A Spokane drug counselor would like to see the U.S. military reinstitute the draft.
He also wants Washington state to lower the age at which children can get a job.
“When I was 16, I left home and thought I was Billy Bad Butt,” said Rob Watters, a drug treatment supervisor with the NATIVE Project. “But then the Marine Corps got a hold of me.”
Watters said he volunteered for the service before he was drafted. He believes the military is a good way to get gang members off the streets while helping them to learn discipline and respect for authority.
Watters shared his insights on gang life at a neighborhood training seminar called “Stop the Violence” last week at the offices of the NATIVE Project, 1803 W. Maxwell.
The organization provides drug rehabilitation to young people throughout Spokane County.
Watters’ violence prevention seminar was aimed at parents, volunteers and neighbors concerned about keeping kids away from gangs and drugs. About 15 people attended the day-long session.
Before moving to Spokane in 1991, Watters spent 22 years working for the Los Angeles Police Department’s gang unit.
Years on the streets led Watters to the conclusion that kids who are working are less tempted to join gangs.
Watters also said the state ought to consider lowering the legal working age from 16 to 15 and possibly 14.
“What can a kid 14 or 15 do right now when school is out?” he said.
Watters also issued a warning to Spokane residents who shudder when they hear out-of-town businesses are considering moving to the area.
“Every time I hear somebody say, ‘We don’t want to grow,’ I ask them, ‘OK, where are the kids going to work?”’
In addition to a lack of economic opportunities, kids today still face the temptation to use drugs, something at the heart of gang membership, he said.
Though drug use among older Americans has dropped in the past few years, today’s substance abuse levels are still higher among adults than 30 or 40 years ago, said Toni Lodge, director of the NATIVE Project.
Lodge said adult drug use has a direct influence on kids.
“We’re looking at generations of learned violence,” Lodge said. “It’s a progression of sicker and sicker kids. Some don’t even have the ability to distinguish right from wrong.”
Watters said the problems of drugs and gangs cuts across all socio-economic lines and neighborhoods.
“I’d say half of all the kids that receive drug treatment supervision here are white males about 15 to 16,” Watters said.
One of those kids is “Red.”
He’ll turn 18 in a couple of weeks, and hopefully celebrate three months of sobriety. After getting caught shoplifting earlier this year, a Juvenile Court judge made “Red” get drug counseling.
“It’s (NATIVE Project) a place to hang out and stay sober. It’s worth trying,” he said.
“Red” got his nickname for his fiery red mane which is shaved on both sides and long in the back.
He wouldn’t reveal his real name. The NATIVE Project promises confidentiality to patients receiving treatment.
“Red” said he started smoking marijuana at age 12 and continued to do so for the next five years “like they were cigarettes.”
Watters said if he had his way, mandatory parental attendance would be part of a child’s rehabilitation. But he knows that would be tough to enforce.
“We get stood up by the parents more than the kids half the time when we ask them to come to the center,” Watters said.
Watters said the key to eliminating gangs is for adults to get involved in the lives of kids, and not just their own.
“Become a coach for a youth sports team,” Watters said. “They need people who are willing to lead by example.”
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