Gangs continue to extend a strong influence around the United States, impacting most urban areas and spreading into suburban and rural communities. With approximately one million members actively involved, gangs account for up to 80% of crimes in some communities. Amidst crime and antisocial activities associated with gangs, gangs continue to be a strong allure for youth. Much research has investigated reasons for youth joining gangs; however, there is a lack of research exploring the kinds of experiences youths receive while living the gang life. According to Utah statistics, Pacific Islander youth are at high risk of joining a gang: A disproportionately high percentage of Utah gang members are of Pacific Islander decent. Pacific Islanders make up less than 1% of Utah's population while composing 13% of Utah's gang population and 1.6% of Utah's state prison population. Minimal research has been conducted to understand the kinds of experiences Pacific Islander youths experience while with the gang. This information is critical to informing effective prevention and intervention efforts. Addressing this need, this retrospective qualitative study focused on four males, Utah Pacific Islander former gang members who experienced gang life while in their youth. During one-on-one interviews with the primary investigator, each individual described his personal gang experiences, providing four detailed stories/descriptions of everyday lived experiences. Each interview portrayed themes of feeling respected, having access to things desired, feeling a family bond, and having the presence of significant others in their lives. Based on information shared in these four interviews, the discussion section summarizes implications for intervention and practice, providing insights to better understand underlying needs of Pacific Islander youth and reasons for entry into, continued activity in, and eventual exit from gang life.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





former gang affiliation, Pacific Islander, perceptions, qualitative research