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With a muscular build and biceps that threaten to burst through his shirt sleeves, Shane White’s physical presence is formidable.
But his large stature appears small next to the size of his heart, which grew dramatically when White took his life from gangland to Holy Land.
White, now 31, was 12 and in the sixth grade when he got high on drugs the first time. When he was 14, he was initiated into the Crips gang in the backyard of his Killeen home.
“As far as my home life, it wasn’t terrible. We were a typical middle class family,” said White, who now lives in Copperas Cove. “My neighborhood was decent, but around the corner was a bad area like Marlboro Heights, and curiosity got the best of me.”
White’s problems started when, at five years old, he was molested by a family friend. He started cutting himself when he was 6 and spent his childhood searching for acceptance. That’s when he turned to gangs.
“This isn’t no California or Chicago, but gangs are here. I am fortunate that I never committed any murders,” White said. “I was mainly into stealing, hustling and drug trafficking. My (reputation) around town was as a drug dealer.”
At the time, White belonged to the 107 Hoovers, a branch of the Crips organization.
“I knew a lot of people dying from drug overdoses or killed by gang violence or in jail. I’ve been to many funerals of people who died at a young age — 19, 20, 21 — because of gang violence,” White said. “I watched everyone in the gang going to jail. I saw my chance to get away.”
Several close calls that could’ve ended his life made White re-evaluate his decisions and his future.
“I got severely beaten at a party one day and almost died,” White said. “I overdosed several times. I couldn’t say how many times. I had so much stuff up my nose. One month after my 22nd birthday, I was shooting (cocaine) and drinking. I cut myself 28 times using my body as a canvas.”
He woke up in a hospital and later was referred to a faith-based shelter for men where he spent the next six months. He said his life changed on Sept. 20, 2004 — his first day at the shelter where spent the next six months.
Now, nearly a decade later, White knows getting out of the gang didn’t mean he would truly get away — at least from the reputation he earned as a gangster. “By the world standard, I will always be known as a gang member. People still see me that way,” he said. “I have no claim to gangs or street life, but people still label me that way.”
White trained in the ministry from 2006 to 2008, and in January 2012, he became the pastor of Mission Casa in one of Cove’s poorest and most crime-riddled areas.
“I can relate to people here. I’ve been where a lot of them are at. They live by the gun,” White said. “They can now get help from someone who has tasted the other side.”
Copperas Cove Police Officer William Hughes said all cities in the U.S. have gang activity — Cove included. But gangs are not confined to lower-income areas.
“Cove does not have gang activity in the traditional sense, like in Dallas or Houston, but it is here and not just in specific neighborhoods,” Hughes said. “But there are not daily occurrences. Here in Cove, our level of gang activity is isolated at best.”