North Little Rock (KTHV) - R.O.C.A.N Executive Director Leifel Jackson said his journey in life has been one of ups and downs.
"Had a great home a loving father and a great mom," said Jackson.
He heads the Reaching our Children and Neighborhoods organization in North Little Rock. Started in 2005, his goal is to reach children before gang leaders do.
"Even at that time at my worst I was cleaning up parts of the community," said Jackson.
Jackson, at one time the leader of the Crips gang in Little Rock said he grew up with both a mother and father in his home.
"That's how they were raised so at the end of the day they were just only following the same myth that they were raised under," said Jackson.
Introduced to alcohol by his father at age 9, Jackson said it would lead to a life-long battle with addiction.
"My turning point was me trying to run away from my addiction," said Jackson.
Jackson said he left for Hollywood, California in the late 80s to escape addiction.
"Needless to say we went right pass Hollywood right to the projects in Watts," said Jackson.
He said he came to a realization in California.
"I had to deal with the fact that I was an addict and regardless of where I went if I didn't stop using drugs it was going to be the same," said Jackson.
Upon return to Little Rock, he would find his mother on her death bed.
"Right when I walked in the room her eyes open and she said come here baby and when I walked over to her when I bended down she says I knew you would come. Take care of my babies," said Jackson.
He said the night his mother died he went to her porch, threw out his drugs and never used again.
"I stop using drugs and started selling them," said Jackson.
Introduced to new and cheaper drugs and the gang life in California, Jackson said he would become one of the most powerful gang leaders in Little Rock.
"Right during that time HBO came in because the homicide point went to where it was higher in the state of Arkansas per capita than it was in New York," said Jackson.
He said he agreed to take part in the documentary. Jackson said in a sense he looks back on it as a cry for help.
Jackson said while a gang leader he thought nothing of spending $40,000 on an event for neighborhood children. He said although his intentions were good, it was all funded with illegal drug money.
He said the HBO special drew attention to a widespread gang problem in Little Rock which he said much of the state denied.
"People are not used to hearing gang members come forth on television and talk about the gangs," said Jackson.
According to Jackson, the attention would land him and others behind bars.
"They came in and they arrested everybody. They got the Bloods, the Crips and they tried to take all of the heads out and myself and I ended up doing eight and a half years," said Jackson.
Ironically, he said the idea for OUR Club, a program for at-risk children, originated from advice he gave a community leader while he was still a gang leader.
He said the community leader asked the key to keeping gangs from recruiting kids.
"Find a place to go and I won't come looking for them," said Jackson.
Upon his release from prison, Jackson said he wanted to contribute to the community, but this time do so without hurting the ones he loved, selling drugs.
In 2005 he starts R.O.C.A.N.
"If we can catch them at an early age like this and keep them with a place to go as they raise up, they'll have some type of structure," said Jackson.
The center plays host to more than 100 kids at any given time. Volunteers help operate the facility.
"Single parents are working so many hours they don't have time for the children...that gives the gang members and the drug lords more chance at the children. So we are trying to show the children a different side of life," said Evelyn Clark, a volunteer.
Jackson said he knows he can not save all children.
"He was one of the best kids I'd ever met," said Jackson.
He is referring to 14-year-old Michael Stanley, a teen allegedly hit by Michael Sadler in May while he rode his bicycle. Police say the teen stole Sadler's wallet shortly before the incident.
"...it's easy to go the streets and do a little work and make a little money and the streets will pull you and put you in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Jackson.
Jackson said he worries budget cuts could reduce funding to the center. He said no matter the future he will continue his mission in life, helping the children of North Little Rock.