Jessica Jackson pleaded with her cousin Jarrell Haynes to change his life.

After Jakela Foster, the mother of one of Haynes’ sons, was shot and killed last year at a party, Jackson told Haynes to get his GED and get a job.

Haynes, 22, was a part of his neighborhood gang. Jackson, 48, knew what it was like to go down the wrong path — she was involved in a cocaine deal in the late 1990s.

But Jackson had changed, and now was working as a mental health therapist. Haynes, she reasoned, could change, too.

Stop running the streets, she told him.

Haynes nodded and promised. But it didn’t stick.

On March 2, Haynes was shot and killed outside his grandmother’s home at 1634 Victor Ave. He was buried 10 days later — right next to Foster.

Haynes’ death follows a life touched early and often by crime, violence and gangs — a cycle that has racked his family for decades.

A cousin and Haynes’ father also were killed by gunfire in the past two years, while a dozen or more close relatives have served prison time for various shoplifting, burglary, assault and drug charges.

Many of the older relatives have bounced back after an early life of crime — reaching academic success, holding steady jobs and supporting families.

Jackson, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in mental health, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in 1999 after she pleaded guilty to one count of possessing or distributing cocaine.

She said she ultimately served six months at a federal boot camp in Bryan, Texas.

She said it’s difficult to persuade teens and young adults — especially her own family members — to reject gang life.

“We just kind of put the past behind us and we’re moving forward,” she said. “Unfortunately, our younger generation, they want to hold on to that. We have tried and tried and tried to encourage them to let that go. The gang life is not the life you want to live.”

Bruce Ferrell, president of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association’s Nebraska chapter, remembers the Haynes family from his work in the Omaha police gang unit in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Some Haynes family members, Ferrell said, operated “a long-term criminal enterprise with families that are either friends or directly related.”

Jarrell’s father, Johnny Haynes, had numerous run-ins with the law, including a 1988 case before Jarrell was born in which police say he beat an officer over the head with the officer’s radio. Johnny served three terms in state prison and was shot to death in his front yard near 36th Street and Patrick Avenue in June 2014. He had survived a previous drive-by shooting while he was standing outside 1634 Victor Ave.

Jarrell’s mother, Janet Jones, was convicted multiple times in the Sioux City, Iowa, area on solicitation and theft charges and has been in and out of jail.

An aunt who helped raise Jarrell — Jackson’s mother, Jewell Shields — was in and out of jail growing up and went to state prison at least five times, mostly for theft.

Not every family member has a troubled past. Husker legend Maurtice Ivy is a cousin, for instance. In high school, she and Jackson led Central High School to state basketball titles in 1983 and 1984.

Jackson denied any involvement with the Victor Street Bloods. Her sister, Johnetta Haynes, was described as a “gangbanger” by their mother and sentenced to 78 months in federal prison for cocaine-related charges. Released in 2003, she lives in Atlanta and works for 3M, Jackson said.

Much of the violence and crime stem from the gang that had its base on Victor Avenue, which once was described by police as an “open-air market” for drugs.

Jarrell Haynes’ grandmother’s home at 1634 Victor Ave. has been the target of multiple drive-by shootings, as have other homes on the block.

Speaking to The World-Herald in 1998, John W. Haynes, Jarrell’s grandfather, spoke of the violence that beset the neighborhood in the 1990s.

John W. Haynes said that when returning from fishing trips he often would wind up walking a few blocks to his home because he didn’t dare drive past the crowd in the street. And he and his wife didn’t venture outside at night, when drug dealing was commonplace.

“You never knew if a bullet was going to hit you,” John Haynes said in the 1998 interview. He died in 2013 at age 84.

Jarrell Haynes, who was awaiting trial on a gun charge when he was killed, began filling his own rap sheet while still in school. At age 16 he was arrested after police say he sneaked into a Boys & Girls Club and helped beat a rival gang member. At 19 he pleaded guilty to illegally carrying a concealed weapon.

Ferrell said outreach programs can help keep kids from joining gangs. Sometimes the programs don’t help. Sometimes people won’t let others leave the life.

“Memories are long,” Ferrell said. “Just because you decide you don’t want to be in a gang any longer doesn’t mean that the rival gang (stops). Now, you’re fighting generations.”

Jackson said Jarrell Haynes had “one foot in, one foot out” of gang life. His tragic ending is a shock to family members who remember him as a caring, loving person.

“He’s had so much compassion for people,” Jackson said. “Even though he socialized with a gang, it just didn’t fit the kind of person that he was.”

Secretia Benton, 26, was charged March 18 as an accessory in connection with Haynes’ slaying. On Friday she was ordered held on $500,000 bail. Friends at her hearing insisted that she had nothing to do with the slaying.

A suspect in Haynes’ death has not yet been caught.

Jackson has a photo of Haynes visiting Foster’s grave last summer. He’s kneeling next to the headstone where Foster is buried. Two faint streaks of light appear to come from his shoulders.

“Do you see the wings on his back? And he’s standing on his own grave. That exact spot, he’s buried,” Jackson said. “My mom was, like, ‘This was God’s will.’ God wanted this to happen. I think Jarrell’s happy.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, alia.conley@owh.com

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.