Archive for the ‘A World Of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture’ Category


A criminal is going to jail – what does that mean to you? To most of society, it is great news because the ‘dangerous’ are kept off the streets. Yet, let us really think about this one: When it is someone’s first time going jail they are introduced to a whole other world that most of us cannot comprehend. There is another set of rules in prison that does not apply to the outside world. From stories, reading books and watching documentaries, I know you have to comply not only with the guards but also the gangs within the jail, or else you are in hot water. Gangs inside the walls of prison have essentially become the control centers for street gangs. Police thought of breaking up gangs by jailing gang members and their leaders; however, this only united them and made them stronger. Now, rather than having hundreds of different gangs, prisons have been a place where ethnic groups band together. Here, they share their experiences and learn from one another on the workings of gang life on the streets.

Now, let’s go back to our friend that is about to have his first visit to the “big house”. I have heard many different ways of coping with hearing that a juvenile is going to adult prison for the first time: ‘It’s better that they are going to be kept off and away from the dangers of the streets’, ‘At least they are kept away from their friends who influence them in a negative way’, ‘This way, he/she will learn the hard way of their actions producing negative consequences’ and ‘My baby is too young for adult jail’. All in all, it is very hard to hear a parent of an 18-year-old whose child is going to adult jail for the first time; and, as a counselor [Miss Smith, not myself] what do you say to the parents? “Sorry to tell you, but your child will come back knowing more and more influenced than they were on the outs”…? What purpose does jail do for a juvenile? Does it save them from harm; act as a safe house? Does it school them in the newest tricks of the streets, a schoolhouse? Or does it “do its job” and jail them keeping them away from society, jailhouse?

As Hagedorn states in his book:

Rather than prison being a place to send gang members in an attempt to break up the gang, gangs have adapted and have used prison to advance their interests.

With institutionalization, gangs adapt to such change as losing their leader to being imprisoned rather than breaking apart.

Our criminal system needs a makeover! I’m not blaming Law Enforcement at all, but I believe we really need to think of and start talking about rehabilitation rather than just throwing everyone is jail that breaks a law. To finish, back to the first question, when we send another young adult to prison for the first time for a crime, what say you? All we know, they might be learning another way of thinking, a more dangerous set of ideals to follow… Maybe not, maybe that is exactly what they deserve… who really knows?



When people think of gangs,  progression usually doesn’t come to mind; simple thoughts of a group of young men that “enjoy” vandalizing, harassing and ultimately committing crime usually come to mind. The actual definition of ‘Gangs’ only recently changed due to the new studies and information that has been surfacing within the last several decades. In the beginning, criminologists believed wholeheartedly that “most street gangs were the urbanized equivalent of primitive tribes, recruited from broken families and disturbed psyches, pursuing essentially nihilistic objectives” (Mike Davis). However, gangs today are much further progressed than what we have once experience way back when. According to the newest study by John M. Hagedorn: neither War nor Peace, gangs have recently institutionalized themselves.

In the study, Hagedorn and his fellow colleagues traveled around the world in attempt to learn differences among gangs in different countries such as Cape Town, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro – as well as the underlying common factor they all have. Some of the many conclusions that they have found are as follows:

  • Migration + Cities + Poverty + Slums + Discrimination + Youth = Gangs
  • The world cannot support the rate of the urbanization of cities
  • “By 2020, the UN estimates, half of the world’s urban population will live in poverty”
  • Children of immigrant parents are not supported properly
  • Due to rapid urbanization, formal institutions (schools, church, family) are not strong enough to replace the traditional ones immigrants leave behind in their countries.

By the world’s growing urbanization and the lack of support of such growth, there is a “retreat of state”; more commonly known as “social disorganization”, youth come together as organization to fulfill their needs. The lack of the formal institutions lead to youth groups to emerge and “take care” of their ethnic groups in their new world. Eventually, these groups gain control of territories and provide for their people; they learn to take care of themselves without any set institutions in place – also becoming institutionalized along the way.

With the said factors in place, youth organizations cannot afford to falter under changes with society. If this was the case, then many impoverished groups that lived in the slums would die out quickly. Rather, gangs turn to institutionalization to remain stable and able to adapt to change. To do so, organizations, or gangs, “develop rituals and ceremonies… produce a formal… structure with rules and role expectations, its members identify with the organization” (Selznick/Hagedorn). By developing their own identity, loyalty of members is strengthened and “work” for the organization is completed. This mindset makes institutionalized gangs adaptable to any change. Therefore, certain gangs can last generations after generations.


Does this concept ring a bell? With the work at Homeboy and USC BEP, I have come to know that there are hundreds of different gangs – in Los Angeles alone. Some, we all know [Crips, Bloods, MS13], others, we have never heard of. I believe that this concept of institutionalization applies to these long-lasting, international gangs. Had it not been for their organization and structure, the Crips, Bloods, MS13 would not be as “successful” as they are now. Now, on the other hand, there are some gangs that will never see the light of celebrity. Is it because they’re not institutionalized? Maybe not violent enough? I wonder if the unknowns want to be known? … Maybe reading more of this book can help clarify some of these questions.