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

Chapter 1:
Jose's Story

I sat expectantly as Jose's parole officer, Ted, brought him into the room. Jose, at six-foot-three and 300 pounds, filled the doorway. He is a Hispanic gang member from Los Angeles. The big cahoona. The one no one wants to mess with ... every pound of him pure muscle.

He had tattoos of barbed wire around his neck, "666" above one ear and "Diablo" [Devil] over the other ear. The numeric symbol for his gang's name was plastered all over his body, head, and face. He even had Devil's horns tattooed on his completely shaven head, if you could see that high up.  

Ted introduced me to Jose as a "professor doing some research on gangs." Jose didn't buy it. It took about thirty minutes of conversing with him before he was convinced I wasn't a police officer. Once we got past that, we were able to get down to business.

"You can take the kid out of the gang," he said, "but you can't take the gang out of the kid." I asked Jose about the situation in Los Angeles and he replied saying "A 14 year old boy in L.A. was riding his bike. He saw a police car driving in his direction, jumped off the bike and starting running away. The cops drove up, stopped, and one of 'em hopped out of the car. The kid jumped a fence and the cop starting chasing him on foot. As he cleared the second fence the officer shot and killed him. That's how police are taking care of the problem - they're killing people!"

I was surprised when Jose added "I can understand where the cops are coming from, though. Where they work, everybody on the street has a gun. You have to be real careful." Jose has been shot five times in his 23 years on Earth, served several jail terms and one prison term.

His left index finger was shot off "with a three-fifty-seven [caliber bullet]. I got another three-fifty seven through my waist, a nine [millimeter bullet] through my shoulder, a nine here [showing me a dent and scar in his shoulder], and a shot gun on the back of my leg. It's time to live life now. I've had enough." At nine months, this is the longest period of time he has been out of jail or prison since his fourteenth birthday.  

My interview with Jose took place outside Los Angeles. At his mother's and sister's suggestion, when he was released from prison [and put on parole] he moved to another state to live with his sister in an effort to get out of the gang. The first time he was in jail he said "I was doing some bad things. I was about 14 years old then." A short time later he was drawn into the gang. "They promised to protect me [from other gangs], give me a way to make some money, and to love me as a brother."

When he first got into the gang he said  "I remember I would get out [of jail], go home, and guys [rival gang members] would start shooting at my Mom's house - where I was living. Jose's eyes began to swell with tears. "It's makes me cry sometimes to think of all the things I put my mother through," he said softly, looking down at the floor, trying to hide the impact of his emotions.   

As Jose's story unfolded he said "When I was in prison sometimes, I would run into a member of my own gang who was doing time. There were people like that that I didn't even know, and we were in the same gang! They'd come up to me and say 'I been here a long time and, you know, no one in the gang sends me anything - no money, nothin'.  They really don't care about us.' So much for being a family, for being 'loved like a brother.'"

He told me " ... you got to learn to take care of yourself. That's why I'm gettin' out. They really don't take care of you. It started out that the gang guys said they would take care of me - you know, support me, stand behind me in hard times. But, after I was in the gang a while, it changed. It really wasn't like that." And this is a big gang.  A very big gang. I visited the neighborhood they represent and it consists of nearly one hundred square blocks in South Central Los Angeles. There are reported to be several hundred members in the gang comprised of 20 to 30 different groups or "sets." 

Jose had earlier told me that his gang promised to provide a way for him to make some money. "They showed me how to get drugs and sell 'em," he said. "We had our neighborhood and a place where we sold drugs." But, according to Jose, there was a problem. "The Mexican Mafia guys would go where another gang already owned the corner and sold drugs, and they would say 'Here's a pound' or five pounds or whatever, of crystal meth. 'You have eight days to sell it and you can pay us then.'"

Jose said if the gang member to whom the offer was being made turned the deal down, "the Mexican Mafia guys would leave, but, using some of their techniques, they would eventually force you to buy from the them later. If you sold the stuff and didn't pay them off or paid less than what was wanted, you were in trouble. It's like makin' a deal with the devil. That's what gets so many people in trouble. And if there's a problem, the Mexican Mafia guys threaten to take one of your other gang members out [kill him] while he's in prison. It's dangerous business."

I asked Jose what it would take to keep youths from getting involved in a gang. He said

I think they should talk with someone who's experienced in gangs. Someone who was in the life and out of it now. Someone who really knows what it's like. That's what it takes to reach little ones. At that age everyone wants to be accepted. They see the group, the girls, the money and things, the closeness and protecting one another. We wanted every kid in our neighborhood to join the gang. That makes us the biggest and the strongest.  

And it was all about drugs. And parents need to tell kids that they don't have to be a member of a gang to be accepted. Where I come from, gang members were put on pedestals. It's all about status and being looked up to, having power and money and stuff. There was no alternative. It seemed like every kid in school was in a gang.

California really needs to crack down. They're too easy on these guys [gang bangers], and the courts just let 'em out and they go back on the street. And they print the names of the gangs in the newspaper. They shouldn't do that. When they do the guys all get together and show off. They collect this stuff and have scrap books.

And we need some anti-gang programs in the detention centers where these kids are first exposed to gang stuff. After that, it's too late. Any change is going to have to come from inside [the person] after that. But if you can get to them before they get into the life, that's better. You have a better chance of keeping them from getting in in the first place.

Jose's insights were right on target. He knew exactly what was needed - prevention, focusing on the very young, a rejuvenation of the courts, and a general disparaging of gangs.


It's been two years since I last interviewed and visited with Jose. I ran into one of his past probation/parole officers and asked about how he was doing. Here's the reply I received:

I talked to the probation officer who had Jose as a client. Not very good news. He got off of parole in California then went back there to see some of his family. He was there about two days and was questioned by some local yokels. The California Prosecuting Attorney, learning that he was back in the state, re-filed some old charges and now he's in prison with the "three strikes and you're out" clause. Probably for life.


Additional Resources: If you'd like to know more about what life is like for gang members, gangstyle has a Web site where they post stories about what it's like to be involved in the gang life. Or read this rather chilling interview of a gang member in New York.

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.