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 11:
How to Join a Gang

New Recruit: "I wanna be down for the set!"
Gang member: "Then show us you got what it takes."

An organization that hopes to exist over time must either create or recruit new members or it will perish. Established gang members recruit for new gang members in schools, on the street, while confined in detention, in fast food restaurants and their parking lots, at parties, in jail or prison, at concerts and family get-togethers (many recruits are the little brothers and sisters of established gang members), and anywhere else they may find potential members.

Field Note: The gang unit officer said gang membership is sometimes determined by the school the youths attend. It is at the school that recruiting takes place. He also noted that this sometimes causes problems because, in the same neighborhood, there may be kids attending different schools. This means that rivalry between gangs happens simply because of attendance at different schools and it brings rivals into contact with one another when they go home after school.

In order to join a gang, all potential members are required to go through an initiation ceremony to show the gang's members they "have what it takes." Well, at least that's what I thought. It's not true. Some gangs have initiation ceremonies, others do not. Some gangs require potential members go through initiation ceremonies while others require only certain people go through them while letting others join the gang without ceremony.

Among those who may avoid an initiation ceremony are people who are "blessed in" to a gang. Those who are blessed-in to a gang have older brothers, fathers, mothers, or other relatives who were already in the gang. There are other ways to enter a gang - ways to be tested prior to entrance, a "trial by ordeal," as it used to be called. The following are some of the initiation rites I learned about:


Initiation by cop
Kill a police officer. Rarely used today.
Being jumped in or beat in

Having to fight a certain number of gang members for a given period of time and being able to take the beating and fight back.
Sexed in

Used to initiate females into male-dominated gangs wherein the initiate provides sexual services for one or more of the established gang members.
Jacked in Committing a theft/larceny.
The Line, Lined In, or The Gauntlet

"In this scenario, the individual being initiated either stands in the middle of a circle and must fight his or her way out, or must run between two lines of gang members." (Curry and Decker, 1998, p. 66) The initiate is expected to stay on his or her feet from one end of the line to the other.
Commit a drive-by-shooting as assigned by the gang.
Russian roulette

Play Russian roulette and win. Russian roulette involves loading a pistol's cylinder with 1 bullet, spinning the cylinder, closing it, then pointing the gun to one's head and pulling the trigger. If the player wins, they're in the gang. If they lose, well...
Blood In, Blood Out

Blood In: commit a gang assigned murder to join the gang. Blood Out: commit a murder in order to leave the gang.
Catching a Rag or Catching a Flag

Fighting through a group of gang members in order to grab a rag or flag which has been placed on the other side of them.
Circled In
Fighting through to the center of a circle of gang members.
Courted In

Being invited in, as are some doctors (for their medical skills which may be performed without reporting to the authorities), lawyers (for their legal advice, plea bargaining ability, and courtroom expertise), and electricians (many skills may be needed for gang enterprises).
Deeded In

Having sex with a female or male who has a sexually transmitted disease and not getting the disease.
Freein' Hoover

Picking up six pennies which have been thrown on the ground while being physically assaulted by several gang members. When all six pennies have been gathered, the beating stops.
Punched In

Being hit once, and very aggressively, on the sternum - right over the heart.  Field Note: "Some gang members have been killed this way."

An Example of Being "Beat In"

Initiation into Chicano street gangs has developed over the years into a kind of "street baptism," functioning as a rite of passage for the initiate and as a rite of solidarity for the gang.

At the same time, the initiation process fulfills a pragmatic need to screen potential new members for fighting skills and courage valued by the gang, as well as some of the psychological needs of youth attempting to cope with adolescent age and gender role identity crises. Most gang members are initiated at about age 12 or 13 and, for most, the ritual simply formalizes the membership toward which participation in street activities has long prepared them. 

The initiation typically involves several gang members attacking the prospective member at the same time. The initiate is expected to fight back and cannot show any fear or weakness. The severity of the beating inflicted depends both on the initiate's prior standing with the gang (those who grew up with gang members or who have relatives in the gang fare better) and on the mindset of those conducting the initiation (severe beatings are far more common when participants are intoxicated). 

Similarities between the street baptism and male initiation rites in pre-industrial tribal societies suggest both address similar problems in the gender and age role identity resolution of young people. (Vigil, 1996)

Field Note: At a regional gang investigators' conference the Hispanic gang specialist told me "Sometimes teachers and school administrators mistake a jumping in as a school yard fight or a common assault."

An Example of a Drive-by Shooting as an Initiation Rite

In October of 2005 I interviewed a gang member from a large city in central Florida. Don (not his real name) began associating with neighborhood gang members at the age of ten. By the age of 13 Don had proved he had what it took to be considered for a formal initiation into the gang. Completing the initiation rite successfully meant that he would be able to wear the colors of the gang, have the gang tattoo put on his body, learn the rules of the gang, and more.

One night, as Don was gathered with the older gang members, he was told it was time for him to be initiated, if that was what he wanted. "I wanted it badly," Don told me. Then he said, "They wrote down the addresses of rival gang leaders - one address on each piece of paper. Then they put the pieces of paper in a bowl and asked me to draw out one piece. They told me that the address I had to do a drive-by on."

Three cars were used for the initiation by drive-by-shooting. The lead and rear cars were packed with senior gang members, all of them armed except the driver. They were there to "protect my back," Don said. "Just in case anyone in the house or nearby started shooting back!"

The middle car was driven by an older gang member and Don was the only person in the back seat. He said "We drove down the street real slow and, when we got in front of the target - you know, the house, I unloaded my Glock." I think it had 17 or 23 rounds of 40 caliber bullets. He said "I was scared to death, but I did it, and I became a member of the gang."

I asked Don how he felt about what he did and if he hit anyone. He replied "I don't feel real good about it, and I didn't feel too good about it back then. I didn't look back and I didn't read the paper or listen to radio or watch TV for a while. I didn't want to know if I hurt anyone."

Don is now 25 years old, no longer active in the gang, and building a legitimate career as a plumber. A local plumber, at the urging of Don's parole officer, offered him an apprenticeship in is company.

Don worked hard and gained the trust of the local plumber and his clients. Now the plumber is helping Don build his own plumbing company and, for the past two years, things have been going well. Don is no longer violating the law, he no long associates with his fellow gang members (although he admits he is proud of the fact that he is still a member), and he satisfactorily completed his parole a month prior to our interview.

Some Observations on Being Sexed In

According to Moore and Hagedorn, 

"Sex object" was one of the early stereotypes of female gang members, and the interest in the sex lives of female gang members still persists. Early reports about the easy sexual availability of female gang members came almost exclusively from male gang members (e.g., Short and Strodtbeck, 1965).  

Even some recent reports present similar male perceptions as fact, with no attempt at verification (Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991).  However, male gang members may be indulging their own fantasies. In a recent study, male gang members told researchers that group sex was an initiation ritual for female gang members, but female gang members dismissed the idea as ludicrous (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996)." (Moore and Hagedorn, 2001, scroll down to "Sex: Stereotyping and Victimization)

I asked several gang members how they would feel if their little brothers or sisters were to join a gang. While some expected this would happen and had no problem with it, most felt differently. One O.G.'s response was representative of most gang members I interviewed. He said "I'd beat their asses if they joined! I been there and I don't want them to have to go through what I've had to go through."

Once someone has been accepted as a member of a gang he or she is expected to become involved in criminal activity. By definition, gangs are groups of people who support one another in the commission of delinquent and criminal acts, and that is our next subject. 


Additional Resources: Sometimes gang initiation rites are a hoax.

Robert Walker offers a little more information about gang initiations. Why do kids join gangs?

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.