When Matt Johnson’s girlfriend was killed in gang crossfire in 2014, leaving him a single father to a three-year-old girl, he knew it was time to do something different with his life.

Johnson, who grew up surrounded by drugs and violence in Boston’s South End neighborhood, had been getting into trouble since he was a kid. Locked up at 14 for possessing crack cocaine, he spent what might have been his college years in prison for selling the drug. At the time of the shooting, he was 31, bouncing between jobs and dealing on the side.

Now, suddenly, “everything was on me.”

So when two guys he’d done time with—”dudes from the same background as me”—asked if he wanted to try college, he decided to give it a shot.

Now 35, Johnson is one of 200 former gang members who are enrolled or preparing to enroll in Boston colleges through a program that is trying to transform the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods by transforming the lives of their most destructive residents…..

Pacific Standard Magazine