When troubled kids start dabbling in drugs and criminal activity, that behavior can lead to gangs and prison.
Parents and teachers try to explain to kids the consequences of their actions, but sometimes they just can't get through. Now, one local program is showing kids what life is like behind bars, in hopes they will make better choices.
The "Edge" program takes boys ages 11 to 18 into Kern Valley State Prison. The boys get an inside look into how their life could end up if they continue making poor choices.
It's a high security prison in Delano that houses California's most dangerous prisoners. And, if these kids continue on the path they're on, chances are they'll end up here.
"Each and every prison gang member has killed another human being on the streets or in prison just to become a member of the gang."
The boys are doing "time" with the Edge program. It's for young men teetering on the edge of right and wrong.
Wearing white jumpsuits and walking with their hands behind their backs, the boys will get a taste of prison life from those who know it best.
"Welcome to the Edge program, my name is Jeremy Wallin. I'm 39 years old and I'm doing 98 years to life in prison for execution style murder, kidnapping and robbery."
"The crimes kids are committing these days, they may not realize how serious they are, but the trend is that they are becoming more and more serious and more and more violent and they are getting sentenced to huge sentences in the state facilities," said Lt. Jeffrey Smith.
Lieutenant Smith tells us the Edge program at the prison is unique in the state.
"We plan on educating you young men about the choices and paths you've been taking."
"I took a knife to school and got expelled," said Cruz Rea, 6th grade student participating in the program.
"I actually got suspended three times in one month," added Deionte Hagwood, 6th grade student.
The boys' offenses may not seem that serious now, but a life of crime starts young. Last year close to 4,000 juveniles were arrested in Kern County.
Imagine living inside a cell that is no bigger than a bathroom. And, for just an hour a day, you may get to go outside. That's the reality for inmates here. Most are serving life sentences without parole for heinous, awful crimes.
"I was a member of the Mexican Mafia, and so I ordered a lot of people's deaths in prison and on the streets," said inmate Ernest Fierro.
Ernest Fierro wasn't just a member of La Eme, but a leader.
"I'm responsible for a lot of violence in the prison system. I perpetrated a lot of violence," he added.
The Edge program gives the prisoners a chance to give back to a society, they feel ,they've taken so much from.
"I did so much wrong in my life coming from the gang culture, and it's just amazing being able to potentially save another life," said inmate Trayzon Gilbert. "I would do anything to do that. In the process, maybe I can write some of those wrongs that I committed. That's why I'm here."
For Trayzon Gilbert, those "wrongs" include attempted murder and robbery. "Most of the men in my family were gang bangers," he said.
Gilbert was born in Compton to a drug-addicted and violent mother. Angry and abused, at 12 years old he started gang banging.
"That night my enemies were out hunting, and when I looked up from the ignition I found a gun in my face, boom...boom...boom. My girlfriend screamed 'Trayzon.' I caught all three shots. I was only 16."
Gang banging robbed Gilbert, he says, of his future. Now, he and his Edge brothers share their mistakes with the kids, hoping they don't become like them.
"I see myself in all of them that I can relate to, and if one of them leaves here today and we didn't reach him, I feel that we did him a disservice. I'm serious about this," said Fierro.
The inmates ask the kids questions about their problems at home. Fierro knows firsthand... his 21-year stint in prison has left his five children without a father.
"I'm a true believer that you can fail at just about anything in life, but if you fail as a parent you have truly failed and you can't make it up. So this is how I get it back," he said.
It's raw emotion and passion from prisoners, something you don't expect from inmates who are supposed to be hard and tough. Inmates like ex-Blood gang member Alondro Bennett.
"I spill my guts out to these kids. I love them. I don't know them, every time a crew come I just look at them until I have the opportunity to sit and talk," said Alondro Bennett, inmate and Edge program president. "But, I love these kids, and man I don't want to see them here. I don't want to see them here."
Prison is a dreary and desperate place. Many inmates are locked up for decades and most will die here. The Edge program helps kids see that prison is no place to call home.
"Some kids will never learn if it wasn't for this program. That's why I love this. I love and appreciate the opportunity to turn these kids' lives around," said Bennett.
"We have success stories that teachers and counselors write in. We have letters submitted from some of the kids that have been in the program, and it's really positive to know that we had an impact on some of these kids," said Lt. Smith.
Even though these boys are hard-headed, they will say spending the day in prison made them re-think their poor choices.
"I don't want to end up like this. I want to live a good life," said Cruz Rhea.
"My goals were to study hard and stay in school and like communicate with my mom because sometimes we don't get along," said Deionte Hagwood. "And, stop making the dumb decisions I make."
It's a realization these kids are making now while they still have time. But, for inmates like Trayzon... his time is up.
"Today I challenge each and every one of you to choose to do better than this. You can do better than this!"
The prisoners who help run the Edge program are all ex-gang members. The program partners with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. All of the boys were recommended to the program through a teacher or counselor and must have a sponsor.