NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — William Outlaw III spends his days in the community helping others. But it wasn’t always that way.

Outlaw ran the largest cocaine gang in New Haven as a teen. But it was during his time behind bars after killing a rival leader that he realized he needed to make a change. Now, he’s helping others to do the same.

“I went from being a young, successful drug dealer and,” he said with a snap of his fingers, “I’m in a nightmare.”

He grew up in the Quinnipiac Terrace Housing Project in New Haven.

“We all looked out for each other,” he said. “We walked to school together. We did a lot together.

He moved to Newhallville as a teenager, a change he calls a culture shock. He applied for a summer job but didn’t get it because his mother made too much money.

Then, he turned to the streets, selling marijuana at 14. He brought in about $200 a day before transitioning to trafficking cocaine.

“That’s when the crew started getting formed,” Outlaw said. “We needed more help. We needed more muscle.”

He spent a summer in jail. But he picked up right where he left off when he got out.

“That’s the crew that eventually became very powerful in this city, as far as the drug trade,” he said. “We were making about $60,000 a day.”

He dubbed the crew “Jungle.” It went on to become New Haven’s largest cocaine trafficking group.

“The bigger we got, the more trouble and the more violence and more things started coming our way,” he said.

It all came to an end in the late 1980s when he killed a rival from New York. At 19, he found himself sitting in prison with an 85-year sentence.

It was on a phone call with his daughter that everything changed. She was considering a move from Catholic to public school and asked him if he had graduated.

“I was in shock before, that feeling,” he said. “I felt like a hypocrite.”

He used his time in prison to pursue his education. He got his GED within months before moving on to advanced degrees and self-improvement programs. His sentence was cut short due to an appeal.

As a free man, he wanted to make himself proud.

His time now is spent with the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program in New Haven, working with high-risk youth to guide them to a better path.

“Even when a kid goes to jail, we never give up on them,” he said. “We visit them, and they want our service. We still mentor them.”

The message stays the same — it’s not too late to change.

It’s a resource he wishes he had.

“Even if one does fall and makes a mistake, we still have our hands on them to get them through the system to start working on themselves,” he said.

He encourages families to get involved to help loved ones get the services they need.

“If you live in a neighborhood and you see trauma every day,” he said. “Where shootings and killings happen, you see makeshift memorials. It’s a battle zone sometimes, so some of these kids take it on and don’t know what to do with this untreated trauma.”