Former drug-dealing kingpin and ex-gang leader Stan Price has come back to the Downtown Eastside on his 39th birthday.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight in the Waves Coffee House at the corner of Cordova and Main streets, he concedes that he’s feeling emotional about returning to the neighbourhood.
“I mean, I know I ruined a lot of lives,” Price says. “I was part of living off of people’s misery.”
The erstwhile thug is sitting in the coffee shop with a former nemesis, Vancouver police detective Kal Dosanjh, to discuss how he’s trying to make amends for a life of crime.
Price and Dosanjh have become an odd couple—the two visit antigang forums and schools to help kids avoid sliding into the criminal underworld.
Dosanjh is founder and CEO Of KidsPlay Youth Foundation, a registered charity that ensures young people forge positive connections and steer clear of gangs and drugs. Price has become Dosanjh’s unlikely accomplice in this endeavour.
Price readily concedes that as a young Indigenous person growing up in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, he struggled with addiction to cocaine. He served time in several prisons, starting when he was 19 years old.
“I don’t recommend it,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of shit happen there inside the prison for absolutely nothing. I’ve seen somebody get a coffee pot—a metal coffee pot—across the head for leaving crumbs on the table. It’s gladiator school.”
After getting out of jail, a friend encouraged him to move to Vancouver, where he initially made a living as an ironworker. On the side, he and four others formed B.C.’s first chapter of Redd Alert, a notorious Indigenous gang with roots in the Canadian prison system.
Price is intelligent and articulate, and he reveals that he went straight from drug addiction to overseeing a sophisticated network of drug dealers.
“I ran it very smoothly, where I didn’t even have to touch anything,” he says.
In addition to being in the narcotics business, Price discloses, he was also involved in property crime and guns. Price and Dosanjh share a laugh as they recall how they used to butt heads in the old days.
“On the Downtown Eastside, he was a beat cop,” Price says. “He would just say, ‘Let’s have a chat.’ It wasn’t always a nice chat, right? I’d tell Kal to fuck off. We didn’t get along at all.”
The young people whom Price would recruit and oversee were sometimes the same ones Dosanjh was trying to discourage from becoming gangsters.
Price admits that he would walk the other way to avoid a confrontation if he ever saw Dosanjh, a beefy power lifter, or other police officers. “But they knew what I was doing,” the former gangster acknowledges.
Dosanjh used to tell Price that he was capable of accomplishing so much more than dealing drugs. The beat cop also warned Price back then that karma was going to come around on him in the future if he didn’t mend his ways.
Dosanjh remembers telling Price that if one of his kids became addicted, he would understand what the officer meant by that.
“There were multiple confrontations—a lot of hostility—because I would always tell him to stop,” Dosanjh says forthrightly.
Almost a decade ago, Price was nearly killed in MacLean Park when he encountered a rival gang while cycling to collect money at a hotel on East Hastings Street. “I defended myself very well,” he says, “but there were gunshots. I thought for sure I was done.”
He ended up having bear mace sprayed in his face. When he finally got up, ran away, and hopped a fence, he encountered a sea of cops.
Price makes believers out of the skeptics
So imagine Dosanjh’s surprise a couple of years ago when he received a call from Price seeking assistance. One of Price’s sons had, indeed, become hooked on drugs, and Price asked if he could meet Dosanjh because he didn’t want to lose him. Dosanjh admits he wasn’t really sure how serious Price was at the time. After all, Price was one of the hard rocks in the Downtown Eastside. But the police officer was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“When I sat down with him, I could see his raw, visceral emotions,” Dosanjh says. “I saw it was authentic. I realized, ‘Okay, it’s game on. He’s good to go.’ ”
Dosanjh started bringing Price to drug and gang forums. When Price posted an image of the two of them together on his Facebook page, there was a furious backlash over social media. Dosanjh says he was advised not to work with Price because he was “violent, cruel, and still a criminal”.
“There was a huge amount of obstacles, challenges, and adversity that was put up to prevent this relationship from happening,” Dosanjh recalls. “But I’m the type of person who believes in redemption. I believe in salvation. I believe in giving somebody the opportunity—and this sort of stuff doesn’t deter me at all.”
Two years later, he says, many of the critics have come around. Some have apologized for not believing in Price.
“I strongly believe that what the Aboriginal community experienced at one juncture in time is essentially…what the South Asian community is experiencing right now: a loss of identity,” Dosanjh says. “There’s disproportionate representation of South Asian youth involved in the drug and gang scene, statistically speaking. It’s because they’ve essentially gone through the same journey that the Aboriginal community did…losing your sense of self, your roots, your culture, your language, your identity. And a lot of these kids have become disconnected. So they’re looking for their identity and acceptance in destructive places.”
In addition, Dosanjh says young people join gangs because they’re seeking instant gratification. They’re not willing to wait like their parents, who often worked hard to become financially independent and to buy a car and a home. “Through the lucrative drug trade, they can literally make that type of money overnight,” he points out. “But there are severe consequences that come with that—and repercussions—and that’s what we’re trying to teach them.”
Price says he did have “father figures” in his life: uncles. But because he never had a real father, he felt like an outcast everywhere he went. He suggests that he was lured into the gang life because he was seeking acceptance. But he also liked the power and the money it provided. “I was like a celebrity, right?”
Over time, however, Price came to realize that his criminal activities were wrecking his life and the lives of loved ones. His relationship with his family deteriorated and his marriage broke up. He didn’t like the person he had become. “I was pretty much preying on vulnerable people,” he says.
So he quit the drug trade and began working in addiction recovery. He’s hoping to return to school and become an addictions counsellor. Price feels that he set a precedent by exiting the Lower Mainland gang world and engaging in more positive pursuits. And he finds that he gets a far greater high from speaking to kids than he ever did doing drugs.
“I mean, if somebody like me can turn my life around and leave that lifestyle, anybody can, right?” Price says. “Sure, the way I live my life now isn’t as fast as it was then, but I’m more peaceful. I still look over my shoulder once in a while, but I just avoid the areas where [gangsters] are going to be.”
Dosanjh says he’s “extremely proud” of Price. The veteran police officer adds that because the two of them have been photographed together, it’s led other gang members to approach police officers and say that they want to get out as well.
“They know it’s possible, that it can be done,” Dosanjh says. “There’s a lot of them that are seeking a better life. They just don’t know how to do it.”
Teenager launched Dosanjh's odyssey
A major turning point in Dosanjh’s life came when he was an acting sergeant working a rainy early-morning shift in the Downtown Eastside. He was alone in his patrol car when he turned into the south lane in the 100 block of East Hastings Street. He saw a kid behind a Dumpster getting his crack pipe ready, but the teenager threw it away and started walking after spotting the squad car. Dosanjh says he had already made up his mind that he wasn’t going to arrest the youth, who was only 14 years old. Dosanjh had already seen enough overdose deaths and he had arrested enough kids by that point in his career. So the acting sergeant asked the young crack user to stop walking away.
The kid kept walking away, so Dosanjh hollered in a louder voice, instructing him to stop. At that point, the youth strolled back with his hands outstretched, inviting himself to be handcuffed. But then he did something surprising: he brazenly told Dosanjh that if he wasn’t being arrested, he would interpret this as being free to go.
“He was a byproduct of his environment—with a very hardened, calloused edge. I just looked him in the eyes. I was very genuine and sincere and said: ‘Look, you are free to go. I am not here to arrest you. But before you go, I sincerely and genuinely want to know what you are doing here. Where’s your parents? Where’s your home?’ ” Dosanjh recalls. “And he looks at me and he could see I’m being sincere with him.
“Instead of answering my questions, he posed the following question to me: he said, ‘If your mom left you when you were just a kid and you have no idea who she is or where she is—and if your dad is lying drunk right now on the sofa and has no idea where you are—and your brother is sitting in jail right now for dealing drugs, and there’s no one else at home…where would you be?’ That was my tipping point. That was my revelation.”
Dosanjh helped get the youth into foster care, but he doesn’t know if there was a happy ending. “I never followed up because there are a thousand stories like that,” he says. “He did change my life, because it was shortly thereafter that I asked for the funding [from the VPD], and that’s where we started the PAL program—Police Athletic League soccer tournament—for kids in the inner city.”
That was the seed and the impetus for Dosanjh to launch the KidsPlay Youth Foundation.
“Because of my experience in the Downtown Eastside, I was noticing a steady stream of youth entering the drug and gang lifestyle,” Dosanjh says. “And we’d be apprehending these youth and pushing them to the criminal-justice system, only to have them spewed out on the other end to become more hardened criminals engaging in that vicious cycle of perpetual violence. I just thought enough was enough.”
There were 150 kids in the first soccer tournament in 2008. According to Dosanjh, many were jaded, never having had positive interactions before with police. With $500, he was able to buy trophies, medals, certificates, bottled water, and basic equipment for a one-day event. Officers volunteered their time on their days off.
“The greatest feeling in the world—more than any kind of commendation or recommendation you can receive—is receiving a hug from one of these kids and them saying, ‘Thank you for taking the time. We really appreciate it.’ ”
This year, the KidsPlay Youth Foundation soccer tournament attracted more than 1,000 children and youths to B.C. Place Stadium. That’s part of the charity’s sports component, which offers young people opportunities to participate in a multitude of athletic activities.
There’s also an educational component, where volunteers, including Price, appear at various forums, conferences, and schools.
"When they hear it from someone who's actually lived it, it opens their eyes," Price says. "They know it's real, it's not that glamourous....You're either going to end up in jail or dead. It is what it is."
Then he says if he can prevent just one young person from joining a gang, it could have a huge impact because that person could have ended up recruiting 10 more in the future.
Another part of KidsPlay Youth Foundation is its mentorship program offered through the Surrey, Langley, and Abbotsford school districts.
“I strongly believe in early development and providing educational awareness to those kids in grades 6 and 7,” Dosanjh says. “They can grow up with strong fundamental values and principles, and they won’t get into that lifestyle in the first place.”
The final component is teaching young people about civic responsibility and the environment. That’s accomplished through planting trees.
He describes his experiences as a spiritual journey and cites two Sikh Gurus, Nanak and Gobind Singh, as major influences.
“When I started KidsPlay Youth Foundation, it was built on two tiers,” Dosanjh explains. “Number one, all of our programs would be absolutely free so that no child would be deprived of the opportunity because it might be financially prohibitive on their parents. And number two, more importantly, it’s completely volunteer-based. Nobody gets paid. Every single cent we receive goes right into the community so we can build on these programs.”
Since 2015, more than 70,000 kids have gone through the various programs. There are more than 500 volunteers, including police officers, sheriffs, and correctional officials.
“But the greatest pride I have from all this is that we have individuals like Stan [Price] who are part of our family now,” Dosanjh says. “It just lends so much more credibility to our program to show that anything is possible.
“It’s just a matter of believing, on a fundamental humanitarian scale, that we need to believe in one another,” he adds. “We need to give one another the opportunity for redemption. And people can find salvation if they’re given the resources, the amenities, the love and support, and guidance.”
As the interview in Waves Coffee House draws to a close, Dosanjh has a message for young police officers who are just beginning their careers.
"Never forget your reasons for becoming an officer," he says. "That uniform carries significance and it's honourable. But more importantly at the end of the day, you're a community servant.
"The reason Stan was able to turn to me for help is because I was very genuine, sincere, and authentic about my efforts in the Downtown Eastside," Dosanjh adds. "And he knew that. I didn't come in with a chip on my shoulder. I didn't start pushing around heavy. I wanted to help these individuals and they could see that. And that, at the end of the day, fundamentally speaking, is what we should all be about. About wanting to make a difference."