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 10:
How Youths Find Out About Gangs

Field Note: I asked an Indian Reservation police officer "Why do you think the gangs are starting to appear here?" "We have cable television now," he said "and they all watch it. They're all going to public school now and learning what the white children learn and talk like they do. And they're having a problem with alcohol and that's related to some of the violence. So the kids are drinking more and killing more. Then there's the problem of the Indians who go to prison and come back to our community. Now they have status and more power and they are a very bad influence on our children."

There are a variety of ways in which today's youth learn about gangs. The following are among the better known.

bulletGangs are an every day reality on the streets of many inner-city neighborhoods. Simply walking out of one's residence may mean walking into the gang culture. This daily exposure ensures that children in those neighborhoods will learn about gangs, come to know many of the gang members, and will likely have to deal with one or more of them each day in an effort to navigate through the neighborhood to play, attend school, or go to the store.

bullet Media exposure increases the likelihood that a child will learn about gangs. Movies, the Internet, television programs, and rap music also transmit knowledge of gangs, their language, values, demeanor, dress, and concerns. This may be referred to as the process of electronic socialization into gang culture.

Field Note: A gang unit supervisor I interviewed believes "Gang members are mimicking what they see on TV and hear in rap music. If a rapper is wearing something in his new CD that catches the fancy of gang youth, it's likely to be incorporated in the gang wardrobe. And, because of the growing Hip Hop culture of American cities, it's likely to infiltrate the wardrobes of non-gang youth as well."

The National Alliance of Gang Investigator Associations states that:

The crossover appeal of rap is, in many respects, grounded in the rise of gang culture and the gangsta style of rap music which promotes (the rappers say reflects) that lifestyle. It is a lifestyle rooted in the themes of money, women, guns, and drugs; the physical posturing in promoting those themes; and the language of the culture and its nonverbal forms of communication such as gang hand signs and graffiti. 

Through the music and movies this lifestyle inundates households, promoting the image of the gang member as a "noble" soldier fighting an oppressive system while reaping the material trappings of mainstream success. 

In essence, gang members become icons, heroes to be looked up to with admiration and respect for having the courage of their outlaw convictions while conquering a sociopolitical system that would keep them bound and gagged for offensive indiscretions. The vocal and visual image of the inner-city minority gang member embracing the "thug" way of life proves to be intoxicating and addictive to youth. (National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, "Gangs and the Media," taken off the web at by October, 2006.)

bulletYouths sometime learn about gangs from their gang member siblings, parents, or other relatives. This is so common that there is a form of initiation known as being "blessed in" to a gang - being welcomed in as the brother, child, or other relative of an established member of the gang.

bulletSome gang members actively recruit for new members. Having heard that Skinheads were becoming a problem in the community, I asked the local police chief if the Skinheads were doing any recruiting. He said "Yes. They recruit on the local college campus by handing out flyers and leaving open web sites on white supremacy for other students to find when they entered the computer labs. They also have business cards that they hand out at the mall and around the central square of town."

bulletThe United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department conjointly developed the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.). It consists of eight lesson plans, each introduced at the rate of one per week in an elementary or middle-school and now has a new family component. Although there are positive aspects to this program, it has been alleged by its detractors that it may prematurely introduce children to gangs.

Field Note: A veteran juvenile officer told me gangs developed in his community in three ways: "local youths watched movies and television portrayals of gangs and then mimicked that behavior and attitude," by the "immigration of L.A. gang members who came here to sell drugs and involve local youths as fellow gang members, and good people migrating from Southern California to escape gangs who, unknowingly, brought children who were already a part of that problem. They're actually importing the problem to our community!"

Some gangs recruit for specific skills depending upon what it is that the gang needs. Members may be sought out or accepted because they bring one or more of the following to the gang:

bulletpolitical power (in legitimate or illegitimate circles),
bulletfinancial support (directly or through their connections),
bulletexpertise (in the commission of certain kinds of crimes),
bulletcontacts (in acquiring drugs or women, contacts with fences),
bulleta market (for selling drugs and illicit services),
bulletstrength (they are strong, present a threat to rivals), or
bulletspecific jobs or tasks (i.e., hit men, drivers, look outs, runners or mules).


Additional Resources: Some gangs recruit via the Internet. For additional information about how gangs recruit for new members, visit Gangs 101.

You can learn more about the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program.

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.