An Ex-Hells Angel Tells Us What it Takes to Beat Addiction

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When I sat down with former full patch Hells Angel Joe Calendino earlier this month, it was on the heels of a deadly week of gang shootings across Metro Vancouver.
 

It started with one dead in Surrey on August 30, followed by another shooting that killed an 18-year-old and wounded another teen in Abbotsford August 31. A man and a woman were then found with fatal gunshot wounds in Langley in the early hours of September 1. And two days later, on September 3, a 35-year-old man was shot to death further east in Chilliwack, BC.

 

Read more from VICE

Keeping at-risk teens away from gang life

Global News Hour @ 6
 

Joe, Brenda, Ary and Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth Initiative participants featured here on Global News for back to school week. This fall, we are expanding our reach to connect with younger kids in response to feedback that the world of drugs, gang and crime is reaching them before they even get to high school. Our proven violence prevention programs will be launched in 12 Elementary Schools this month. 

Learn more: 

Her Excellency Sharon Johnson to Visit Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth Initiative

Vancouver, British Columbia
Thursday, June 1, 12 p.m.

Visit of the Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Program by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston


Mrs. Johnston will visit Spectrum School to learn more about the Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Initiative and to hear from youth beneficiaries about the positive impact the program is having on their lives.
 

Inspired by the real-life experiences of former Hells Angels member Joe Calendino, the Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Initiative started in 2009 as an outreach program for youth at risk of involvement in drugs, violence and gangs. This initiative has developed a range of impactful, life-changing programs delivered in the classroom, out of school and during school breaks. The programs reach elementary- and secondary-level boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

For more information, visit http://ybyg.ca.

Spectrum School, 2530 East 43rd Avenue

OPEN TO MEDIA – Visit of the Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Program
PHOTO OP – At the beginning of the discussion only
MEDIA CONTACT: Joe Calendino, Executive Director, Yo Bro Yo Girl, 778-828-2799, joe@ybyg.ca

 

Expanded early intervention support for Surrey youth

“The City of Surrey understands how programs like Yo Bro | Yo Girl can be the catalyst for kids to find a whole new path and that is central to our new approach under the Public Safety Strategy," - Mayor Linda Hepner

 

The value of early intervention programs was made clear by a former member of the Yo Bro | Yo Girl program. As a teenager in the 10th grade, Ary Azez saw many of his friends going down the path of drugs and gangs, which he knew he didn’t want any part of. Ary went from being a participant in the program to becoming its current Program Facilitator. He is now in his second year of university studying engineering.

“When I got in involved in Yo Bro | Yo Girl it really struck a chord with me, and I saw how I could channel my energy into something more positive” said Ary. “I finally found out how I could surround myself with good influences and to move positively forward”

Hundreds pack Surrey Drugs and Gangs forum

Joe Calendino, an ex-full patch member of the Hells Angels, spoke about the difficulties of getting out of a life of drugs and crime.
 

“Have that open dialogue with your kids. Be able to sit there non-judgemental, and really hear them and allow them to speak to you because we live in a space where we really need to understand our kids.”
 

He says people who label Surrey as a hub for drugs and violence are misguided.

“This started in Vancouver, went out to North Vancouver, moved over to the Fraser Valley, then over to Surrey, then back to Vancouver, have we got any better at what we’ve been doing?” he says.
 

“Let’s start saying this is a Greater Vancouver problem, drug addiction has no boundaries.”

The School of 'hard knocks' in Chilliwack

Kids don't grow up covered in bubble wrap.
 

They witness violence, sometimes experiencing it firsthand at a very young age. They are exposed to alcohol consumption, offered deadly drugs, targeted for sexual advances, and even coerced into gang activity.
 

And it does seem to be happening more and more.
 

But there are people out there trying to intervene in these young people's lives before they run off the rails. People like Joe Calendino, who has been running his Yo Bro Yo Girl group in select Chilliwack schools for three years now.

Yo Bro | Yo Girl 2016 Spring Update

Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Initiative started as a youth outreach program in 2009 with its sole program facilitator and founder, Joe Calendino. Over the past 7 years, Yo Bro Yo Girl has gone from strength to strength and has achieved significant milestones in program development & delivery, youth engagement, and social impact. 
 

Today, Yo Bro Yo Girl Youth Initiative is recognized by principals, teachers, counsellors, law enforcement, and our youth as an essential, high-value program.  We currently serve over 400 at-risk youth in 16 schools in three school districts, Vancouver, Surrey and Chilliwack.
 
As the 2015-2016 School Year comes to a close, we are extremely pleased to share our Spring Update which provides (1) highlights and achievements for the 2015-2016 School Year, (2) how we plan to build on our success in the coming year, and (3) an invitation to make a donation to support our summer program and essential growth for the future.

Ending Addictions Took Courage

You know you’ve hit rock bottom when your behaviour is unacceptable even for an outlaw motorcycle gang.

 

Joe Calendino, the 2014 recipient of a Courage To Come Back award in the addictions category, was a “full patch member” of the Hells Angels, and heavily into drugs.

 

“I was doing crack, percs, oxy, smoking, drinking alcohol,” recalled Calendino before leading students in a martial arts program last week at a Surrey alternative high school to help keep youths from a self-destructive path.

 

“There were multiple fist fights,” he said, of his three years with the club’s Nomads chapter. “One of the reasons I was kicked out of the Hells Angels was for fighting in a casino.”

It was that assault in Kelowna that got Calendino arrested­­— and eventually saved his life.

300 March for Sobriety Ex-Hell's Angel Speaks to Youth

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE – About 300 students from five middle schools in Yellowknife marched in the annual Sober March on Monday to raise awareness about substance abuse.
 

"Today is the start of National Addictions Awareness Week so to sort of highlight that, or bring that into focus, we're having this public walk to celebrate sobriety and wellness and to bring awareness to drug and alcohol abuse, which is a negative thing," said Derek Pluchinski, the community wellness program manager at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, which organized the event.

 

"You can say 'no' to drugs and alcohol, and people who have gone down that path are on the road to recovery and we're celebrating that as well and it's just keeping that awareness to the community."

 

For the second time, the Tree of Peace has asked ex-Hell's Angel Joe Calendino to give a presentation to the middle schoolers.

 

"He was very well received last year and he was voted to come again this year to speak to youth," said Pluchinski.

North Vancouver Students Take A Walk on the Wild Side

VANCOUVER – Police officers from the Odd Squad have given 10 North Shore high school students a firsthand look at the harsh reality of drug and alcohol addiction.

 

David Steverding, a Vancouver police officer and North Vancouver resident, was one of several Odd Squad members who took students from Sutherland secondary on an interactive tour of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Feb. 18. According to Steverding, it's a privilege to live on the North Shore but drug abuse has no boundaries.

 

"The fact remains there are still addiction issues no matter where you go, whether its the Downtown Eastside or the North Shore," he said. "I don't think there is enough educational influence . . . this is just an opportunity to provide one side of the addiction issue to students."

The Odd Squad was created in 1997 and was made up of seven officers from the Vancouver Police Department. Today the squad consists of 22 active and retired police officers from various fields within law enforcement.

 

Joe Calendino, program director for Yo Bro Youth Initiative was also on hand and spoke to the students about his time as a member of the Hell's Angels.

A Life Transformed

He had to hurt people before they hurt him, to prove who he was. He got high from smashing people’s faces in. John was 14 years old when he first started smoking drugs, 15 when he joined a gang, and was kicked out of five schools by the time he was 16.

 

By age 27, married with a baby boy, he was lured into working for the local gang kingpin. The money and power was worth the danger and fear, he thought. Indeed, he gained power, rising through the gangster ranks. Always looking over his shoulder, he constantly feared for his life and those of his wife and young son.

 

True fear, he learned, was the sound of a bullet whistling past his head. John is the main character in Let Me Up, a gritty play presented to students Surrey’s Queen Elizabeth Secondary last week. But the main character and his drug-fuelled, violent, frightening journey isn’t entirely fictional.

 

The drama is based on the life of Joe Calendino, a former full-patch member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. Like John in the play, Calendino was on top of the gang world, trafficking drugs, raking in big bucks and living the high life. Until his so-called friends turfed him. He got deep into drugs himself, snorting cocaine, further alienating his family and finally hitting bottom. Crack-addicted and hovering at a gaunt 140 pounds, Calendino was killing himself. It was then Const. Kevin Torvik came into his life.

Reformed Hells Angel Helps Teens Avoid Gangs

Joe Calendino’s two cellphones ring non-stop as he barks out commands during an early-morning martial-arts class at Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver.

 

Calendino is a popular man these days. Clean and sober, the one-time full-patch Hells Angels Motorcycle Club member and martial-arts expert is taking 22 students through a 45-minute workout before they head off to class.

 

The phone calls, many from at-risk youth from around the Lower Mainland, go to his voice mail. He’ll return the calls later.

 

Calendino was a competitive kick-boxer who practised jiu jitsu and taekwondo and, more recently, tai chi. He is gruff, animated and tough, and his students seem to thrive on the no-nonsense workouts he does with them.

 

With his long, curly, greying hair tucked into a ponytail, Popeye-like arms, barrel chest and piercing brown eyes, Calendino looks like he just stepped off the set of the Sopranos.

“Stop letting your feet touch the ground,” Calendino bellows at one student as the class lies on the floor doing crunches. “What are you doing, man? Don’t let your feet touch the ground.”
 

About five years ago, life unravelled quickly for Calendino.