It is commonly repeated that once a person joins a gang, he or she can never get out (the so-called “blood-in, blood-out” assertion). However, for many youth membership in a gang is a fleeting occurrence, with a large proportion remaining in the gang for only a relatively short period of time (i.e., for a year or two). The processes by which youth leave gangs, often referred to as “desistance,” are similar to the “push” and “pull” processes by which youth join gangs, although the specific reasons are often very different. The reasons individuals report for leaving the gang include growing out of the gang life; disillusionment with the gang life; settling down, getting a stable job, and/or family needs; unanticipated aspects of the gang life; gang violence experienced by the individual or someone close to the individual; and a constant future risk of being a victim of gang violence. While the topic of gang desistance is relatively newer across the field of gang research, preliminary evidence indicates that youth are more likely to be “pushed” out of the gang life because of the very same factors that “pulled” them into the gang in the first place—fear of the consequences of violence and victimization.
How youth leave a gang is also instructive in understanding the gang process. Similar to the gang-joining process, desisting from gang membership is best described as gradual, taking place over an extended period of time. This is understandable, after all, since desisting from gangs involves disassociating and severing social ties with friends and/or family members who are gang-involved and may entail many attempts, both cognitively and behaviorally. Also, this process may be interrupted or entirely negated because of outside influences, such as the perception by rival gangs and/or law enforcement that the individual is still an active gang member. Importantly, although it is commonly repeated otherwise, the available evidence demonstrates that most individuals stated that they left the gang without the fear or experience of physical consequences from the gang.