A former prospect of the Hells Angels biker club says today's young gangsters should follow his path -- hit bottom in prison and build their life back up, free of crime.

Rick Mandi said he lived a good life as a Hells Angels prospect -- one step short of a full patch member -- because he was a big guy willing to throw his weight around.

"I was involved in kidnapping, extortion, drug debts," said Mandi in an interview with CTV News.

"I was in the mindframe that I was untouchable, that I was smarter than everybody," said Mandi, who now works to rehabilitate chronic offenders.

Mandi wouldn't talk specifically about his exploits with the bikers, but they ended with a botched kidnapping -- and he found guilty in 2003 in BC Supreme Court, and sent to prison for five years.

At first, gang affiliations mattered in jail, he said -- but then things changed.

"I ran out of money, I ran out of dope, and I ran out of friends," he said. "When you're in that place a lot of people turn on you."

It was jail that allowed him to isolate himself from gang connections and turn his life around, he said, adding that today's gangsters need the same tough treatment.

When he got out of jail, the Angels offered him a chance to rejoin the gang, but he said he turned it away in favour of working for a living.

When Mandi was released, he joined Vision Quest Recovery Society, a rehabilitation centre for chronic offenders, run by an old friend, Jim O'Rourke.

"We don't give up on anyone," said O'Rourke. "We give up on them when they're dead."

O'Rourke says the people at his society are often into organized crime -- but that can be a death sentence.

"There's no old gangsters," he said. "Ever noticed that? Their retirement plan is the thirty-cent solution. If you want to live long and prosper you have to get out of gang life."

Now, Mandi is staff at Vision Quest and runs his own recovery house. If anyone there is thinking of returning to the gang lifestyle, he has one message.

"I would say take a look at where you're going -- it's just a matter of time. Jails, institutions, death," he said. "Sooner or later it's your turn."

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward.