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

Topic 9:
Lack of Legitimate Free-Time Activities

Why Gangs Form

What Gangs Provide Why Youths Join
Gangs form due to a lack of legitimate free-time activities. Activity. To keep from 
being bored.

Explanation in Brief: 
Gangs form in response to a lack of legitimate free-time activities for neighborhood youth.

Among the reasons for joining gangs were to obtain money or protection, or because of a lack of alternative activities ...  one-fourth of respondents ... reported a lack of alternatives. (Stone, 1999)

The probation and parole officers interviewed for this study identified boredom as one of the leading reasons why some youth get into trouble with the law (child abuse, sibling gang involvement, an absent father, and substance abuse in the family were the others). 

For most youths, family, school, and faith institutions offer an array of legitimate activities - enough to keep some children so busy they are literally exhausted at the end of the day, as are the parents who must shuttle them from one activity to another. Families go on vacations and picnics, schools take children to the zoo and offer a range of after-school activities including specialty clubs, field trips, and athletics. Faith institutions offer missionary work, community service, dances, activity centers where youths can watch television, videos, and generally "hang out" with each other.

Field Note: A suburban church minister told me "We keep our church youth so busy there's something to do every night of the week and on weekends. We also have a youth minister who visits their homes regularly and holds special services for them on topics that are timely and useful."

Some youths, however, live in family settings that are neglectful or so painful that they associate with family members only when absolutely necessary. School for some youths has also become a painful experience due to poor academic performance, discrimination suffered at the hands of school personnel and/or other students, or any one of a number of other reasons. And in too many cases the faith institutions close down at 5:00 p.m. and lock up for the night. As a result, these youth have few lawful and enjoyable activities in which to participate. If lawful forms of activity are not available, some youths will opt for unlawful activities.

Some of the unlawful activities take the form of striking back at family members, peers, school authorities, and other people who have hurt the child. This may include running away, vandalism, fighting, and theft. When caught for behaving in this manner, the child may be placed in detention and begin socializing with youth in similarly situated circumstances. The beginnings of a gang in this scenario are not too difficult to see.

... young men and women from diverse social situations form gangs to escape boredom and gain a sense of family. (Joe and Chesney-Lind, no date)

Once formed, gangs provide a multitude of things to do for their current and potential members - both lawful and unlawful. Among the lawful activities are socializing ("kickin' it") and parties. Among the unlawful activities are the crimes they commit. As long as the gang has a corner or a meeting house, there is something to do and someone to do it with. The point is that, lacking legitimate free-time activities, youths may unite to find amusement, sometimes to the community's detriment and their own.

A lack of legitimate free-time activities alone is insufficient as an explanation for the formation of gangs. For some, the presence of pathological offenders may also help explain why a gang forms.


Additional Resources: While photographing gang members photographer Robert Yager found "There's a lot of boredom around, with a lack of opportunity - so they look for the opposite in extreme highs and camaraderie. They'll go looking for trouble with rival gangs." Read about what he learned about L.A. gang members' boredom and lack of opportunity.

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.