Salvador Gerolaga had no choice.
"My dad and 11 uncles were in gangs," he said. "They recruited me at a young age. They trained me. I was manipulated. If I would have had the right resources, I would have never been involved."
Gerolaga, 37, founded the Gang Educational Awareness Rehabilitation and Understanding Program (G.E.A.R.U.P.) in March.
G.E.A.R.U.P. will provide inpatient treatment for 30, 60 and 90 days for youth on drugs and involved in criminal street gangs, counseling on victim awareness, anger management, substance abuse, parenting skills and gang prevention, adult education, and resume writing, job search and employment.
Participants will be referred through Juvenile Judge Court, Child Protective Services, cases and partnership agencies.
"I never thought I'd change," Gerolaga said. "I had my mind set on dying for other people or doing life in prison. I was a monster. I was hurting other people. I used to manipulate kids to get involved in drugs and gangs. I realize what I did was wrong. I want to relay a message and give a testimony of my life."
Gerolaga said he's willing to risk his own life to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
"I didn't think I'd be alive this long," he said. "Once you drop out, it's an automatic death penalty. Recently, a gang made an attempt on my life. I got stabbed two times at my mom's house. I survived it. Instead of retaliating, I walked way."
Gerolaga was incarcerated for 15 years in three different prisons.
He was arrested on possession of firearm and commercial burglary charges.
In 2008, Gerolaga started having doubts about gang life after receiving a letter from his mom when he was imprisoned in Corcoran.
"She told me my little brother was in California Youth Authority (CYA)," he said. "He wanted to be like me. That broke my heart. I decided from that point to disassociate."
Salvador used to be a member of the Nuestra Familia gang.
"I plan on doing presentations and seminars throughout schools," he said. I'm showing the youth a better way. I'm teaching parents how gangs destroy families. I'll be working closely with law enforcement."
A gang member for 20-plus years, Gerolaga has many regrets in his life.
Hurting his mother emotionally ranks at the top of the list.
"I got recruited when I was 14 into a criminal organization," he said. "The teaching is so powerful. It's manipulation. The whole objective is power and money. It's really organized. I changed my ways. I know what I'm doing is right. I want to help the youth and give them a second chance at life. It's going to help the community."
Gerolaga is trying to secure funding to purchase a house in Ceres that would serve as the center of operations for his non-profit drug and gang residential living treatment program.
"I opened an account and put my own money in there," said Salvador, who makes $8 an hour picking cherries and fertilizing orchards on farms in the Ceres/Keyes areas. "I got everything except finances. I just need a little help."
Gerolaga recently submitted a job application with Frito Lay. He plans to complete his high-school education in Turlock this year. He needs three credits to graduate.