When Tony Hoang was 13, he wasn't lying to his schoolteacher about not finishing his homework, or running late to footy practice because he'd missed the bus.

Instead, the teen was part of one of Sydney's most notorious Asian gangs as an up and coming drug dealer, "making between $7000 - $10,000 each week".

Mr Hoang's path into a life of crime was a slippery slope - and a ride that eventually saw him in youth detention before his 14th birthday.

By then time he was 19 he had been shot at and six of his friends had either been murdered or died from drug overdoses.


At 21 he had a heroin overdose.

"My cousins were part of a major gang in Cabramatta," Mr Hoang told news.com.au.

"They would recruit from high schools, you were either in or you were out. That was Cabramatta in those times, and a lot of us got stuck."

Mr Hoang, who is now 34 and has a family of his own, survived eight years of drug addiction, dealing and violence around Sydney's "drug capital suburb" of Cabramatta.

Mr Hoang, whose story is told in the new book Doin' Time, said his parents were always working and never home, so he took to the streets and developed criminal behaviour in their absence.

"At 13, I joined a gang, and by 14 I was locked up," he said.

"When I turned 16, my best friend had a drug overdose, and was just one of a number of people very close to me to die from drugs and drug dealings over the years."

While Mr Hoang wasn't specifically a street dealer, he would run drugs through houses and have older men, such as his sister's boyfriends, deal drugs on the street.


"I got kicked out of four high schools in the area by 15," he admitted.

"When I got into a different school, I'd attend but I was constantly buying everything up.

"I had about seven cars by the time I went into detention the first time [14], and I bought a motorbike even though I couldn't ride it. I just bought everything, even my parents a $20,000 car - and it was all from drug money."

At 14 he had even bought himself a gun.

At the time, Mr Hoang felt he had it all. The more money he made, the less he felt "stupid" or "dumb", which is how his abusive father made him feel from a young age.

"It destroys something in a little boy," Mr Hoang said of his father's constant verbal and physical abuse.

"The only man I had to look up to was abusive and certainly wasn't a role model. He would beat me, call me names which made me have a lot of resentment towards him. So, I found the acceptance I wanted in a gang."

When Mr Hoang turned 19, he was thrown into jail again. After being released, he re-entered the party scene - when a near shooting occurred that triggered a drastic change in his lifestyle.

"One time, it was about 4am in the morning ... everyone was there [in the club] in this kind of world, and then this gang member pulled out a gun right there on the dance floor in front of me," Mr Hoang said.

"He fired two shots and then everyone started scattering around. I thought I was gone. We were new faces in that club, and I guess they wanted to find an excuse to stir up some trouble."

While Mr Hoang didn't receive a bullet would, the horror of being back on the outside made him desperate to turn things around.

"Living this life I looked like I had it together, but I was after peace," he admitted.

"I walked around with gangs, but I was at a point where I wouldn't even sit in a restaurant with my back to the door. I was so messed up, and drugs were only making it worse.

"I was robbing other drug dealers in the area, I had so much money I didn't know what to do with it - but everything I had came at a cost."

By 21, about six of Tony's friends had died - either by drug overdoses or murder. Having been to rehab, working with psychiatrists and even counsellors - the desperation turned Mr Hoang back to what he once knew - his faith.

"I thought, if God made me then he can fix me," he wrote in Doin' Time.

"I went there [to the local church], got down on my knees and wept for a good 15 minutes."

Crying out to God, Mr Hoang said he was at the point of suicide and "needed a sign" to continue on.

"The next day I walked out into the streets and there were people from the church singing," he said.

"One handed me a flyer that read 'If you are looking for a sign from God, here it is'."

While it was hard to cut off his friends from his former life, especially in the first couple of years for his "new family", Mr Hoang said he will never forget where he came from.

"People are using my story to reach those who are in hopeless situations," he wrote.

"As a minister, I'm not only reaching out to drug guys and gang guys, it's people in the community who are disadvantaged."

Mr Hoang, who now works as the Minister for The Potter's House Christian Church in Liverpool as well as a few high schools in the local area, said being a role model means kids aren't "turning to gang members for fake support".

"I wish I had a role model when I was growing up," he said.

"Drugs has become worse I think, thanks to social media and other influences [like movies, TV and celebrities].

"I don't hide my story from my children. When I present it to groups, I allow them to sit through and listen.

"They get shocked to know I was in jail, but they want to ask me about it.

"I need to show them what they shouldn't do in the future, and be the role model I never had."