Personally I think gang membership is the more insidious of the two. The way I see it, some kids recognize that they have a problem with drugs and seek help. There are numerous rehab agencies throughout northern California. With pages of listings for meetings of various 12-step groups, even those with limited means are able to find a place to attend and, with some good fortune, even a worthy sponsor. It's not easy, but with massive effort, support within the community, some goals and opening doors, many find a way out, especially if they weren't too far in to begin with. If they got as far as methamphetamine, well, that's a different story.
Leaving a gang is more problematic. To begin with, it's a generational issue. It's not unusual to have grandparents, parents and the teens all with the same gang affiliation. With such a strong cultural identity it feels normal to belong. Also, leaving a gang makes one suspect and retaliation can be expected. Some kids are given protected status and even agree to have their tats removed. Later they quietly leave the area. But leaving the area means saying goodbye to family and extended family, friends both in and out of the gang. It is a lonely choice and frankly, it is often safer to stay within the protected environs of the local gang.
There are three major street gangs here that I know of - Norteños, Sureños and Asian Boyz. Asian Boyz are the newest, begun in Los Angeles as a way to offer help and protection from the Mexican gangs to Cambodian and Laotian youth. It gets complicated and, to the participants, it feels necessary.
To be continued......