Leadership from the Street Up
Shane Partridge is the Assistant with the Provincial Street Gang Strategy and Program Coordinator for STR8 UP. He is the 2018 recipient of the Saskatoon Community Foundation Leadership Bursary.
Shane grew up on a farm west of Saskatoon and was introduced to alcohol very early in life. By the time he was in middle school, he was drinking regularly. Sometimes the alcohol was provided by his family, and sometimes it was stolen. He was often left to himself for long periods. Serious neglect and abuse led to suicide attempts at age 11 and 12. Despite these actions, he was never given any treatment or help. Growing issues during his teen years led to serious consequences: he was charged with attempted murder. He left his family home permanently at age 16.
Shane: Immediately, my parents didn’t want anything to do with me, and I was on my own. I dealt with that charge as a kid, and it [dragged on] till I was about 19. From 16 to 35, I was in jail. I was only out of jail for a month or two at a time. I lived on the street after that first charge. I lived on my own from that point on. I just owned being that guy and gave people a reason not to like me. Drugs and alcohol were always a part of my life. There was no thought as to whether I had an issue – this was just how my days went.
SCF: Would you say you were in a pattern and repeating it?
Shane: I was repeating that pattern of getting in trouble, getting out, drinking. It was a constant. It was never a question of whether I would go to jail, just when. How long would I make it out this time? I didn’t think about staying out or going back in. You don’t anticipate going back, but at the same time, you know it’s going to happen. I stopped caring when I got that first charge.
After living in northern BC for five years, he moved to Prince George and ended up in a gang.
Shane: They offered me crack cocaine and I tried it. From that point on, for the next five years, I always had crack on me. I brought this level of violence and disregard for human life. This gang loved this hyper-violent guy, willing to do anything for the drink or drugs, so I moved up fast.
SCF: What brought you back to Saskatoon, and what changed in your thinking about who you wanted to be?
Shane: I moved up pretty high in Prince George, but I witnessed a lot of violence. I got scared. Everyone around me was dying or beaten up, and it wasn’t me; it wasn’t what I wanted. I came back to Saskatoon because my mom and little brother were here, so it was like running home, I guess. But my addictions came with me. I was down with a gang here, and I was already high up because I brought a level of violence and working knowledge [of gang structure] that kids here just didn’t have. My addictions and hate flourished.
What stopped me? I was kidnapped, beaten to a pulp for two days. They stopped because they thought they were going to kill me, and I still didn’t tell them the information they wanted. So then, they wanted me to be down with them. That was the deciding factor. [I thought], “You guys just tried killing me. You are not my friends, and I don’t want to be down with you.”
SCF: How did you conquer your addictions?
Shane: [After] 3 years in Saskatoon, I got a nosebleed that lasted all day long. I had this partner. I didn’t think too much [about it] at the time, but she didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. She had two kids in Saskatoon and another daughter in Ontario. A wonderful family and they didn’t use. I remember waking up in the hospital. My insides were shutting down, I was dying. I woke up and there was this doctor and he was giving me this certainty: “You are dying, you are going to die within the year if you don’t get killed first.” I remember him blurring out and all I could see was my partner and my kids crying. I suddenly realized that I had someone who gave a shit about me. I didn’t know why, but just had the realization that somebody cared for the first time. I was drinking at that time 40 beer a day. I’d be a case deep before I even got to doing anything in the day, just to stop being sick. I knew I had to stop this. That was the first real moment of clarity that I’d ever had in my life. I checked myself straight into detox.
After entering detox, a worker at Larson House connected him with Str8Up. Shane worked hard to get sober, with support from Stan at Str8Up.
Shane: After I had a couple years sobriety under my belt, I felt like I wanted to give back, volunteer somewhere. I had this sense of guilt that I had taken so much of the community. All these organizations that had opened their doors to me and just been awesome in my recovery. I asked Alex [Munoz, Executive Director of Str8Up], “How do you volunteer?” Alex said, “Shane, you know that guy who keeps coming in and out of here? [It was Charlie Clark.] He’s running to be mayor. You should go volunteer for his campaign, it’ll be fun.” I’m like, “I’ve never even voted before, man! I’m not going to volunteer for a politician. That was my mindset still. I still had some recovering to do. I was still thinking that authority was bad. People in authority, teachers, cops, politicians, lawyers, judges. I look at it differently now.
So I called, and Charlie said, “Sure, I’m down at the Pride Festival, come down and volunteer for me here.” Coming from rural Saskatchewan, it was hyper-masculine, stereotypical, so being around the gay community was uncomfortable at first. It’s not that I was discriminatory, it was new. I didn’t have that experience. When I first started learning about being uncomfortable, and how vulnerability and truth can be your ticket if you want to do stuff in the community. I went and volunteered and he took me into his campaign team. I couldn’t have been in a more supportive environment. Anything I wanted to do, they would let me have a hand in it. I was loving it. I liked meeting people. I was a team leader for his campaign.
When the campaign ended, the addict in me, was like, I don’t want this good feeling to end. Again I asked Alex, and he said, “Do something you are passionate about, like the justice system.” I called politicians, at every level, anyone that had to do with community safety and community health. We started talking about a different way of approaching gangs. Locking people up wasn’t working – what else do we need to do? We started coming up with this prevention and intervention-based gang strategy.
SCF: So you were in on this right from the beginning?
Shane: Every step that I took in the community in volunteering and giving back, and Saskatoon being so welcoming to me, encouraged me to do more and to try and to welcome the discomfort that I used to feel and the vulnerability and the truth and I started using that in community organizing and started realizing that people can’t shut you down if you’re being honest and asking them to be honest. I started being involved in different organizations. I’ve been on Quint Development’s Executive. I‘ve been on the executive here [at Str8Up] for almost a decade now. And I’m just an ex-gang member, and the only reason that I’m able to do this is that vulnerability and honesty.
They underestimated gang members. We live on the street, we have a lot of determination, and I was relentless. It took over a year to get funding. We had our forum last May, with individuals from different communities across the province and some incredible dignitaries.
Then I got hired on as the assistant, did consultations, and reached further into communities to find out community-specific issues.
SCF: Now that you are the recipient of the Saskatoon Community Foundation Leadership Bursary, what do you hope to gain from doing the Leadership Saskatoon program?
Shane: I hope to build on my ability to work in a team more efficiently – teambuilding skills, teamwork skills, the ability to lead without being a leader, having everybody be that person, if that makes sense.
SCF: What do you want to achieve with the skills?
Shane: I’m hoping that it helps with my job at Str8up, with the provincial gang strategy, and hoping that it will aid in policy work for this next level of my life. Coming from the streets, you’re so used to doing things on your own, so I’m excited to learn more about how to be a leader through your team.
SCF: In terms of the community and the work you are doing, what you want to see happening that is not happening now?
Shane: I don’t want any kid to go stumbling through the system like I did. Ideally, I would like to see that if a person goes through the justice system and is flagged as a gang member, if they want help, every door gets opened instead of every door getting shut. The current model is suppression. If a person identifies as a gang member, they get put in gang units, cut off from all the counselling and other rehabilitative resources, because they don’t want the gang to spread in there. What I would like to see is for those floodgates to open up, and every resource be available to people who are trying to make a change.
SCF: Do you think that if all these services and supports were available to people that lots more of them would be able to turn their lives around?
Shane: I think so. Bigtime. What turned my life around was love. It was showing me that I was valued and cared about as a human being. With me, it was my partner and children, but it could be anybody. [It also came] through my involvement with Charlie and being accepted by him. He didn’t talk about me as a Str8Up member – I was just Shane Partridge. By being taught that I was valuable, that’s when I was able to care about other people, and I started being invested in community and caring about the community I was living in.