Fri, May 30, 2014 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Ex-gang member reforms herself

HARD-KNOCK LIFE:It took CCTV footage of her friends abandoning her in a time of need for Mao Su-chen to leave the gang and push herself to finish her education

By Tsai Wen-chu and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Former gang member Mao Su-chen holds up one of her paintings in Greater Tainan on Saturday.

Photo: Tsai Wen-chu, Taipei Times

After spending two years on the streets of Greater Tainan with a gang, 20-year-old Mao Su-chen (毛素真) one day realized that her fellow gang members’ professed loyalty and friendship were a sham, prompting her to go back to school, where she discovered a talent for drawing.

Mao said that although her parents worked hard, the family’s finances were always strained. Both her parents are deaf and mute, and her father’s work as a plasterer did not guarantee a stable income.

Although her mother had steady pay from her job as a dish washer at a local factory, she only earned NT$10,000 a month and was often picked on by some of the other workers.

Anxious to help out, Mao started working at restaurants while in junior-high school, a job she said often required her to stay up until the early hours of the morning, which resulted in her missing a lot of class.

At one point, she racked up so many absences that she dropped out of school, Mao said, adding that she started taking parts at local temple ceremonies with a group of friends to earn extra money.

After quitting school Mao went deeper into gang life and she recounted collecting debts from people who owed gang members money or beating people up simply because one of the gang did not like them, Mao said, adding that the members often vowed to be there for each other no matter what, like a scene out of the 2010 Taiwanese movie Monga (艋舺).

Monga is about gangs in Taipei’s Monga area — current-day Wanhua District (萬華) — in the early 1980s and how young people then interacted. The film stresses that the gangs were not a traditional criminal organization, but a kind of brotherhood whose members stood up for and protected each other.

Mao said she started on the path to reformation when she saw one of her friends being chased by another person. Mao immediately rushed to her friend’s defense and ended up hospitalized after fracturing her left arm. Mao said her uncle had to sell his scooter to pay for the surgery to mend the break.

The moment she realized that the gang’s pledges of loyalty were false came when police showed Mao CCTV footage of the incident so they could identify the person responsible for breaking her arm. Upon viewing the footage, Mao said she was shocked to see all of her “so-called friends” scattering as she ran to help the person being chased.

“It was then that I realized what a sham their ‘friendship’ was and also how deeply I had hurt my parents with my behavior,” Mao said, adding that she resolved to find a stable job and cut all ties to the gang.

However, she found that no matter how many CVs she sent out, the gang tattoo on her left forearm that had once been a source of pride made her unemployable in the eyes of many prospective bosses.

Determined to turn her life around, Mao finally met a tea store owner who was willing to hire her and she has been working there ever since, earning NT$25,000 per month, which is NT$3,000 more than the average salary for college graduates.

Mao said she used her wages to enroll at Kunshan Junior High School, in the continuing education department.

Her efforts to reform herself and academic performance earned Mao the Greater Tainan mayor’s award and she is to receive her junior-high school certificate next month.

Weng Kuo-chin (翁國欽), head of the school’s continuing education department, said Mao was once socially marginalized, but had turned herself around and the journey she underwent to discover her values and subsequent efforts to live up to them made her an ideal role model for young people.

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