Rashad Jenkins says he joined a gang when he was 12 years old.
"We would like rob and steal. For a moment in my life, I sold drugs," he said. "I would say, at the time, for that moment in my life, I thought it was really great."
At 16, Jenkins was shot in the abdomen and arm, leaving large scars as reminders. Now Jenkins says getting shot saved his life; with a second chance, he turned his life around.
"Telling people to put the guns down and to do other things and give them other alternatives, it kind of helps me because I'm showing them there is more to life than what you're living right now," Jenkins explained.
Jenkins works as an education and outreach specialist in the South Bronx at SOS, which stands for Save Our Streets. It's an outreach program that the city and Center for Court Innovation fund. Its goal is to stop gun violence through relationship building and conflict resolution.
SOS and similar outreach programs now operate at 22 locations across the five boroughs. The city is providing $36 million in funding this year.
Advocates say recruiting people like Jenkins who have renounced lives of crime and violence is part of the formula for success. They're considered "credible messengers."
"If you've lived through crisis, if you've lived through trauma and you've healed through that, you become one of the best guides and shepherds to bring someone else towards a positive trajectory," said Eric Cumberbatch, executive director of the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence.
Mark Gould is a violence interrupter at SOS South Bronx, but before that, "I spent 11 years in prison for three armed robberies. I did five-and-a-half years for selling drugs."
I was in the streets, I was running around, hurting people, doing stuff I ain't supposed to do," Gould said.
Gould will often spend as much as four hours a day in the streets, becoming a familiar face and building relationships. His mission is to de-escalate disputes before violence erupts.
"I have a story to relate to them so they can change their life so they don't end up where I end up," said Gould.
A city-funded study two years ago by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggests the approach works. It found gun violence has declined more in the areas canvassed by SOS South Bronx than in neighborhoods without the violence interrupters.
According to state health department records, gunshot injuries fell 37 percent since SOS setup shop in the South Bronx. And NYPD data show the number of people shot is down by 63 percent.