Former Drug Dealer Now Leading Effort to Stem Street Violence In Chicago

By John Lavitt 12/22/14

Having paid his dues for felony drug possession, Brandon Murray is back on the streets to help others avoid a similar fate.

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Released from jail after serving a three-year sentence for felony possession of cocaine at the beginning of 2013, Brandon Murray was ready to change his life.

Returning home to the hardcore streets of Rogers Park in Chicago, Murray knew how easy it would be to fall into old patterns of drugs and crime. Instead, he chose to work with the Howard Area Community Center to help young men and women find employment and get off the streets.

In 2014, he took his efforts a step further by accepting the leadership of a group called the Peace Angels, which aims to raise awareness of the unseen effects of the gun violence in the neighborhood. Police have described how the drug dealing conflict between two factions of the Gangster Disciples with competing turf in the neighborhood has fueled the violence. Murray explains how efforts to stem the violence have not only saved others but also helped to save his own life:

"Coming home was not easy. With a little prayer, I was given the opportunity to change—and show people it can happen," he said. "Right now, [when it comes to the ongoing violence] it's revenge. Everyone's set on revenge. There's a back-and-forth thing going on."

"It's been going on for almost five years," Murray continued. "Some of these guys are tired. They're scared and tired…I want to give them something to do. To show them that I care, we care. I'm not going to be someone who sits around and does nothing."

Chris Patterson, who runs Rogers Park CeaseFire and works with ONE Northside, created the Peace Angels three years ago. Rogers described how effective Murray has been since taking over, "He’s passionate, energetic…He’s got the mind and energy to do it. He understands the ramifications of that lifestyle."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.