Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News


Gangs 101

The following information is taken from the manual "Comprehensive Community Reanimation Process" published by Urban Dynamics, Inc. While the document presented here is by no means complete, it does offer a good grounding in contemporary gang phenomenon. If nyou are interested in obtaining a complete copy of the manual you may do so by contacting UDI at (708) 385-0066.


Gang Stucture
Gang Recruitment Techniques
The Gang as Criminal Enterprise

Gang Structure

All gangs have identifiable levels of membership. These levels of membership indicate status within a gang and acts as the organizational maintenance systems. There are actually six levels of gang structure.

1. Leadership:

The leader(s) of a gang determines at what level of criminal activity the gang will function. Characteristics of the leader(s) are reflected in the day to day activities of the gang. The leader is all powerful.

2. Hard Core:

The hard core gang members are usually the older gang members, the individuals who are culturally and criminally enmeshed in the gang and are at risk of being so for life. Most violent gang activity emanates from the hard core gang members. Hard core gang members usually make up about 10% of gang membership.

3. Associate:

The associate gang member has usually made a personal commitment to the gang culture and is dedicated to achieving the level of recognition needed to attain hard core status.

4. Fringe:

The fringe gang member is still able to function outside of the gang structure and has not made a commitment to a life in the criminal gang culture. This type of member drifts in and out of the gang and seems to lack direction.

5. Wanna-Bes:

Wanna-bes are not actually gang members. They are youth who view the gang as an exciting place to be, a place where they could become "somebody". Wanna-bes may emulate gang dress, graffiti, hand signs, and other gang cultural symbols, and they may associate with known gang members, but they have not yet been excepted into the gang.

6. Cliques:

Very seldom is the gang at full strength. Exceptions to this, of course, would be times of conflict or possibly at social functions. What is most often seen as "the gang" is usually a clique from within the larger gang. The clique is a group of associate, fringe, and often, wanna-be gang members who gravitate around one or more of the hard core gang members. This somewhat resembles a gang within a gang.

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Gang Recruitment Techniques

The needs and/or purpose of a gang as well as the particular situation determines the methods/techniques that will be used to recruit new members into the gang. The following categories of gang recruitment are fairly common, but the sophistication of the gang will certainly dictate how sophisticated the recruitment techniques will be implemented.

1. Seduction:

For a long time gangs have used this technique to recruit new members. They create glorified myths about the gang that are very attractive to young recruits, and very often these myths become the foundation for young aspirations. 

The most powerful of these trappings, however, are the promise of money, sex, and glamour. The symbols of the gang (the graffiti, hand signs, colors, tattoos, etc.) create a visual attraction for young people, they realize that with these symbols they are part of something organized and powerful. Parties are also very useful ways for recruiters to seduce young people into the gang. At the party they have fun, get high, and believe the rhetoric they are bombarded with.

2. Subterfuge:

Subterfuge is a misrepresentation of what the gang really is and what it stands for. Recruiters use lies and schemes to convince the youth that it really isn't a gang, it's a club or it is really a group of close friends that have to protect themselves against a powerful enemy. Another tact taken by recruiters is to identify latchkey and other kids who may not have a good family life and convince them that they aren't loved and that the club is there for them, the "club" will love them.

3. Obligation:

Often gang members will do a favor or make a loan of something to a prospective recmit and demand that they give loyalty as payback. Often, these favors come in the form of protection. Girls are sometimes used to promote that sense of obligation.

4. Cohersion:

Forced recruitment is an age old technique, used most often by large gangs in chronic gang cities. This technique is used most often during times of gang conflict, or when there is a need to generate dues money. Coercion is usually accomplished by threats, but physical beatings are used as well. There have been many deaths as a result of individuals refusing to join the gang. Coercion can mean that a family member is threatened as well.

5. Self Recruitment:

For many reasons, youth will make contact with gang members and ask to join the gang. The reasons are many and not always because the individual sees the gang as glamorous. The reason may be one of necessity, money, protection etc.. The reasons may be a combination of all of the trappings mentioned above. The range of reasons for a youth to join a gang is very wide and does not always mean that he has joined the gang openheartedly.

All of the recruitment strategies listed above can be elaborated on. Training is available to communities that can provide valuable information about gang recruitment and what can be done about it.

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The Gang as a Criminal Enterprise

Of the many issues that gangs of the 90's have addressed, in their own fashion, the one that has, and will continue to have, the most impact on the American Community, is the expansion of gang enterprise. Not only is gang enterprise an increasingly acceptable means of illegal income, it is also another profound statement of counter-rejection by young people to the larger society.

According to national statistics, about 95% of hard core gang members are high school drop-outs. It is said by these gang members that school cannot prepare them to survive in this society. Many of the schools they attend have a "0" academic level. They know that four years of high school will not prepare them for college, which means that the job market will not be open to them on a competitive level. In essence, they have created a system of education and a system of employment that is much more responsive to their needs.

While much attention has been given to the association of street gangs with drugs, there has been little public discussion of the economics of this association. In the past, those street gangs that depended upon crime as a source of income were limited to the traditional methods of extortion, robbery and burglary as a means of providing that income. Because of the opportunistic nature of such crimes, coupled with the risk of personal injury and/or being sent to jail, many of the gang members could be lured away from the gang by positive alternatives such as: a chance to learn a skill and obtain gainful employment.

The availability of cocaine and the ease with which it can be converted to "crack" has changed the route through which the gang obtains its income and as a direct result, the nature of the gangs response of offers of positive alternatives. By way of illustration, consider the following:

On an initial investment of $2,500.00 worth of cocaine and using two readily available household chemicals, $10,000.00 worth of "crack" can be produced. In areas of high demand it is not unusual for a gang to "turn over" (increase the profit on) its initial investment by a factor of four. Therefore, the $10,000.00 worth of crack becomes $40,000.00 by the end of the day.

Typically the gang will employ one person to collect the money for the drugs, one person to deliver the drug to the buyer and two look outs/security men. Their pay can be as low as $50.00 per day each. Often a percentage is offered to the team for sales over a certain amount per day.

If the $200.00 per day cost of the team is deducted, the profit for the day would be $29,800.00. That's tax free money and continues seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year.

In light of these facts, it becomes clearer why gangs resort to violence in disputes over the best sales areas and why the mere offer of a job at minimum wage does not readily deter a youth from this profitable enterprise.

Gang enterprise, justified through the gang system of values, incorporated into the gang structure, and embraced by the gang as an acceptable economic foundation for the gang society, will prove to be a monumental challenge for communities determined to eliminate the gang phenomenon.

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