CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Andre Norman calls himself the kid who fell through the cracks.
"I started stealing. Stealing elevated to drug dealing, which elevated to robbery, which elevated to just 24 hours just being stupid," said Norman.
It landed the former gang leader 14 years in state and federal prison. Norman has been convicted of armed robbery, armed home invasion, armed carjacking and twice for attempted murder of other prisoners.
It’s criminal records like that that have created an industry of personal safety devices like hand alarms, stun guns disguised as a camera and even wearable technology.
But Norman says none of those protect you from the two biggest problems that make you a target.
"Arrogance and not paying attention," said Norman.
He says preferred victims have one thing in common.
"Criminals are looking for people that they can attack by surprise," he said.
Age, sex, or where you are matter less than your attitude.
"The it can’t happen to me syndrome almost ensures that it can happen to you," said Norman.
He says criminals will typically avoid someone who walks confidently with their head up.
"Criminals don’t want to be identified. It’s not a good policy for them," Norman said.
The biggest deterrent for a criminal is thinking he might get caught.
Norman suggests using a cell phone to your advantage when you are walking alone.
"Even if you aren't on the phone, have your ear piece in. Act as if you are talking on the phone. If you're on your phone that means that there’s somebody else (who) knows you’re being robbed right now. Someone else knows you're being victimized," Norman said.
Safety experts suggest leaving a restaurant or store at the same time other people are leaving. This way you're not alone as you head out to your car.
Park next to small cars to give the area around your vehicle more visibility, making you less of a target.
And use the resources in front of you.
"Security isn't there for after you get mugged. You can actually go to security and say my car is at the end of the lot, I don't feel comfortable can you walk me to my car," Norman said.
If a criminal does approach, Norman advises you to drop your keys, purse or other valuables in front of you, take a step back and then run.
"Most likely they’re not going to chase you because the thing they want is in front of them," Norman said.
Norman, who got his GED in prison, went on to become a Harvard Law School fellow. He says instead of spending millions to lock him up, what he needed was a guidance counselor. Now he urges people to participate in volunteering and mentoring programs because it really can change a life.