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

                             What I Learned About ...

Section II: Observations on the Community and Gangs

Chapter 8: Neighborhoods and Communities
Chapter 9: Schools
Chapter 10: The Faith Community
Chapter 11: The Business Community
Chapter 12: The Mass Media
Section III: Observations on Gangs and the Justice System

Chapter 13: Gang-Related Legislation
Chapter 14: The Police Response to Gangs
Chapter 15: Prosecutors, Courts, and "The System"
Chapter 16: Probation and Parole
Chapter 17: Counselors and Community-Based Treatment Programs

Section IV: Conclusions and other Notes

Chapter 18: Conclusions
Chapter 19:
Gangs and the Future
Chapter 20: A research Note
Chapter 21: End Note


Section I - Gangs


"A child is the only substance from which a responsible 
adult can be made."
(Thomas Lickona, Ph.D.*)

During the course of my field studies I realized gangs had become a window through which I could look at and learn about the well-being of the neighborhoods in which they are found. At the very least, the presence of gangs indicated some of the neighborhoods' youth were not only behaving badly, they were organizing to behave badly.

A continuing or growing gang presence also suggested the neighborhood was either ignoring their presence, was afraid to do anything about them, wanted to do something but didn't know what to do, or their efforts to reduce gang activity were ineffective.   

This window on a community and its neighborhoods also revealed the relationship between a neighborhood's social structure and physical infrastructure. By "social structure" I refer to its social institutions (i.e., the family, faith institutions, commerce) and the impact of social class, gender, race, and ethnicity on the quality of life in the neighborhood. 

The social institutions in gang-dominated neighborhoods are often disorganized, weak, or, in some cases, absent. It is difficult for a neighborhood to provide a healthy environment for its residents without supportive and robust social institutions. In a similar manner, a neighborhood isolated from the remainder of the community due to racial or ethnic discrimination is likely to produce an unhealthy environment for the neighborhood's residents - including their children.

By "physical infrastructure" I refer to such things as school buildings, residential and commercial structures, hospitals, playgrounds, faith institution buildings, parks, and shopping structures. In gang-dominated neighborhoods the physical infrastructure may often be characterized as neglected and abused. For example, schools are in poor repair, faith institutions in decline or for sale, sidewalks broken and uneven, derelict cars abound, and trash may be found in piles around buildings and in the streets and alleyways.

Field Note: A gang unit officer and I were cruising a gang neighborhood in Kansas City (MO) when the officer received a distress call from dispatch.  A woman who appeared to have been battered and dazed was supposedly wandering down the sidewalk.

As we approached the scene we found a woman stumbling down the sidewalk holding a baseball cap in one hand and an empty coin purse in the other. She was wearing short-shorts and one nipple was visible above her halter top.

Below her left eye was a bump nearly the size of a golf ball, blood was running from her lower lip. She was mumbling and crying and could not focus her eyes on the officer as he approached to help her.

Turning to look at me the officer said "See if you can find something for her to sit on." Perhaps fifty feet from where we were standing was a two story apartment building. Trash had been blown up against the entry stairs outside the building.

Barely visible in the three-foot-deep pile of trash was what looked like the top of the back of a wooden kitchen chair. I grabbed it, pulled it out, took it to the woman, and the officer helped her sit down. She had been raped, robbed, and beaten. In some ways, so had the neighborhood.

In the field of law enforcement there is a concept called "broken windows." It is used as a metaphor for the presence of trash, derelict cars, cracked sidewalks, potholes, insufficient street lighting, homes in disrepair, brush growing wildly, and other symbols of neglect.

As the notion goes, there is a tendency for matters to get worse in neighborhoods in which broken windows are not repaired in a timely manner. Broken windows bespeak a lack of neighborhood concern or resources, a lack of attention from city government, disenfranchisement, or a combination of these things. The result is the potential for developing a target area for vandalism, theft, public disturbance, crime, drugs ... and gangs.


* Dr. Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland. He currently directs the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs and is on the board of directors of the Character Education Partnership.

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.