ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Three children shot, two innocent victims dead in drive-by shootings that Orange County Sheriff John Mina says gangs are responsible for.
“It bothers me to know that a 3-year-old has lost his life,” said Barry Carson, Jr.
Carson says he’s been part of street life but says he says he was never personally involved in gun violence.
“Ain’t no telling where I’d be if I hadn’t gone to prison,” Carson said.
He says there is a way out for the young people causing this chaos.
Carson is now 33 years old. He owns his own business and runs two nonprofits that mentor children. It’s a stark contrast to where he was from the ages of 16-23 when he was up to no good living the street life, selling drugs.
“I had big respect for the big homies and the OG’s and for the people that were over me, the people who did their time before me. I had big respect,” he said. “It was an outlet. It was a resource that was needed at the time.”
At 21, he did a stint in jail for possession of drugs. At 23, he was thrown in prison for trafficking. With three years behind bars, he had nothing but time on his hands to think.
“Once I realized the same thing I loved, which was the streets or those attached to the streets, didn’t love me back... that was a big wake up call for me. A big eye-opener,” Carson said.
About halfway through his prison sentence, a pastor visited the facility talking about his time on the streets.
Carson could relate. Over a series of weeks, the pastor showed the inmates how he turned his life around, telling them that they could do the same.
“And he was praying and he was preaching and I went down to the service and I just felt something I never felt before. I felt the love I thought I was getting in the streets,” Carson said.
His message to the young gang members shooting up houses not knowing or caring who’s on the other side is: “There’s still a way out,” Carson said. “It’s how you going to come out. You going to come out above the ground, not behind [a] barbed wire fence? Doing something productive for yourself and those who love you.”
Carson’s nonprofits Big Bro Lil Bro and Big Sis Lil Sis have are currently serving 26 kids. He says they offer what these children aren’t getting at home or in school: Mental health counseling, tutors and mentors in fields that interest them.
Thursday night, Mayor Jerry Demings released a statement saying he would soon create a task force aimed at curbing gang violence. Along with clergy, law enforcement and community leaders, Carson recommends he adds a few former gang members. He feels these young gang members would relate to someone who’s been in their shoes and found their way out, and is succeeding at living a legal and productive life.