Stephanie says her 16-year-old stepson, Bill, has been in a gang for more than a year — and has admitted to selling drugs and robbing people at gunpoint. She also believes he witnessed a murder, and she says she fears for her family’s safety. She says the family has tried everything to straighten out the teen’s life, but Bill refuses to cut off his affiliation with the gang. Bill’s father, Jeremy, and mother, Gina, say they believe their son is involved in illegal activities but admit that they don’t want to know the extent. Fearing Bill will be imprisoned or killed, the family turns to Dr. Phil for help. Bill says being in a gang gives him “a feeling of power,” and he’d do anything for his “brothers” — even die for them or get locked up. Does he feel the same about his own family? Dr. Phil asks Bill a question he’s never asked a teen before — and the answer leaves everyone speechless. Then, two former gang members who turned their lives around have an important message for Bill. Will their stories make an impact? Plus, former prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin weighs in about the risks she believes Bill is taking.
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“Blood In, Blood Out”
“My 16-year-old stepson, Bill, is in a gang,” Stephanie says, adding that the teen’s life in the gang is “horrifying.”
“When I first found out Bill was in a gang, I couldn’t believe my ears,” says Bill’s mother, Gina.
“I never thought my son would become a gang-banger,” Bill’s father, Jeremy, says. “It was like someone shot me in the heart.” He continues, “Bill told me that he was selling drugs for the gang.”
“He has robbed people at gunpoint. He acts as an enforcer — he uses his size to intimidate rival gang members and beat them up,” Stephanie says. “He thinks his brothers love him but they’re just using him. He believes that they are his family. I’ve told Bill, ‘They’re grooming you, manipulating you, but they’ll kill you just as soon as they’d shake your hand.’ He tells us, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want. Nothing you say makes a difference. I’m going to be in this for life.’ And he tells me, ‘I’m not afraid to die. If I die, then I die.’ He told his grandmother that they ran into a rival gang and that one of the guys shot at one of the other guys and that they just took off running. There’s talk around town. The rival gang saw Bill there, because he is white and sticks out like a sore thumb, and that they were looking for him. That’s when I started sleeping with a gun next to me. I am terrified he will be killed, because they know where we live.”
“We were always close, and I don’t know what happened, or how this all came about,” Jeremy says, growing tearful. “I feel helpless.”
“It’s been very dramatic change in the past year. He was doing great. He was getting good grades, but this gang has brainwashed him and taken over,” Stephanie says, tearfully. “I love him like a son. I can’t imagine the guilt I would have if I didn’t do everything I could to save him.”
“There are only two ways out of the gang. It’s blood in, blood out. You don’t get out alive,” Jeremy says.
Stephanie tells Dr. Phil, “I feel like he’s going to die or end up in prison for life.”
“What went wrong here, Dad?”
“I really don’t understand what happened,” Jeremy says. He explains that his son was on the honor roll at school and doing well, and then he changed — becoming angry and posting images with drug paraphernalia on his social networking accounts.
“It’s been said that in the absence of true leadership, people will follow anything or anybody,” Dr. Phil says. “Has there been an absence of leadership here? Have you failed to step up and lead this boy?”
“I guess, somewhere, maybe, I did,” he says.
Dr. Phil asks Gina if she’s talked with her son about his life. Gina says she spoke with her son yesterday about what he’s done, and he admitted to her that he has robbed empty homes.
“What he’s saying is he’s a full and active member of one of the 10 largest gangs in the United States,” Dr. Phil says.
Bill explains why he’d kill, die or go to prison for his “brothers” in the gang.
Bill’s parents are all in tears after seeing his interview.
“I’m shocked again,” Jeremy says.
“I never thought that would be my son,” Gina says.
“He said he was in the presence of a murder, where they took out somebody’s brain and slapped it around and then urinated on it,” Dr. Phil says.
“I hope he’s lying. I hope he’s lying,” Gina says.
“Are you lying?” Dr. Phil asks Bill.
“Unfortunately, I’m not lying,” he says.
“I just feel like you are — you’re a better person than this stuff, and I just can’t believe you could go out and do those things, and see those things, and just go home like nothing happened. That’s really scary to me,” Stephanie says.
Dr. Phil asks a question he’s never asked a teen before, and his family reacts. “What is wrong with you? How do you sleep at night?”
“Where’s your heart? Where’s your heart and soul at in all of this? Seriously,” Stephanie says.
“Do you have any concern for your family here, for these folks?” Dr. Phil asks Bill.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Do you think they’re more at risk because of your behavior than they would be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing?”
“I’ve put them in danger. I did do that,” he says.
Stephanie says she fears Bill will be dead within a year. “Maybe us too,” she says.
“Just so you know, your chances of dying by murder if you’re in a gang are 60-times normal,” Dr. Phil says. “Sixty-times higher risk for murder if you’re in a gang than if you’re not.”
Bill says he needs help, but his family is doubtful. “He wants to have his cake and eat it too.”
“If what you’re saying is true, you’re in a lot of trouble, buddy.”
Life Turned Around
James says he joined a gang at just 12 years old and lived a life on the streets that nearly cost him his life several times:
“I came from a dysfunctional home, so when I met this group of individuals who became my friends, I felt a part of something. My gang was my family and my whole world,” James explains. “At 12 years old, first thing was just fighting, we’d have football games with rival neighborhoods, and it was just fun, and then it escalated from jumpings to stabbings and then the guns came, and it just became a war zone. The more evil things I did, the more I was respected, the more I was liked. I’ve been involved with numerous shootings, and I’ve been shot on three different occasions. I have numerous near-death experiences. I had my best friend die in my arms. He actually took my bullets. They were meant for me. So I became angry, hurt, and I wanted to get revenge. I spent over 20 years of my life and in out of prison, due to my gang affiliation. I became a more violent person inside there. I became a monster. The best way I would describe prison is lonely, it’s miserable, it’s cold, it’s heartless, and there isn’t anybody in there who cares about you. It was a lot of wasted years. I did all that evil and all that damage for nothing.”
James tells Bill, “I felt the same exact feelings you felt, and it was my whole world, but after you get older, after I sat all those years in that lonely prison cell and facing 27-to-life on my own, by myself, and no one accepting my phone calls, no packages, nobody there, I realized — excuse my language — I’m a dumbass. I picked the wrong career here.”
James says he went to prison for assault with a deadly weapon on rival gang members.
Dr. Phil points out that he was protecting his gang. “So, when you go to prison, you’d expect that they’re there for you.”
“I didn’t get any letters — no visits, nothing,” James says. “It’s out of sight out of mind.” He tells Bill, “I understand wanting to be respected, I understand wanting to be loved, but be your own man, be a leader. You have a nice, big, loving family — what are you thinking?”
Sunny Hostin, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, joins via Polycom. She tells Bill exactly what he’s risking. “There’s no love between these brothers. There’s no love at all.”
James Burns says he ran away at 14 and found himself trapped in the life of violent gang activity. His shocking and gritty story became the inspiration for the new movie, Jamesy Boy
, starring some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Check out the trailer for Jamesy Boy.
See a scene in Jamesy Boy that marked a turning point for James. And, what does he think of Bill’s story?
Dr. Phil tells Bill’s parents, “Clearly, whether what he says is true or not … I guarantee you, if he’s involved in this gang, there is a list of felonies that can be brought to bear on this young man. And as parents, you need to understand, he’s told you what you wanted to hear before. He goes home, the phone rings, he’ll answer it and be right back out there … Don’t let that happen.” He offers a chance for Bill to go to the Center for Discovery, a structured therapeutic treatment center.
Dr. Mathew Polacheck, program director for the Center for Discovery, says, “I really think the separation would be great. A chance for him to work on his identity and learn to love himself. I think you really deserve this opportunity, and Dr. Phil is so generously providing it.”
“I agree,” Bill says.
“Whatever part of what you’re saying is reality, whatever part is fantasy, your moral compass is gone, and you need some healing, and this family needs some healing,” Dr. Phil says.
After the Show
After the show, the District Attorney’s office in Bill’s hometown was notified about the homicides he claimed he was involved in, and they opened an immediate investigation. Dr. Phil
cooperated with the District Attorney’s office, and they recently notified us that, after a thorough investigation, they found no corroboration for Bill’s claims. Bill accepted Dr. Phil’s offer to turn his life around, and he’s currently working to better himself as a young man.