DORCHESTER (CBS) – Thirty-one-year-old Alex Diaz never thought he would graduate from high school.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Dorchester, he joined a gang.
“I got shot, stabbed, I went to prison,” he told CBS News.
After eight years behind bars, he returned home with a new attitude.
“And I just changed everything around,” Diaz said.
He took classes where former gang members and ex-criminals are paid $400 a week to finish their high school studies, then go to college.
Mark Culliton started the program, called Boston Uncornered, last year.
He hopes one day it will transform Boston, where he says there are roughly 2,600 gang members.
He was asked – some skeptics will say these young people you’re helping were engaged in crime. Why should they be rewarded with $400 a week to study?
“Well because that gets down to a more fundamental question of do you believe they’re bad people or that they are people that made bad choices,” Culliton told CBS.
“We’re not rewarding them for their negative behavior. What we’re saying is you’ve made mistakes that have hurt your whole community. If you want to do the right thing, we’re here for you.”
Former felons and gang members recruit new students and mentor them.
Ten students, including Alex Diaz, started college this fall.
“I want to start an electricity company. I want to help people, get them jobs, teach them what I know,” Diaz said.
He hopes to inspire others and says all they need is a second chance.
This three-year pilot program is privately funded. Researchers from MIT and Northeastern University will monitor the results to see if it is a success.