An organization that hopes to exist over time must either
create or recruit new members or it will perish. Established gang members recruit for new gang members in
schools, on the street, while confined in detention, in fast food
restaurants and their parking lots, at parties, in jail or prison, at concerts and
family get-togethers (many recruits are the little brothers and sisters of
established gang members), and anywhere else they may find potential
The gang unit officer said gang membership is sometimes determined
by the school the youths attend. It is at the school that recruiting
takes place. He also noted that this sometimes causes problems
because, in the same neighborhood, there may be kids attending
different schools. This means that rivalry between gangs happens
simply because of attendance at different schools and it brings
rivals into contact with one another when they go home after school.
In order to join a gang, all potential members are required to go through
an initiation ceremony to show the gang's members they "have
what it takes." Well, at least that's what I thought. It's not true. Some gangs have initiation ceremonies, others do
not. Some gangs require potential members go through
initiation ceremonies while others require only certain people go through them
while letting others join the gang without ceremony.
Among those who may avoid an initiation
ceremony are people who are "blessed in" to a gang. Those
who are blessed-in to a gang have older brothers,
fathers, mothers, or other relatives who were already in the gang. There
are other ways to enter a gang - ways to
be tested prior to entrance, a "trial by ordeal," as it used to
be called. The following are some of the initiation rites I learned about:
|Kill a police officer. Rarely used today.
jumped in or beat in
|Having to fight a certain number
of gang members for a given period of time and being able to take
the beating and fight back.
|Used to initiate females into male-dominated
gangs wherein the initiate provides sexual services for
one or more of the established gang members.
||Committing a theft/larceny.
Line, Lined In, or The Gauntlet
|"In this scenario, the
individual being initiated either stands in the middle of a circle
and must fight his or her way out, or must run between two lines
of gang members." (Curry
and Decker, 1998, p. 66) The initiate is expected to
stay on his or her feet from one
end of the line to the other.
|Commit a drive-by-shooting as
assigned by the gang.
|Play Russian roulette and win.
Russian roulette involves loading a pistol's cylinder with
1 bullet, spinning the cylinder, closing it, then pointing the gun
to one's head and pulling the trigger. If the player wins, they're
in the gang. If they lose, well...
In, Blood Out
|Blood In: commit a gang assigned murder to
join the gang. Blood Out: commit a murder in order to leave the
a Rag or Catching a Flag
through a group of gang members in order to grab a rag or flag
which has been placed on the other side of them.
|Fighting through to the center of
a circle of gang members.
invited in, as are some doctors (for their medical skills which
may be performed without reporting to the authorities), lawyers
(for their legal advice, plea bargaining ability, and courtroom
expertise), and electricians (many skills may be needed for gang
|Having sex with a female or male
who has a sexually transmitted disease and not getting the
|Picking up six pennies which have
been thrown on the ground while being physically assaulted by
several gang members. When all six pennies have been
gathered, the beating stops.
Being hit once, and very
aggressively, on the sternum - right over the heart. Field
Note: "Some gang members have
been killed this way."
An Example of Being "Beat
Initiation into Chicano street gangs has developed over
the years into a kind of "street baptism," functioning as a rite of
passage for the initiate and as a rite of solidarity for the gang.
At the same time, the initiation process
fulfills a pragmatic need to screen potential new members for fighting
skills and courage valued by the gang, as well as some of the psychological
needs of youth attempting to cope with adolescent age and gender role
identity crises. Most gang members are initiated at about age 12 or 13 and,
for most, the ritual simply formalizes the membership toward which
participation in street activities has long prepared them.
The initiation typically involves several gang members
attacking the prospective member at the same time. The initiate is expected
to fight back and cannot show any fear or weakness. The severity of the
beating inflicted depends both on the initiate's prior standing with the
gang (those who grew up with gang members or who have relatives in the gang
fare better) and on the mindset of those conducting the initiation (severe
beatings are far more common when participants are intoxicated).
Similarities between the street baptism and male initiation
rites in pre-industrial tribal societies suggest both address similar
problems in the gender and age role identity resolution of young people. (Vigil,
Note: At a regional gang
investigators' conference the Hispanic gang specialist told me
"Sometimes teachers and school administrators mistake a jumping in
as a school yard fight or a common assault."
An Example of a Drive-by Shooting
as an Initiation Rite
In October of 2005 I interviewed a gang member from a large
city in central Florida. Don (not his real name) began associating with
neighborhood gang members at the age of ten. By the age of 13 Don had proved
he had what it took to be considered for a formal initiation into the gang.
Completing the initiation rite successfully meant that he would be able to
wear the colors of the gang, have the gang tattoo put on his body, learn the
rules of the gang, and more.
One night, as Don was gathered with the older gang members,
he was told it was time for him to be initiated, if that was what he wanted.
"I wanted it badly," Don told me. Then he said, "They wrote down the
addresses of rival gang leaders - one address on each piece of paper. Then
they put the pieces of paper in a bowl and asked me to draw out one piece.
They told me that the address I had to do a drive-by on."
Three cars were used for the initiation by
drive-by-shooting. The lead and rear cars were packed with senior gang
members, all of them armed except the driver. They were there to "protect my
back," Don said. "Just in case anyone in the house or nearby started
The middle car was driven by an older gang member and Don
was the only person in the back seat. He said "We drove down the street real
slow and, when we got in front of the target - you know, the house, I
unloaded my Glock." I think it had 17 or 23 rounds of 40 caliber bullets. He
said "I was scared to death, but I did it, and I became a member of the
I asked Don how he felt about what he did and if he hit
anyone. He replied "I don't feel real good about it, and I didn't feel too
good about it back then. I didn't look back and I didn't read the paper or
listen to radio or watch TV for a while. I didn't want to know if I hurt
Don is now 25 years old, no longer active in the gang, and
building a legitimate career as a plumber. A local plumber, at the urging of
Don's parole officer, offered him an apprenticeship in is company.
Don worked hard and gained the trust of the local plumber
and his clients. Now the plumber is helping Don build his own plumbing
company and, for the past two years, things have been going well. Don is no
longer violating the law, he no long associates with his fellow gang members
(although he admits he is proud of the fact that he is still a member), and
he satisfactorily completed his parole a month prior to our interview.
Some Observations on Being Sexed
According to Moore and Hagedorn,
"Sex object" was one of the
early stereotypes of female gang members, and the interest in the sex lives
of female gang members still persists. Early reports about the easy
sexual availability of female gang members came almost exclusively from male
gang members (e.g.,
Even some recent reports present similar male perceptions as fact, with
no attempt at verification (Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991).
However, male gang members may be indulging their own fantasies.
recent study, male gang members told researchers that group sex was an
initiation ritual for female gang members, but female gang members dismissed
the idea as ludicrous (Decker and Van
Winkle, 1996)." (Moore
and Hagedorn, 2001, scroll
down to "Sex: Stereotyping and Victimization)
I asked several gang members how they would feel if their little
brothers or sisters were to join a gang. While some expected this
would happen and had no problem with it, most felt
differently. One O.G.'s response was representative of most gang members I interviewed.
He said "I'd beat their asses if they
joined! I been there and I don't want them to have to go through
what I've had to go through."
Once someone has been accepted as a member of a gang he or she is
expected to become involved in criminal activity. By definition, gangs are
groups of people who support one another in the commission of delinquent and
criminal acts, and that is our next subject.