life.

"I didn't see nothing good about it no more," Alex said. "It got old. Alex says he left his gangster friends and found a friend in Phil. We talk a lot to each other, what happens, you know. I tell him everything. He's a good person to trust."

And Phil understands kids like Alex.

"I've been there," Phil, program coordinator for Tyler Against Graffiti, said. "For more than 20 years, I was a drug addict and involved with gangs. When you get kids like Alex, it makes your job worthwhile."

Alex has already completed his required community service. But he says he'll continue to volunteer for as long as he's needed. Alex says he's been drug free for more than a year. He completed his GED and plans to enroll in TJC's auto repair program this fall.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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