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


Glossary of Terms

Aid and abet

"To actively, knowingly or intentionally assist another person in the commission or attempted commission of a crime." (Delaware State Courts, page)

Asian Triad

"Heroin trafficking is a major source of income for Asian gangs. Asian gangs also engage in extortion, armed robbery, and high tech crimes. The 14k triad is the largest triad worldwide. It was formed after the second world war by Nationalists fleeing Communist Chinese. The Kung Lok was founded in TO by Lau Wing Kui. The Kung Lok triad was involved in illegal gambling, and extortion." Reprinted here with permission of the author and copyright holder, Wade O. Koromantee.  


Most commonly used to refer to people who "hang" with gang members. They are sometimes the friends or acquaintances of documented gang members. The gang manual for one police department I studied defines a gang associate as "a person who admits to criminal street gang association and either resides or frequents a particular street gang's area and adopts their style of dress, use of hand signs or symbols, is identified as an associate by a parent, guardian, or corroborated statement of the department or an informant, is identified as an associate by physical evidence such as a photograph or other documentation or has been arrested more than once in the company of identified gang members for offenses consistent with criminal street gang activity."

Core gang member

Some gangs are large and diversified enough to have an identifiable structure. At the center one may find the leaders of the gang surrounded by the core members. The core members are the more criminally active and long-term members. Other positions in a gang may include "associates" and "wannabes," (for whom a better name may be "gonnabes"?). Gangs 101 provides more information on gang structure.

Documented gang member

A documented gang member is an individual who has been officially identified by law enforcement authorities as a gang member. An individual may be identified as a gang member through self-admission (verbal or through such identifiers as color of clothing, tattoos, etc.), identification by his or her associates, by an individual or individuals living in proximity of the gang member, or through law enforcement intelligence efforts.

Electronic socialization

The process of socialization involves interaction and communication with other human beings through which an individual learns about his or her culture. The process begins at birth and may last for a lifetime. Learning about one's culture through the mass media, Internet, and other electronic forms of communication is referred to here as electronic socialization. Electronic socialization may occur without the presence of another living human being.

Gang displacement

Gang displacement occurs when community and/or law enforcement pressures are brought to bear on the members of a gang and they move their criminal activities to a different location.   

Gang entrenchment

Gang entrenchment occurs when a gang establishes a seemingly permanent presence in a given neighborhood. The culture of the neighborhood is the culture of the gang. 

In its most complete form, gang entrenchment includes liaisons with area land owners and landlords, local businesses, police, probation and parole officers, prosecutors, local politicians, and public defenders. The liaison may be clandestine and passive (as when justice practitioners overlook "minor" violations of law such as minors in possession of alcohol or the use of marijuana) or blatant and aggressive.

Field Note: While observing drug dealers in the central city, I discovered area business owners allowed the dealers to store their drugs in the business establishment. The dealer paid "rent" to the business owner and was seen going in and out of the store all day long picking up a small amount of drugs to sell, going out on the street, selling them, then returning to the store to load up once again. 

Collusion between gang members and business owners and others in a neighborhood makes it very difficult to reduce the gang's presence. 

Gang member-based crime 

(Also referred to as "gang-related" or "member-related.") A gang-related or member-related crime is one in which a gang member is either the perpetrator or the victim or both, regardless of the motive. (National Youth Gang Survey, 1998)  A member-related crime is a criminal act which is not motivated by the alleged offender's gang but was, rather, an act committed for the sole satisfaction and benefit of the alleged offender. 

The gang may not even have known about the act. Use of the "member-related" definition for statistical purposes will likely produce higher numbers of gang crimes since it is easier to show an individual is a member of a gang than to prove that the gang motivated the gang member to commit the crime.

The advantages of using the member-based definition include the tracking of all gang incidents, the increase in intelligence it provides, the numbers it generates may facilitate funding/grant opportunities, and it helps perpetuate and expand the efforts of anti-gang treatment programs. 

Among the disadvantages are an unrealistic inflating of a gang's criminal activities. Which method of collecting data on gang-related crimes is best ... gang-motivated or gang-member based? 

Gang motive-based crime

A crime committed by a gang member in which the underlying reason for committing the crime is to further the interests and activities of the gang is referred to as a motive-based crime. The "motive" is the furtherance of the gang's interest. (National Youth Gang Survey, 1998) 

Field Note: A gang unit sergeant asked "If a registered sex offender walks into a Git-n-Go and steals a candy bar, should it be labeled as a sex offense? The same holds true for documented gang members. If a documented gang member walked into the Git-n-Go and did the same thing, would that be a gang-motivated crime?"

Gang motive-based crime refers to a criminal act committed by a known gang member on behalf of his or her gang rather than for the sole satisfaction or benefit of the alleged offender. Use of the "gang-motivated" definition for statistical purposes will likely produce lower numbers of gang crimes due to the difficulty in proving the offender is a gang member and that his illegal act was motivated by his or her gang.

Among the advantages of using the motive-based definition are that it gives a more refined statistic, one that speaks directly to the influence of the gang on the criminal activities of its members. Among the disadvantages are that "motive" is often difficult to prove, some gang crimes may go unreported, and the lower statistics that it produces may foster a denial of the seriousness of the gang situation. Which method of collecting data on gang-related crimes is best ... gang-motivated or gang-member based? 

Good time

As much as one day in every three or four served may be subtracted from the length of the original sentence if the inmate behaves well. That is, with good time an inmate with a 12 years sentence may serve on one third or one fourth of the original sentence. Upon being released early the inmate will be placed on parole.

Home Invasion

Breaking into or entering a home, apartment, or hotel room for the purpose of committing a criminal act while the resident(s) is present. While Asian gangs are best known for committing this crime, it is also committed by other kinds of gangs and by non-gang offenders. The reason for waiting to enter until the resident is present is to intimidate the resident so that no police report of the incident is made.


Homies is plural for "Homey." "Home boy" may also be used. All refer to a close friend, someone from the same neighborhood, or a fellow gang member.

Immigration Tradition

The tendency for the most recent immigrant group to suffer discrimination and other settlement difficulties often resulting in some of their members joining gangs.


To incarcerate someone is to confine them by use of force. The most common form of incarceration is jail (for adults and juveniles) or prison (exclusively for adults or juveniles who have been tried as adults). There are facilities for juveniles - sometimes called camps, schools, or farms - where juveniles are confined by force. The level of force used in any facility defines whether it is a place of minimum, medium, or maximum confinement. 


Meth is a shorted form of the word methamphetamine. It is an illegal substance or drug which causes the user to feel a "high." It often results in physical addition and abnormal, unpredictable, and aggressive behavior. You can learn more about meth from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.  

Miranda Rights

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to be speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense. Do you understand these rights?" You can learn more about Miranda Rights


The nickname of a gang member or associate. The nickname may be provided by the gang or provided by oneself. Monikers may reveal a personality characteristic of the person they identify, a crime specialty, some other characteristic of the person, or nothing at all. 

Original gangster

An original gangster (O.G.) is typically an older or senior gang member or, in some cases, the founder of the gang. Original gangsters are held in high regard within a gang and sometimes mentor the gang members (Gs) and wannabes (WBs). In Hispanic/Latino gangs original gangsters are sometimes referred to as veteranos.

Parens Patriae

Latin: A British common law creation whereby the courts have the right to make unfettered decisions concerning people who are not able to take care of themselves. For example, court can make custody decisions regarding a child or an insane person, even without statute law to allow them to do so, based on their residual, common law-based parens patriae jurisdiction. (Source:

Due to their age, juveniles ("minors") are viewed as incapable of taking care of themselves, therefore the juvenile court (judge) takes on the role of parents ("paren") to determine the course of action which would be in the best interest or welfare of the child.


Some convicted persons are sentenced to prison with no possibility of parole. Most convicted persons sentenced to prison, however, are allowed to be paroled as long as they behave well in prison. If they do behave well they may be given "good time." A person placed on parole is one who is given a conditional early release from his or her prison sentence. While on parole the individual must, among other things, stay crime and drug free and report regularly to his or her parole officer.  

Plea bargain

In a plea bargain the accused offers to plead guilty in exchange for a concession from the state (the prosecutor). Among the many possible concession are lowering of the sentence, dropping of one or more charges, dropping felony charges while keeping misdemeanor charges, or the promise of a short sentence or small fine.

Probable Cause

The set of facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe a particular individual had committed, was found committing, or is intending to commit a crime.


A sentence given in lieu of a sentence to prison. A person on probation will be supervised in the community by a probation officer as long as specific conditions of that probation are satisfactorily fulfilled. If any one or more of the conditions are violated (i.e., committing a crime, carrying a weapon, failing to appear for treatment, failure to report to the probation officer), the probationer may be sent to prison for the remainder of his or her original sentence. 

Prosecutorial merit

A case which, when brought to court, has a high probability of concluding with a plea bargain or a verdict of guilty is referred to as having prosecutorial merit. Cases which have less certain outcomes do not have prosecutorial merit.


Recidivism, when used in the context of prisons, typically refers to the proportion of inmates who return to prison following their release from a prior period of incarceration. That is, if an inmate serves his time and receives a conditional early release (called parole) or is discharged (freed after serving a full sentence), commits a new offense, is convicted of it and given a new prison sentence, he has recidivated back to prison.   

Prison recidivism rates vary widely from one state to another and depend upon the level of security (minimum, medium, or maximum) at which the inmate was held. Estimates of the nation-wide rate of recidivism varies from 20% to 40% within the first 2 to 5 years from the date of release from the last incarceration. These are only estimates as few states know whether inmates they released ended up incarcerated in another state or changed names and ended up locked up in the same state under a new name.  

Saturation Policing

Saturation policing involves the assignment of a great number of police to a specific area. It may be used for special occasions (i.e., an event that will bring protesters together, the presence of a dignitary or other individual or group that is likely to attract criminal activity, a search for a particular individual or individuals) or on a regular basis in response to a known pattern of criminal activity over time. For example, if criminal activity occurs with some regularity on Fridays in a certain park over a period of several weeks, the police may begin saturating the park area on Fridays to deter such activity as well as to make arrest when possible.

Secondary analysis

When a writer reads original research by other researchers then writes, perhaps, a synthesis of their works, the work that is produced is the result of secondary analysis. The primary analysis was done by the researcher who produced the original research.


Perhaps you've heard of Bloods, Crips, People, or Folk. Those are the names of gangs and there are many "sets" (or clikas in Hispanic gangs) within each. In some communities there are dozens of Blood sets, Crip sets, and others. They are each typically named after a different local neighborhood, street, park, school, or valley. Although the set's' names may end with the word "Blood," or "Crip," it doesn't mean they know or work with one another. In fact, there may be bad relations between certain sets within the same gang name (Blood, Crip, etc.) The nature of the relationship between sets varies day to day within the same community and from community to community. 

Shot caller

A gang member who is a leader, one who "calls the shots" in terms of what activity the gang will participate in, who will participate in it, etc. A gang may have more than one shot caller, one for members who commit theft, another for those involved in the illegal drugs market, and so on. 

Social Institution

A social institution consists of a group of people organized around the statuses and roles of the individuals in the group. Those statuses and roles are defined in such a way that they help the social institution achieve its unique goal or task. Among the more significant social institutions in any society are the family, faith, education, health care, government, commerce, the media, and the justice system.

In the family, some of the statuses would be father, mother, child, brother, sister, uncle, etc. Each status has a variety of roles to play and the roles of each status vary from the other. In the faith community there are, for example, the statuses of minister and member of the congregation, each with its unique roles.  The same principle applies in the other social institutions. 


The process of social interaction and communication through which an individual comes to learn and internalize the culture of their society or group. Socialization takes place throughout a person's life but is especially intense from birth through childhood as we are socialized into society. Socialization continues, for example, as we learn how to do a job, behave in a marriage, act as a parent, and deal with retirement.


Sociology is a behavioral science, and a sociologist is someone who studies social relations between people, people and groups, and between groups. Other areas of investigation include culture, social institutions, and social structures. The impact of the individual upon society and society's impact on the individual are also a topic of interest to sociologists.

Since its inception in the 1800's, the study of sociology has expanded to include the field of criminology, gender studies, race and ethnic relations, social psychology, and many others. Visit the site of the Sociology Dictionary for an extended definition.

Status offense

Status offenses include underage drinking, truancy, curfew violations, incorrigibility, and running away. Status offenses would not be defined as crimes if committed by adults. The word "status" refers to the age of the offender. Status offenses are offenses only juveniles can commit.


A sweep takes place when law enforcement officials, usually with arrest and search warrants in hand, enter a neighborhood with the intent to serve all the arrest warrants (make arrests) and search warrants (conduct searches). This law enforcement technique is often used when making arrests of a large number of alleged drug-related offenders, prostitution or theft rings, and other large-scale criminal operations.

The following story comes from Katz's and Webb's research on the police gang unit in Las Vegas (NV).

In Las Vegas, gang unit officers used a much more aggressive strategy that many of them referred to as a sweep. The members of each gang enforcement squad worked as a team. The team would split into four pairs, each assigned to its own squad car.

At the beginning of the shift, the team would agree on the areas they were going to sweep and the order in which sweeps would be conducted. To begin, generally all four vehicles would rally at a single point outside the specified neighborhood. From there, one pair of officers would patrol down the 'hot street' - a street or area where gang members were know to loiter or conduct street-level drug sales. Two other pairs in squad cars would patrol the two streets immediately parallel to the hot street, keeping pace with he lead car.

The forth squad car would remain out of sight at the end of the street, slowly patrolling toward the other three. This tactic involved squeezing gang members toward the center of the targeted area. Then if a suspect fled on foot or in a vehicle, one of the squad cars would be in position to pursue and stop that person. (Katz and Webb, 2004, p.  262, italics in original.)


A tagger is a person who "throws up" graffiti. Throwing up graffiti means putting it up - on signs, walls, telephone booths, in subway cars, on the sides of train cars, sidewalks, on street pavement, telephone poles, doors, etc. Some taggers are quite artistic and their work is now on view in museums in New York City and elsewhere.   

From Art Crimes: the Writing on the Wall,
with permission.

Throwing signs

Using their fingers, thumbs, wrists, and arms some gang members form symbols to signify the name of their gang, show signs of affection, threaten others, and otherwise communicate with others. Photo of handsigns and tatto.

Time served

In sentencing an offender to a period of time in jail or prison, a judge, at his or her discretion, may deduct from the sentence the length of time the offender spent in jail awaiting his or her trial. For example, if a suspect spent one month in jail awaiting trial and was sentenced to six months in jail for his offense, the judge may conclude pronouncement of the sentence saying "Six months less time served." In this case, the offender has only five months to serve in jail before he is discharged and set free.


An individual from the underclass is one who has typically lived through generations of welfare. It is the lowest social class and it's members considered as the poorest of all people in the United States.

Wannabes / Gonnabes

Individuals who want to be gang members and be recognized as such. They are sometimes referred to as gonnabes because, whether they like it or not, police, social service workers, and neighborhood residents, are likely to label them as gang members due to their behavior and they're "gonnabe" gang members if not diverted from the path they are taking.


A term used to signify a Jamaican living in the United Kingdom. It has also taken on a more negative connotation in use as a term to describe Jamaican gang. For more about the Yardies you can read this article by Detective and Chief Superintendent Roy A. C. Ramm, International and Organized Crime Branch, Scotland Yard London, England.

Zero Tolerance

A policy of zero tolerance means police will not tolerate the violation of any law. The purpose of a zero tolerance policy is to enhance opportunities for temporarily denying suspects of their freedom so that police can find out who they are, why they are where they are, what they're doing or intending on doing, and to run their driver license number (or name, or vehicle license plate number) through a police database to determine if the suspect is wanted or should, for some other reason, be held.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.