HARTFORD -- After living a life of gang violence for years and spending time in prison for it, Iran Nazario found hope for a better life. He turned his life around and is working to spread that hope to young people in Hartford.
Nazario joined the Los Solidos gang when he was just 11.
"It's addicting. All of a sudden you're addicted to that life: The fast money, the girls, guns, fighting, all addictive," said Nazario.
He spent part of his late teens and early 20's in prison for gang related crimes, but knew he had to pull himself off the streets.
“Being in a gang, although you feel like it’s a brotherhood and in a family. The reality is that conflict is going to be around the corner every second of the day, depending on what neighborhood you’re in. And I didn't want to live like that anymore," he said.
Nazario turned his life around and for the past 11 years he's been working to try to help others do the same with Peacebuilders. It's a community outreach program that focuses on gang prevention, violence mediation, and youth engagement. Peacebuilders go out to the streets on nights and weekends where they know gangs are going to be, where the fights are supposed to happen, and show them there's another way, a better way. The Peacebuilders are out on the streets of the South End every weekend.
“I was homeless, in Hartford for three and a half years, in city prisons, federal prison, but the one thing I realized was there was hope somewhere. And if I could change enough and believe in myself enough that eventually things were gonna happen," said Nazario.
"They realize we've been there, we're people from the community," explained another Peacebuilder Janet Rice. "We come from the same community. We walk the same streets that they walk. We live in the same communities that they come from.”
Rice works in Hartford schools trying to prevent kids from turning to gangs and violence. Rice lives in Hartford and wants to serve her community, but her passion is even more personal. She lost her son to street violence in 2012. Shane was not a gang member -- he was shot after stepping in to stop a couple's argument that was getting physical.
"I'm doing it for my son, my granddaughters," she said. "I'm doing it for the mothers like me so they don’t have to go through what I went through, what I've gone through.”
The pursuit of peace on Hartford’s streets isn't an easy one. But it's one the Peacebuilders won't give up. Nazario is evidence that change is possible, never easy, but possible.
“Once you feel that the opportunity exists, hope is right around the corner," said Nazario.