Former gang member says clean, new life is possible
- EFN Staff | March 16, 2017
Alyssa Witchekan is proving to everyone that change is possible. From living a high-risk lifestyle involved in a Saskatoon gang, she turned her life around knowing that her children were more important. With help from a few organizations in the city, Witchekan was able to transition out of the gang life and addiction from drugs. But she didn’t grow up in those surroundings until she moved from the reserve life to the urban life.
“The kind of life I was living was nothing like I had growing up. I don’t know where I picked that up,” she says. “I never looked at gang life as a real thing, it just looked fake to me I moved here in Saskatoon and I got involved in it so bad.”
Witchekan was in a relationship with a guy who was a high-ranking gang member. They both struggled to try living in two worlds – gang and non-gang lifestyle but they couldn’t. The 33-year-old mother of six had her children apprehended five-years ago when she was caught deep into the spiral of a hard lifestyle and an abusive relationship.
“At that time I was an addict I told myself I could live that lifestyle and be a parent,” she says.
It was a year later that she decided to leave that life behind. She attended her ex-partner’s court hearing and she handed a letter to the judge before a decision was made. It was a letter stating that she chose to go for full custody of her children alone and that she no longer wanted to be a part of a life that she tried desperately to escape. Her ex-partner questioned her actions and although she knew it was the hardest decision she ever made, she knew it was for the best.
“I said [to my ex-partner] I’m sorry and I love you but I have to think about myself and my children. This is what matters. They are always going to need me no matter what,” she says. “I’ve been separated from him for four years now and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever did to make that choice. As much as I wanted a family with a mom, dad and the kids together, living that lifestyle was never going to mix well.”
It wasn’t long after when she had a scary life-changing moment to leave this high-risk lifestyle. Witchekan recalls a time at 3 o’clock in the morning right in the core neighbourhood, she spotted someone in a vehicle in the nearby parking lot.
“I went to go stand out on the balcony and shot towards me with a gun. That’s what changed everything,” she says. “It was extremely scary… that morning I knew my life was truly unmanageable not knowing when and if I'd live to see tomorrow.”
Witchekan made that choice to leave a life of addiction, violence, abuse and gangs behind but it wasn’t an easy transition for her to make. She had the help of EGADZ and Str8-Up – non-profit organizations in Saskatoon that help foster the well being of youth in Saskatoon. Witchekan also took parenting classes and workshops in order to get her children back. She often reflects on the life she lived compared to where she is now – Witchekan looks at her life experiences as stepping stones which made her the stronger mother that she is today.
“It keeps getting better for me and my kids. You got to work towards happiness,” she says. “Everyday I try to think of where I was and how bad it was that’s what helps me.”
Witchekan graduated through a program at EGADZ called Baby Steps where parents build on their parenting skills and mothers who work on their individual issues with in-house and community supports. Witchekan is the first person from that program that left the high-risk gang lifestyle and since then it has opened doors for women who are leaving jail, addictions and gang-life.
Her advice for those who are struggling to leave a high-risk lifestyle behind is to never give up and surround yourself with a strong support system.
“My dad was always there me. No matter how bad it was and how late at night it was, I always had my dad there,” she says. “It’s crazy how many supports are out there…reach out and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Never give up on yourself.”