“I always say, in Red Wing, you get a knock at the door and someone gives you cookies. You say, ‘Why are you giving me cookies?’ They say, ‘I just mowed your lawn.’

“My kids in the inner-city get a knock on the door and they get five rounds from a 9mm into their chest.”

After being a doctor in a small town, Tom Blee was at a loss seeing the devastation of gang violence up close and personal in the Twin Cities. He felt like he needed to do something, but he wasn’t sure what. His sister, Amy, suggested that he listen to the episode of Real Recovery featuring John Turnipseed, an former gang member who turned his life around. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I listened to the show, I sent an email, I said, ‘We bring them out the fire, but we can’t bring them into the light – I need you.'”

Shortly after that, Tom and Johnny met for lunch and they came up with the idea for direct interventions with gang members and their families.

“There’s a window you create in a hospital. People are ready to change, when they stare death in the eyes, they want to make change. The goal is to bring outside resources into the building hospital.”

“All these groups willingly come in and wrap their arms around the kids, the families – there’s not a single problem that they can throw at us that we don’t have a solution to.

Tom and John’s vision has gone from interventions to an entire coalition, and it all started with, as George puts it, just showing up and letting God do what he was going to do.


Doctor Tom Blee is a trauma surgeon in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the creator and co-director of LIFEteam, a hospital-based intervention program which brings transformational change to those caught in cycles of violence or despair. He’s the author of How to Save a Surgeon: Stories of Impossible Healing.

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