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

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
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

Why Do Kids Join Criminal Street Gangs?
Authors:  JoAnn Moore (President) and John Earls (Vice President), GWC, Inc.
Reproduced here with permission.

There are all kinds of reasons for joining a gang, but like most youth activities, whether criminal or otherwise, most young males and females join gangs for companionship and love. The desire to belong to a gang may stem from a variety of motives, but the one thing all gangs have in common is a claim on turf, or territory. 

A gang’s turf may be one block, a neighborhood, or an entire area of the city. Members wear the gang’s colors, or a particular style of clothing and symbols, which many times may indicate luxury or power in a particular neighborhood. Certain social behavior, such as association with gang members and knowledge of gang signs, may also be a matter of survival . 

Many young males have to make peace with local gangs to go to school, work or merely walk down a street in their neighborhood. Each gang has a leader, and sometimes other officers. Drug gangs are different from other kinds of gangs. They are much more organized, and much more dangerous. They are responsible for the distribution of illegal drugs from marijuana to cocaine and heroin to methamphetamine Gang members are required to sell drugs, carrying drugs and large amounts of cash and to protect dealers and other gang members from police or rival gangs.

The drug trade is harsh and dangerous, lower rung drug dealers do not drive BMWs, wear gold jewelry, or get rich quick. They work around the clock, six or seven days a week, for low wages, often enforced by the threat of violence. 

Murders are committed in order to realize the gang’s goals of increasing profits, controlling renegade members, protecting existing territories and markets, and terrorizing competitors. The more cunning and brutal the gang, the better its chances of success. Their activities are not localized, they span cities, towns and in some cases, states.

One of the biggest misconceptions about joining a gang is the thought of getting rich. Some young people think gang members are rich, drive expensive cars, and don’t have to work. However, very few gang members get rich. Most of their money goes in one hand and out the other to support flash and style rather than for living. They do not live luxurious or glamorous lives. 

Drug dealing is actually hard and dangerous work. It begins early in the morning and lasts until late in the night. Drug dealers are always on the job. They’ll probably have a pager so that people who want to make a buy can get in touch with them whenever they feel like it. their time is not their own.

The work is incredibly dangerous. They must always be on guard, either watching for police or rival gang members. They are constantly in danger or being killed. The odds of surviving are not in their favor.

Sometimes drug dealers do make more money than they would otherwise. But the choice to join a gang, to use drugs and deal drugs means giving up their freedom and their life. Is the choice worth the price?

One of the more attractive things about gangs is the loyalty the members all have for each other. They seem to value the other members of their gang more than themselves. Gangs provide an instant group of best friends. The bad side of this loyalty is that they can never really have friends outside the gang. They spend all their time with the gang, and must do whatever the gang leader tells them to do. They lose their freedom when they join a gang.

In order to join a gang, you have to prove you are worthy by going through a process of initiation. In some gangs, initiation involves committing some kind of crime. In others, new members have to "walk the line", that is, walk along a line of member while each member beats him, and he is ordered not to fight back. Most female gang members are either "beat in" or "sexed in". Initiations are generally very brutal.

Today the use of guns is quite common in gangs. Most gang shootings involve other gang members. But recently more and more innocent bystanders have been killed by gang shootings. A gang’s main duty is usually to protect its turf. Simply wearing another gang’s colors on a gang’s turf is reason enough to be killed. The killing of a gang member usually provokes a revenge killing, which in turn provokes a revenge killing, and on and on. Sometimes gangs go wilding, which is to go on a rampage breaking windows, looting, attacking by-standers, committing rape, even murder.

Someone who makes the choice to join a gang usually sets his life up to end in one of two ways ... jail or death. Gangs can make you feel important, can make you feel that you belong and can even make you feel rich. But is the choice to join a gang worth the destruction caused in the gang members’ lives and in the community?

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This article and all of its contents ©1997 by GWC, Inc.
Reprinted here with permission.

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530 Falling Spring Road
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Phone:  (800) 851-5406 or (618) 337-9300
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