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

Part 1:
What the Individual Citizen Could Do

Field Note: "We need to reestablish order in society. There is a 'right' and 'wrong' and we need to express this now and more clearly than ever." (Dr. Dae Chang, scholar and researcher, Interview,  3 August 1999)

If anyone is going to reduce gang activity and youth violence in a community, it's going to be the individuals who live in it. You may have heard the expression "What can one person do?" It's usually uttered when someone feels overwhelmed by a problem they'd like to see solved. The fact of the matter is that all things that have ever been done in human history have been done by one person. In many instances that one person got other people involved in the solution. And that's where you come in.

What can you do to reduce gang activity and youth violence in your community or neighborhood? At a minimum, you can vote for tax increases which will expand opportunities for your community's children whether they are at-risk or not and you can vote for school bonds to keep good kids good. You can take a leadership role in bringing about change in your neighborhood or you can take a follower role. In either case, you can make a difference! And ONLY you can make a difference.

If you'd like to get involved, explore the links below and find other concerned citizens with whom to achieve your goal of living in a safer, healthier neighborhood.

bulletIf you work in a school, you can get the students, faculty, staff, and or administrators involved in working towards a solution.

bulletIf you're a member of a faith community, you can do things that get the other members of the faith community involved in a solution.

bulletIf you're a local business person, you can get your business involved, or the Chamber of  Commerce involved, or the Rotary or any other business-related organization.

bulletYou can help if you are part of the local health care system, government, media, criminal justice system, or in social services

bulletMentoring at-risk youth can be not only rewarding for the mentor, it has been shown to be very effective in raising the mentee's grades, lowering school truancy, and lowering participation in delinquent behavior. The Alliance for Concerned Men is an example of an organization that provides mentoring services. Big Brothers and Big Sisters is famous for providing such services.
bulletYou can find people to work on solutions with you ... friends, relatives, neighbors, members of your faith institution, and others. Or you can jump on a project all by yourself. For example, how about a letter writing campaign to local legislators, the City Council, or your local newspaper editor? 

While you may - and perhaps should - come up with a solution of your own design, you could read through the sites shown below and choose any one or more of the many solutions discussed. Working through your local social institutions (like the ones listed above) is one of the most effective ways in which you can help reduce gangs and youth violence in your community.

According to the Search Institute, there are many ways in which individuals can contribute to a reduction in gang activity and youth violence. No matter what role you play relative to youths know (i.e., parent, aunt, teacher, neighbor), there are ways you can help them along the path of life. The Search Institute refers to the need to build developmental assets among our youth - to help them become responsible, responsive, and caring adults. The list of sites below indicate the ways in which you can contribute to a child's growth in a meaningful and positive way. They are among the protective factors just discussed.

The Search Institute also has good information on supporting young people with caring and attention, empowering then to use their abilities to help others, setting reasonable boundaries, helping them find constructive activities, sparking their commitment to learning, guiding them with positive values, helping them develop social competencies and life skills, and celebrating their uniqueness and affirming their positive identify.

What One Person Can Do 
(An Extreme Example!)

In 1970 I had the good fortune of meeting a young man named Gary Maher. At the time, he and Mimi Silbert were attempting to establish an organization he called The Delancey Street Foundation. It is described as a leading self-help residential education center for former offenders and former substance abusers in the country. It is perhaps the largest, most innovative, and most successful community-based program for ex-convicts in the United States.

The Delancey Street Foundation is an example of an individual's dreams becoming a reality. As the idea grew in Gary's and Mimi's minds, others were attracted to them and the vision they were developing. What started out small has become significant.

Over time, a series of buildings have been purchased which provide the ex-convicts with a place to live. Training is also provided and a variety of businesses were established which are staffed by the ex-convicts. Among the businesses are "a moving and trucking school, restaurant and catering services, print and copy shop, retail and wholesale sales, advertising specialties sales, Christmas tree sales and decorating, and an automotive service center, among others." (page).

During a two- to four-year stay at Delancey Street, residents learn social survival skills, and equally important, academic and vocational skills. Delancey Street supports itself primarily through a number of training schools, which provide vocational skills to all the residents while generating income through revenues earned from business services.

Training opportunities include a moving and trucking school, restaurant and catering services, print and copy shop, retail and wholesale sales, paratransit services, advertising specialties sales, Christmas tree sales and decorating, and an automotive service center, among others. More than 14,000 clients have graduated from the program. Delancey Street operates facilities in New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Los Angeles and is headquartered in San Francisco.

Little Successes That Make for Big Improvements

I've included some success stories below. They are "little wins" which, when added together, represent a major victory against violence, frustration, and hopelessness. By visiting the Web sites linked to each you'll learn more about what you could do in your neighborhood to win similar victories.


The National Crime Prevention Council suggests there are "10 Things You Can Do" to help youths live a gang free life:

Teach children how to reduce their risk of being victims of violent crime. Insist on knowing at all times where your kids are, what they are doing, and who they are with.

Get involved. Volunteer to help in community and neighborhood anti-crime and other community improvement efforts. Encourage groups you belong to -- religious, civic, social -- to help stop crime.

Use common-sense tips to reduce your risk of being a crime victim. Stay in well-lighted, busy areas; travel with a friend if possible; walk in a confident, assured way. Avoid known trouble spots.

Report crimes and suspicious activities to police; agree to testify when necessary. Stand up for what you believe in if you want a safe community.

Get to know your neighbors and agree to look out for each other. Get organized; work with the police.

Find ways to settle arguments without violence. If you resort to violence to settle disputes, this is what you will teach your child. Be a good role model.

Use common courtesy. It helps ease tensions that can lead to violence. Teach your kids that good manners are important.

Don't carry a weapon. You lose, whether you use it or it's used on you.

Don't support illegal activities, like buying stolen property or using illegal drugs. It's the wrong message to send a child, and it involves you in criminal activity.

Volunteer your home as a reliable source of help for kids who are scared or need assistance.


According to the National Citizens' Crime Prevention Campaign, at the Robert Taylor Homes public housing complex (Chicago, IL), there was fighting among girls who lived in different buildings. When older girls from each building decided to read stories, share ideas, and play games with the younger girls from the other building, the tension began to go away. They realized they had a lot in common and really liked each other.


Teen offenders in the Knox County Teen Court program are sentenced by a jury of other teens. After completing their sentence - community service, restitution, behavioral or safety workshops, or other duties determined by the court - the arrest is removed from the offender's permanent record. You have access to the manual for the court.


Find a group or start one of your own. If you're a parent, encourage your children to join an after-school program at school, Boys & Girls Clubs, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA or YWCA, or Camp Fire. If you need help finding out what's available in your community, talk to someone at your local school, family place of worship, police station, or recreation center.

What if your child already belongs to a group like a soccer team, drama club, dance group, church youth group? The soccer team could challenge a police officers' team and give the proceeds to a women's shelter. A dance or drama group could put on a show about drug abuse prevention and perform it for younger kids in a Head Start or day care class.

Helping a Youth Finish School

Do you know a youth in the community who is headed into or already getting in to trouble? Do you feel as though you could approach this youth and encourage him or her to finish school? If you do, would it be worth a few dollars for you to pay for the youth's GED (high-school equivalency degree)? Did you know it only costs a few dollars? (It's $12 in one part of my community and free in another.) It takes the student time to complete the work, but the expense is minor (although it may not be minor for the youth). How's that for a nice gift?

The High School Equivalency Program (HEP) helps persons 16 years of age or older who are not currently enrolled in school to obtain the equivalent of a secondary school diploma and subsequently to gain employment or begin postsecondary education or training.

The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) assists students enrolled in the first undergraduate year at an institution of higher education to complete their program of study for that year. Grants for both HEP and CAMP are made to institutions of higher education or to other nonprofit private agencies that cooperate with such institutions.

Does your community offer this kind of help? If not, maybe you could introduce the idea. By the way, there are other options for completing one's education.

Other Ways to Get Involved

Becoming knowledgeable about non-gang youth is, perhaps, even more important than being knowledgeable about gang youth (there are far more non-gang youth). You can learn how to secure a safer future for youth by exploring this site at the National Crime Prevention Council's website (the site may load slowly on your computer). The Council also has some sage advise about making children, families, and communities safer from violence (type children violence in the search box). Families also play an important role in reducing gang and youth violence. That's the subject of the next part of this chapter.


Additional Resources: You can contact The Delancey Street program at: Dr. Mimi Silbert, President, Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94107, Phone: 415-957-9800, Fax: 415-512-5186, Web Site:

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.