About the Title
Abyss: "The bottomless pit; hell."*
Three decades of conducting research on and teaching about the causes of
crime and delinquency hadn't prepared me for what I saw on the streets of
America over the past ten years. And it's not only
happening here, it's happening in other countries I visited.
While it may be true that gangs provide some of their members with a
sense of belonging, money, power, respect (more often a by-product of fear),
sex, drugs, and other things, it is also true that gangs are a losing
Over the past ten years I've heard police, social
workers, and gang researchers say that the average life expectancy of
a gang member in Los Angeles is only 20 years. That is, by the time a gang member reaches the age of 20, he or she is either permanently
injured, hospitalized, imprisoned, or dead.
While that statistic is difficult to verify, it is not difficult to
verify the fact that gang youth are often hurt by their association with a
gang. They are hurt by rival gang members and by their own gang members (i.e.,
ceremonies, when one gang member disrespects another, upon failure
to complete a deal inside the gang, fights over leadership).
They are victimized by police, by jail and prison
inmates, and by society-at-large should they try to get their lives back
together again in hopes of making an honest living. The likelihood of an
ex-gang member being
gainfully employed is small given their prior and often extensive record of
arrests and convictions, lack of preparedness for employment, and general
lack of knowledge and work skills.
As a result of the contacts
I made during ten years of observation in the field, I became convinced
that most of the young men and women who join a gang are falling into a
bottomless pit ... a hell on earth where one must always be on guard about
what's going on behind one's back.
It is a world in which a gun or knife must be worn, if not to protect
oneself, then as a symbol of one's wo/manliness or toughness and willingness to take a
life. It is a world in which babies are abandoned or raised in an
environment of violence and drugs - developing a cycle of abuse and
self-destruction that is becoming ever more difficult to break.
Most closely correlated with the gang scene, in my mind, are desperation and a
loss of hope, neighborhood deterioration, racial and ethnic hatred,
discrimination, poverty, violence in and outside the home, substance abuse, and
school failure. If that isn't a bottomless pit, I don't know what is.
*Source: Funk and Wagnalls
Standard College Dictionary: Funk and Wagnalls
Standard College Dictionary, by Funk and Wagnalls, page 7, 1963),
Harcourt, Brace and World, NY.
© 2002 Michael
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
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writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.