JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As the discussion continues about prison conditions and rival gangs, two former gang members are using their organization to spread unity.
Keewin Grayer and Kenneth Daggans met in prison. Both Gangster Disciples, they worked their way up the ranks, but they knew there had to be more to life than crime and prison.
“Being a reformed Gangster Disciple, what it means to me is that it’s a reformation within itself. It’s something we became when we were younger as children, and there are things that we were taught then that just weren’t right,” Grayer said.
Daggans spent 17 years in prison, eight of those in solitary confinement. Grayer was behind bars for 24 years. Both say that experience changed their lives.
“We became leaders together. Me and this brother right here in the penitentiary, amongst all of the inhumane conditions we lived under, we came together and came to the conclusion that we’re the leaders and we’re going to stand up as leaders," he said.
On Thursday, they stood side by side at a prayer rally for conditions inside the prisons, representing their organization, Blackfist Outreach Ministries. Their aim is to use the lives they’ve lived as gang members and inmates to teach a better way to a younger generation. The emblem of Blackfist incorporates both the Gangster Disciples’ six-pointed star and the Vice Lords’ five point star.
“The six point star stands for love, life, loyalty, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. The five point star stands for love, truth, peace, freedom, and justice. What they have in common is love, and if they have love in common, then there’s no separation between us,” said Daggans.
As far as prison conditions go, they both said that based on their experience, there need to be several things fixed, starting with the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ hiring practices. Grayer said there needs to be better pay and a better screening process for the guards.
He also recounted to the group about how guards would punish whole groups of inmates because one would stand up against unfair practices, thus causing dissention among inmates.
Both men said the conditions they overcame, both on the streets and in the prisons, has driven them to want to save other young people who might get caught in that life.