DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) - Michael Cunningham and Aaron Wilder are from rival gangs - the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords - but they both lived very similar lives.
"The only thing that group did was prepare me for prison," said Wilder, reflecting on what he wishes he knew back then. "They flashed all of this cash and they showed me the women and the fast cars but instead of telling me to go get a job and you can get this they said, here's some dope, go sell this."
Wilder, now 39 years old, said he was initiated into the Gangster Disciples when he was 13. Now, he serves as an advocate for youth empowerment.
"I believe these kids are getting involved at a younger age but it's not the same," he explained. "No disrespect to these younger guys now, but I think that what they have going on is watered down. When we grew up we saw murders and people with millions of dollars. We saw a lot of bad stuff that 13-year-old shouldn't have been seeing."
Michael Cunningham, an ex-Vice Lord, said this is something he agrees with.
"You have these kids running around thinking they are in a gang but they don't know anything about the gang," said Cunningham. "They're running around like puppets. All they know is what they've seen on TV or what they're drunk dope feign uncle was doing."
Now, both men serve as positive roll models in the community.
"I need these young cats to know something - if you're ready to get out of the life, you call me and I'll walk with you until you are done with that life," said Cunningham.