A LIFE HISTORY OF A FORMER BOSTON GANG LEADER: RISK FACTOR ANALYSIS

Submitted by
Howard Martin Sorett

Senior Research Wo...
ABSTRACT

In order to protect the personal privacy of the subject, I have provided fictitious names for both
the subject a...
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would first like to acknowledge my wife and treasure, Mabel Sorett, for her continued love,
support, an...
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: Introduction ...................................................................................
ENDNOTES ....................................................................................................................
TABLE OF FIGURES
Figure 1.1: Youth Homicide in Boston, 1976-2006 ............................................................
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
Meeting a Banger in Church
In January 2012 I attended a men’s meeting sponsored by a church. The f...
The OJJDP defines risk factor as a “condition in the individual or environment that can
predict an increased likelihood of...
and/or victimization by violence. Some were able to verbally express the shame and talk about
it. Most were not.
In his st...
Brenneman concludes that the local inner city evangelical church is uniquely positioned to utilize its
moral authority to ...
inability of the individual to express or resolve the shame then leads to his frustration, anger, and
a desire gain respec...
CHAPTER 2: Hakim Reynolds Life History Summary
From 1982 to 1992, Hakim Reynolds was the co-founder and leader of one of B...
drug dealer, gives Hakim leadership qualities that attract followers. Success follows with more city
blocks, customers, an...
CHAPTER 3: The Stone Cold Gang and Boston Gang Violence (1986-1992)
Grove Hall was and continues to be the epicenter for g...
involved gun or knife homicide victims age 21 years old or less.19 It concludes with certainty that
58% (90) of the 155 ho...
Figure 1.1: Youth Homicide in Boston, 1976-2006

16
Figure 1: a qualitative assessment of gang “turf.

17
Figure 2: a qualitative assessment of the Stone Cold gang violent competition with other gangs for “turf”

18
Figure 3: a qualitative assessment of the scope of the Stone Cold gang’s influence with
other gangs. These alliances were ...
Figure 7: a quantitative assessment that identifies the Stone Cold gang turf to be a Hot Spot.

20
Figure 8: The Stone Cold Gang Turf (Grove Hall Neighborhood Boundaries)

“The center of the Grove Hall area is commonly un...
CHAPTER 4: Social Conditions for Gang Violence
By definition, of course, we believe the person with the stigma is not quit...
choices to where they could escape. This was the Grove Hall which introduced Hakim Reynolds to
gang activity. Today Grove ...
The data shows a disproportionately lower percentage of Grove Hall children who live in
two-parent families compared to th...
Mass Media’s Role in the Promotion of the Culture of “Bling” and Aggression
Through technology, mass media serves as a too...
A White student attacks an African American man with the American flag. The picture was
taken by Stanley Forman at an anti...
threat to school safety contributes to the disconnection of Boston children of color from one of their
primary social inst...
When decent and street kids intermingle socially, the children face the option to choose
either orientation. Anderson poin...
Figure 10: The “Slippery Slope Path”

29
CHAPTER 5: Hakim Reynolds’s Early Childhood
Family Life and Dysfunction
In the “upside down” early childhood of Hakim Reyn...
family and are “church-goers”. Hakim is nine years old and is accustomed to coming and going as
he pleased. His grandparen...
Acceptance Found in the Streets
In the following portion of his interview, Hakim dwells frequently on the primary need tha...
his nine to ten year old peers in the street. His friends on the street are like family; hence he labels
them “brothers”. ...
Hakim’s group is not yet defined as a gang. Brenneman comments, “to young boys
experiencing chronic shame, the opportunity...
CHAPTER 6: The Neighborhood Group Becomes a Gang
The Group
R: That was just friends chilling in different communities. We ...
unit called a “gang”. A fight over a girl precipitates violence between two neighborhood
members of Hakim’s Group and a gr...
Someone is killed. The result is the formation of two separate groups called gangs: Blue
Hill and Stone Cold. Hakim’s grou...
CHAPTER 7: Life in the Gang
A Death and a Pact
The group of neighborhood kids from Grove Hall is now the Stone Cold Gang. ...
H: Were some people more comfortable around weapons, using the weapons than others?
R: I think everybody was comfortable w...
sees his participation in defensive gang violence as an act of masculine sacrifice on behalf of the
gang.64 In the act of ...
Trauma and the Code of the Street
John A. Rich and Courtney Gray provide further perspective into the response of Hakim’s
...
R: When crack came in, what had happened was that now we go from selling weed to selling
this little bitty vial that could...
From Solidarity to Enforcement through Fear
Because of the distribution demands for crack and the associated commitments t...
out and then we would get him. And everyone would see them get gotten. Them Stone Cold
guys did such and such…
R: So now w...
discrete, be nice to the people, play with the kids, don’t let them see y’all selling drugs.”
Those were the Golden Rules....
pressure them for money. Unprotected sex brings the additional financial burden of children and
a series of challenges sim...
Hakim articulates the only vision that he was raised to see by his mother: a criminal life,
focused on the importance of t...
CHAPTER 8: Gang Life Goes Bad
Locked up, shot, and locked up
The Stone Cold Gang’s success in selling crack brings respect...
Grandmother Provides Advice
Hakim breaks his own rule, gets caught with a gun, and gets arrested and locked
up. Hakim’s gr...
CHAPTER 9: Hakim Decides to Go Another Way
Hakim is faced with the threat of a sixty year jail sentence.
Hakim’s Christian...
Brenneman references Goffman’s “bridge-burning event”74 to identify a similar milestone
experienced by Central American ga...
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)
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A life history of a former boston gang leader risk factor analysis (public)

  1. 1. A LIFE HISTORY OF A FORMER BOSTON GANG LEADER: RISK FACTOR ANALYSIS Submitted by Howard Martin Sorett Senior Research Work Presented to the Sociology-Anthropology Department To Fulfill the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts Middlebury College Middlebury, VT December 13, 2012
  2. 2. ABSTRACT In order to protect the personal privacy of the subject, I have provided fictitious names for both the subject and his gang. In the year 2010 in Boston there were 159 shooting victims less than 25 years of age. Increasing numbers of these homicides are gang-related. The highest rate of Boston victims with non-fatal gunshot and stabbing injuries is in the 15-19 age range. The range of those most affected by youth violence is age 12-24. Eighty-one percent of these incidents occur in the predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan1. My interest in the subject of gang violence dates back to the 1980’s in Boston’s inner city, where I worked for a community-based non-profit organization as a street worker. This experience with high-risk African American and Latino teenage males revealed a pattern of trauma: physical abuse by family members, the torment of witnessing other forms of domestic violence, threats to life out on the street, and abandonment by parents. If we were able to win their confidence, the teenagers expressed to us their shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and anger. If we were able to develop a relationship and get them to talk further, they made progress. They could move on with a bit more peace. But we were not successful very often. This project applies stigma and shame theory to the life history of a former Boston gang leader. It translates my concern about gang violence into the following question: given that social conditions in Boston contribute to the stigmatization of its African American and Latino youth population, what is the primary risk factor that drives a small percentage2 of young African American and Latino men in Boston’s most violent neighborhoods to engage in gang violence? 2
  3. 3. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would first like to acknowledge my wife and treasure, Mabel Sorett, for her continued love, support, and encouragement, which fostered my desire to return to Middlebury and complete my undergraduate degree requirements. Acknowledgements are also extended to my son Professor Josef Sorett, whose devotion to scholarship inspired me. I greatly appreciate Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond and Rev. Jeffrey Brown, whose commitment to urban youth, resulted in the creation of The Boston TenPoint Coalition. They generously gave their time to interview with me and pointed me toward exceptional resources. I thank Rev. Bob Gray of Bethel AME Church Boston for his guidance; Sam Kim, Director of the Youth Violence Systems Project for providing an exciting systems perspective on this ongoing tragedy. I would also like to acknowledge Rev. Eustace Payne, Executive Director and Founder of the Massachusetts Community Outreach Initiative, for his work over the last two decades guiding men through the process of re-entry into society from incarceration. My gratitude is also extended to those at Middlebury College who helped make this project a reality: Dr. Ellen Oxfeld, who qualified me to be accepted for reinstatement; Associate Dean Karen Guttentag who approved my reinstated status; and to my faculty adviser Dr. David Stoll, who provided me with exceptional guidance and resources. Finally, I would like to recognize two men: Rev. Joseph N’Kunta, who worked tirelessly for years in the streets of Boston, impacting the lives of countless high-risk youth. He himself lost two of his own children to gang violence; and Hakim Reynolds, who daily demonstrates the power of one humble man’s faith to move the mountains in his life and the lives of others. 3
  4. 4. TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER 1: Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 7 Meeting a “Banger” in Church .................................................................................................................... 7 Definition of a Gang and Risk Factor ........................................................................................................ 7 Theoretical Framework ................................................................................................................................. 8 Hypothesis: The Primary Personal Risk Factor: Stigma to Shame to Rage ....................................... 10 Research Methodology ............................................................................................................................... 11 CHAPTER 2: Hakim Reynolds Life History Summary ....................................................................... 12 CHAPTER 3: The Stone Cold Gang and Boston Gang Violence (1986-1992) ............................ 14 CHAPTER 4: Social Conditions for Gang Violence ............................................................................ 22 The Psychological Impact of Urban Decay and Segregated Housing .............................................. 22 Family Decline and Fatherlessness............................................................................................................ 23 Poverty and Unemployment ...................................................................................................................... 24 Mass Media’s Role in the Promotion of the Culture of “Bling” and Aggression ............................... 25 Education, Segregation, and Marginalization ....................................................................................... 25 The Code of the Street and Peer Influence ............................................................................................ 27 CHAPTER 5: Hakim Reynolds’s Early Childhood .............................................................................. 30 Family Life and Dysfunction ....................................................................................................................... 30 Acceptance found in the Streets ............................................................................................................... 32 The Hustle Gets More Serious ................................................................................................................... 34 CHAPTER 6: The Neighborhood Group Becomes a Gang ............................................................... 35 The Group ..................................................................................................................................................... 35 A Conflict Changes the Social Order ....................................................................................................... 36 CHAPTER 7: Life in the Gang .................................................................................................................. 38 A Death and a Pact .................................................................................................................................... 38 Shame, Respect, and Retaliation, the Decision to Use Guns ................................................................ 38 Trauma and the Code of the Street ......................................................................................................... 41 The Business of Hustling Crack ................................................................................................................... 41 From Solidarity to Enforcement through Fear ........................................................................................ 43 The Gang and its Business Grow .............................................................................................................. 44 Material Benefits to a Dead End .............................................................................................................. 45 CHAPTER 8: Gang Life Goes Bad........................................................................................................... 48 Locked up, shot, and locked up................................................................................................................. 48 Grandmother Provides Advice .................................................................................................................. 49 CHAPTER 9: Hakim Decides to Go Another Way............................................................................... 50 Hakim’s Christian Conversion Experience ................................................................................................ 50 Hakim Leaves the Gang ............................................................................................................................. 51 God’s Posse, Brotherhood and Respect ................................................................................................... 54 A New Perspective: Walking On Water ................................................................................................ 55 Future Focused, Not Past Possessed ......................................................................................................... 57 A Life with Vision and Purpose.................................................................................................................. 59 CHAPTER 10: Faith-Based Strategies in Boston ................................................................................. 61 Boston TenPoint Coalition ........................................................................................................................... 61 Youth Violence Systems Project of the Emmanuel Gospel Center (EGC) .......................................... 64 Massachusetts Community Outreach Initiative ........................................................................................ 65 CHAPTER 11: Summary of Findings and Conclusion ....................................................................... 66 Summary of Findings ..................................................................................................................................66 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................................................... 70 4
  5. 5. ENDNOTES ................................................................................................................................................... 72 BIBLIOGRAPHY OF RESEARCH .............................................................................................................. 77 5
  6. 6. TABLE OF FIGURES Figure 1.1: Youth Homicide in Boston, 1976-2006 ................................................................................. 16 Figure 1: Boston Gang Areas ...................................................................................................................... 17 Figure 2: Boston Gang Conflict Network ................................................................................................... 18 Figure 3: Boston Gang Alliance Network .................................................................................................. 19 Figure 7: Boston Gang Area “Hot Spots” .................................................................................................. 20 Figure 8: The Stone Cold Gang Turf (Grove Hall Neighbor Boundaries) .......................................... 21 Figure 9: “A White student attacking a Black man with the American flag”...................................... 26 Figure 10: The “Slippery Slope Path” ........................................................................................................ 29 Table 1: Living arrangements for Grove Hall children under 18 years old, who live in households, compared to the same demographic of children who live throughout the entire United States .................................................................................................................................................. 23 Table 2: Living Arrangements for Non-Institutionalized, Non-Householder Children Under Age 18 Living with at Least one Parent, 2000.............................................................................23 6
  7. 7. CHAPTER 1: Introduction Meeting a Banger in Church In January 2012 I attended a men’s meeting sponsored by a church. The focus of the ministry3 is the promotion of the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of men by providing a Christian-based community and safe haven for those in crisis and transition. Each meeting functions as an opportunity for men to share with other men challenging issues in their lives and to receive prayer and feedback. One night multiple participants complained at length about various conditions in their lives that they considered unfair. After a pause, an African American stood up, introduced himself, and with an authoritative tone asked: “Why are you guys complaining like you are victims? The Bible says that you’re the head and not the tail….above and not beneath. Stop complaining and playing victim. Jesus died so that we’d have control over ourselves and how we deal with the issues in our lives.” Then he sat down, followed by an extended silence. I was impressed and approached a friend who had come to the meeting with him. He replied, “Sure, that’s Hakim, a big-time banger...used to lead Stone Cold. “Banger” is a euphemistic expression for a gang member. I knew that my friend, a former street worker, was referring to Boston’s Stone Cold Gang. Impressed with Hakim’s apparent transformation, I wanted to learn more. Hakim and I hit it off immediately. Over the next year we became friends. When I asked him to share his life history for this project, he agreed to do so. Definitions of a “Gang” and “Risk Factor” For the purposes of this study, I utilize criteria established by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to define “Gangs” as follows: • • • • • The group has three or more members, generally aged 12–24. Members share an identity, typically linked to a name, and often other symbols. Members view themselves as a gang, and they are recognized by others as a gang. The group has some permanence and a degree of organization. The group is involved in an elevated level of criminal activity.4 7
  8. 8. The OJJDP defines risk factor as a “condition in the individual or environment that can predict an increased likelihood of developing a problem or a problem behavior, including joining a gang. Risk factors function in a cumulative fashion—the larger the number of risk factors, the greater the likelihood of a negative outcome, such as joining a gang.”5 Theoretical Framework During my experience as a street worker in inner city Boston in the 1980’s, a major issue we encountered with high-risk African American and Latino teenage males was resistance to sharing emotional trauma they experienced from violence or neglect. Their usual initial response to our questions was avoidance or embarrassment. If we were able to win their confidence, they invariably expressed shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and anger. Based upon this experience, I am framing my research with concepts from the work of Erving Goffman and Robert Brenneman. Goffman (1986) defines stigma as any discrediting or degrading attribute or label which an individual perceives he has been given by broader society.6 In Goffman’s view, stigma occurs as a discrepancy between ‘‘virtual social identity’’ (society’s characterization of a person) and ‘‘actual social identity’’ (attributes really possessed by a person) 7, creating a “spoiled identity”. As a result, the individual believes that his stigma lessens his value in the eyes of others he encounters in that society. Goffman theorizes that in the mind of the stigmatized individual, stigma is imposed upon him by others through a variety of behaviors including blame, rejection, and discrimination. These behaviors all marginalize the stigmatized individual. Goffman introduces the term “shame”8 to define the emotion a stigmatized individual feels when he consciously or unconsciously accepts the degrading labels imposed upon him. Many young African American and Latino teenage males with whom we worked in the 1980’s expressed varying degrees of shame, brought on by their exposure to trauma from family dysfunction, abandonment by their parent(s), 8
  9. 9. and/or victimization by violence. Some were able to verbally express the shame and talk about it. Most were not. In his study Homies & Hermanos, God and Gangs in Central America, Robert Brenneman uses Goffman’s discussion of stigmatization and shame, as well as the sociology of emotions, to frame his interviews with former Central American youth gang members. He concludes that it is the stigmatization experienced by most of these young men, particularly in their early childhood, that produces humiliation, hopelessness, extreme personal shame and rage. This is why, according to Brenneman, they utilize violence and other high-risk behaviors as a recourse in order to disguise their shame and obsessively seek to establish respect.9 Thomas Scheff’s “spiral of shame” theory illustrates how these corrosive emotions originate. A young child abused by an adult has minimal recourse to confront the abuser in order to resolve their damaged emotions. The child may even be too young to consciously understand and articulate a verbal response to the cruelty.10 As an adolescent grows up in a dangerous neighborhood, he is afraid to express his fears because they will be interpreted by others as a sign of weakness. As the shame remains unresolved, the drive for its opposite – respect - is created. The family-like quality of the gang provides the adolescent with acceptance and protection. Brenneman monitors members who leave the gang to join local evangelical Protestant churches. Brenneman compares what the Homie culture of the gang and the Hermano culture of the churches each have to offer and asks: how could such different institutions both be attractive to troubled youth? Brenneman reports that the local Evangelical Protestant Church of Central America offers a gang member an opportunity to resolve intense personal shame through the Christian conversion experience11. This transformative experience allows a gang member to express intense feelings of remorse, guilt, fear, or rejection and rebuild their social identity within an affirming environment with structure and strict morally-based boundaries for behavior. 9
  10. 10. Brenneman concludes that the local inner city evangelical church is uniquely positioned to utilize its moral authority to impact gang violence. Brenneman cautions that the solutions Central American or North American urban churches offer to reduce gang violence must reach beyond therapeutic processes or rituals that address an individual’s unresolved personal shame. He believes that those institutions must also address the social conditions that facilitate stigma, shame, and violence. He labels these “pre-disposing factors”12. He concludes that in order for faith-based institutions to effectively reduce gang violence, they must intervene strategically in the lives of community youth outside the four walls of the church and be aggressive advocates for socially-just agendas. Hypothesis: The Primary Personal Risk Factor: Stigma to Shame to Rage Boston’s environment presents the following social conditions for gang violence: the psychological impact of urban decay and segregated housing, family decline and fatherlessness, poverty and unemployment, commercial mass media’s role in the marketing of the culture of Bling and aggression, educational practices that marginalize, and the inner city Code of the Street and peer influence. These conditions shape the worldview of African American and Latino inner city community culture and its youth. They stigmatize inner city residents to feel shame by blocking their path to fulfill values prized by the larger society. Given that social conditions in Boston contribute to the stigmatization of its African American and Latino youth population, I pose the question: what is the primary risk factor that drives a small percentage of young African American and Latino men in Boston’s most violent neighborhoods to engage in gang violence? My hypothesis is that the primary driver for an individual to engage in high-risk gang violence is emotional: repressed or unresolved personal shame. This shame originates in one’s perception of being stigmatized or degraded through violence, abuse, or abandonment. The 10
  11. 11. inability of the individual to express or resolve the shame then leads to his frustration, anger, and a desire gain respect in order to mask the shame. Research Methodology I will apply my hypothesis to the life history of former Boston gang leader Hakim Reynolds. I will supplement that analysis with statistical data, with expert opinions provided by authorities in the field of gang violence, and research from sociology of emotions. This study begins with a summary of the life history. Both qualitative and quantitative data are included that illustrate the Stone Cold Gang’s role in Boston gang violence during the period of his leadership. I will follow with data regarding the Boston neighborhood in which Hakim “came-of-age” and where most of his gang’s activity took place. I will then discuss the existing social conditions that stigmatize and facilitate gang violence in the neighborhood. Stages of Hakim’s life will then be presented chronologically. I will analyze risk factors in Hakim’s early childhood prior to the formation of the gang; the transition of his neighbor-based group of friends into a gang; life in the gang; the downward turn of Hakim’s life; and the frustration that led him to an important decision. I will follow with analysis of that milestone: Hakim’s Christian conversion experience and the transformation of his life. I will then explore the opinion of gang violence experts. I will complete this study with a summary of findings, a summary of gang expert opinion, my conclusions, and interests for future research. 11
  12. 12. CHAPTER 2: Hakim Reynolds Life History Summary From 1982 to 1992, Hakim Reynolds was the co-founder and leader of one of Boston’s largest and most violent gangs. The Stone Cold Gang started as a neighborhood group but evolved into one of Boston’s first gangs to sell crack cocaine and use guns. Hakim begins with memories of his father and mother fighting and the police coming to their home to physically remove his father. This event is his only memory of his father. Hakim’s mother runs the streets and sells drugs for a living. Both Hakim and his younger brother are shuttled back and forth between their mother’s home and the home of her parents. Both of Hakim’s maternal grandparents are church-going folks. At age nine, Hakim and his brother are abruptly abandoned by their mother and permanently left with her parents. Even today, he vividly remembers the trauma. Life with his grandparents is quite different from life with his mother, filled with rules, curfews, as well as feelings of isolation and not being accepted. Frequent beatings by his grandfather for not following family house rules are a way of life. Mimicking his mother’s occupation and lifestyle of running the streets, Hakim finds acceptance with his friends. Selling marijuana for fun and to attract girls is much easier than conforming to the discipline required for thriving in his grandparents’ home or in school. In the streets, he finds affirmation, as opposed to the rejection from his grandparents and abandonment by his mother. When Hakim’s mother becomes addicted to the drugs she sells, and is no longer able to support him financially, then his drug dealing becomes more serious; he has to find a way to buy the fashionable clothes and sneakers he is accustomed to wearing and that provide him with respect. Acceptance is his status goal with no thought to family or even living to midlife. The charisma, physical strength, and logistical expertise that comes from being a second-generation 12
  13. 13. drug dealer, gives Hakim leadership qualities that attract followers. Success follows with more city blocks, customers, and money. His dream is to enjoy being a single guy, with no commitments, selling drugs, and having three or four blocks for drug sales. His group has been a collection of ten or eleven year olds who had come together to hang out as friends, have fun, chase girls, and share their suffering. They have, at this point, become one of inner city Boston’s largest organizations for street sales of crack cocaine. That success brings costs that produce violence, shock, and sorrow: battles with rival gangs; being robbed by armed “stick-up men”; and the introduction of guns for protection, deaths, and imprisonment. Strict survival rules for Stone Cold Gang members have to be created. The days of kids’ stuff are over. After being stabbed, shot, and imprisoned numerous times within a few years, Hakim begins to question what is causing his troubles. Encouraged by his church-going grandmother, he begins an experience that he describes as talking to God and blaming God for bringing all this trouble into his life. Hakim’s Christian conversion experience follows several years of increasing hardship. Following his conversion Hakim is invited to attend a faith-based Christian ministry dedicated to assisting individuals with a gang background to transition to a moral lifestyle based on Christian faith and to receive love and acceptance. With his Christian faith as his foundation, former gang leader Hakim Reynolds has lived a fruitful, peaceful, and crime-free life for over twenty years. 13
  14. 14. CHAPTER 3: The Stone Cold Gang and Boston Gang Violence (1986-1992) Grove Hall was and continues to be the epicenter for gang violence in Boston’s inner city. If there's a Ground Zero of youth violence in Boston, it's Grove Hall, where the spine of Blue Hill Avenue connects streets best known as gang names during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s: Fayston, Brunswick, Creston, Magnolia, Stone Cold, and especially Intervale.13 - Michael Blanding Harvard University sociologist Christopher Winship, citing statistics (Figure 1.1) provided by the Boston Police Department, observes that the dramatic increase in Boston’s drug activity in the late 1980’s is caused by the introduction of crack cocaine. Sales of this drug brought increased gang violence as gangs fought to control their turf and revenue opportunities. The number of homicides in Boston rose from a previously stable level of approximately 80 to 100 per year to152 in 1990. This increase is almost entirely due to increased youth violence, with the number of homicides involving individuals under twenty-four going from approximately 30 per year in the mid 1980's to 72 in 1990. The increase is also almost entirely due to gun-related homicides.”14 In 1995 a partnership was formed between researchers from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Boston Police Department’s Youth Violence Strike Force, probation officers, and gang mediation street workers. This collaboration uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to estimate the number and size of the city's gangs; map their turf, conflicts and alliances; and classify the previous five years of youth victimization events according to their location on the gang maps.15 The working definition of a gang is “reduced to self-identified group of kids who act corporately (at least sometimes) and violently (at least sometimes)." An incident is categorized as “gang-related”16 if it results from gang behavior such as drug dealing, protection of turf, war with a rival gang, or an internal fight within a gang.17 The mandate of the collaboration is to identify if gangs had a major impact on Boston’s youth homicide rate.18 They review an annualized list (1990-1994) of 155 incidents which 14
  15. 15. involved gun or knife homicide victims age 21 years old or less.19 It concludes with certainty that 58% (90) of the 155 homicides reviewed are gang-related, and that a significant number of cases designated as having a perpetrator or victim with an “unknown” gang affiliation are likely to be gang-related.20 The same process is used to map-out gang areas (Figure1)21, gang conflicts (Figure 2)22 and gang alliances (Figure 3).23 The analysis shows that “the Magnolia, Academy, Orchard Park, and Stone Cold gangs were at the center of most of the gang-related violence” and labels them “the most significant and troublesome”.24 Significantly, the total area the gangs occupied (1.7 square miles) represented 3.6% of Boston’s 47.7 square miles, and only 8.1% of the Boston neighborhoods that contain them.25 The work includes transposition of the Boston Police Department 1994 quantitative data for both the “locations of high numbers of gun assaults” and “shots fired reports” upon the qualitative data for “gang turf” in order to generate a map of Boston Gang “Hot Spots” (Figure 7).26 This data confirms that for a period in Boston’s history, Hakim Reynolds led one of Boston’s largest, violent, and powerful gangs, the Stone Cold Gang. I verified the authenticity of Hakim Reynolds’s identity and leadership role within the Stone Cold Gang through my personal contact with him and with professionals within the field. 15
  16. 16. Figure 1.1: Youth Homicide in Boston, 1976-2006 16
  17. 17. Figure 1: a qualitative assessment of gang “turf. 17
  18. 18. Figure 2: a qualitative assessment of the Stone Cold gang violent competition with other gangs for “turf” 18
  19. 19. Figure 3: a qualitative assessment of the scope of the Stone Cold gang’s influence with other gangs. These alliances were created to enhance crack cocaine distribution. 19
  20. 20. Figure 7: a quantitative assessment that identifies the Stone Cold gang turf to be a Hot Spot. 20
  21. 21. Figure 8: The Stone Cold Gang Turf (Grove Hall Neighborhood Boundaries) “The center of the Grove Hall area is commonly understood to be the intersection of Blue Hill Avenue with Washington Street and Warren Street. For the purposes of this study, we will define the Grove Hall neighborhood to include the area of the five U.S. Census tracts that surround that central crossroads. These five census tracts are 820, 821, 901, 902, and 903. The overall boundaries follow Seaver Street from Blue Hill Avenue to Blue Hill Avenue and then follow Blue Hill Avenue to Townsend Street. The boundary follows Townsend Street and Quincy Street across Warren Street and Blue Hill Avenue to Columbia Road. It then follows the railroad tracks down to Harvard Street, following that street until it turns right on Glenway Street for several blocks. It then goes along Bradshaw Street until turning up McLellan Street. The boundary follows McLellan Street to Blue Hill Avenue and then to the intersection with Seaver Street again.”27 According to Census2000, “Approximately 99 percent of the population in Grove Hall is non-white (73 percent black or African American, 20 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1 percent white, 2 percent some other race, and 4 percent two or more races). The youth population has similar demographics to the overall population (70 percent black or African American, 24 percent Hispanic or Latino, less than one percent white and six percent two or more races or some other race).”28 21
  22. 22. CHAPTER 4: Social Conditions for Gang Violence By definition, of course, we believe the person with the stigma is not quite human. On this assumption, we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances. We construct a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain his inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class.29 – Erving Goffman Goffman is describing what he observes as society’s attitudes towards those individuals and/or people groups it denigrates. From stigmatization come ideologies that create stereotyping of entire groups of people and the limiting of their opportunities in life. The genesis of racism would be a prime example of this process. The Psychological Impact of Urban Decay and Segregated Housing Grove Hall was once the home of New England’s largest upper class Jewish community. Migration of the Jewish population to Boston’s suburbs began slowly in the 1930’s and increased dramatically in the 1950’s, facilitated by “real-estate agents encouraging panic selling and blockbusting, discriminatory lending and insurance practices, increased crime and arson, and racial change in adjacent areas.”30 By 1967 virtually the entire population of Grove Hall was African American. “Blacks and other urban residents for many years faced discriminatory policies of the FHA and financial institutions which “redlined” some urban areas and refused to give mortgage and home improvement loans”.31 In 1987, according to a City of Boston report, “in the general area between Warren Street and Blue Hill Avenue, there were 360 empty lots and 117 vacant buildings (nine percent)”.32 Grove Hall had declined into an urban wasteland. The impact on its residents was hopelessness, violent crime, drugs, and the disintegration of families. Housing discrimination throughout Boston and its immediate suburbs greatly limited Grove Hall families’ 22
  23. 23. choices to where they could escape. This was the Grove Hall which introduced Hakim Reynolds to gang activity. Today Grove Hall remains a segregated and economically-challenged community. Family Decline and Fatherlessness I reviewed the US Census 2000 Summary data to compare the following living arrangements for Grove Hall children under 18 years old who live in households. I compared that data to the same demographic of children who live throughout the entire United States: Table 1: Living arrangements for Grove Hall children under 18 years old, who live in households, compared to the same demographic of children who live throughout entire United States Living with Parent(s) Living with Grandparent(s) Living with Other Relatives Living with Nonrelatives 90% 6% 2% 2% 84% 10% 4% 2% United States Grove Hall The data shows a 60% higher proportion of Grove Hall children who live with adults other than at least one of their parents compared to US Children.33 I explored the same US Census 2000 data to identify the percentage of children living with at least one parent. Table 2: Living Arrangements for Non-Institutionalized, Non-Householder Children Under Age 18 Living with at Least one Parent, 2000 Total Living with at least one parent In married-couple family Male householder, no wife present Female householder, no husband present 90% 66% 5% 18% 84% 23% 5% 55% United States Grove Hall 23
  24. 24. The data shows a disproportionately lower percentage of Grove Hall children who live in two-parent families compared to the US and a disproportionately higher percentage of Grove Hall children who live with single moms, compared to US children.34 Research in criminology suggests a correlation between this family configuration and decreased parental supervision and control; increased risk factors for the children involved; and the possibility of eventual violent sociopathic behavior.35 36 “In the absence of father figures or respected older men”, fatherless youth form groups that could be characterized as “tribes without elders”.37 Opinion is universal regarding the destructive impact that the crack cocaine epidemic of 1980-1990’s had upon Boston inner city families. Poverty and Unemployment Gang member Sharodney Finch is quoted as saying that he applied or a job last summer at Fenway Park but was turned down. “You try to do the right thing, find a job trying to earn money, and you can’t. You got a block right here; you know what I’m saying? 38 – Michael Blanding, “Growing Up in Gangland” According to the US Census 2000, “Poverty rates in Grove Hall are higher than they are in the City of Boston overall, in the state, and in the nation. In Grove Hall, 29 percent of individuals live below the poverty level compared to 20 percent in the city overall, nine percent in the state, and 12 percent in the nation. Additionally, a higher percentage of young people are living below the poverty level than in the general population. While 29 percent of the population in Grove Hall lives below the poverty level, 37 percent of youth under the age of 18 live below poverty level.”39 40 In each of the Grove Hall census tracts, there is a higher percentage of households receiving public assistance than in the city overall, in the state and in the nation. 24
  25. 25. Mass Media’s Role in the Promotion of the Culture of “Bling” and Aggression Through technology, mass media serves as a tool for corporate advertisers to market normative values. The messages reach inner city youth through the internet, music, television, and print ads. They tell inner city youth what they need to do and acquire in order to achieve success and respect. Hip hop and rap music send messages that glorify conspicuous consumption, immediate gratification, misogyny, and violence. The messages can be blunt, graphic, and widely popular like the one Rap artist “50 cent” delivered in 2003: "…I put a hole in a n---- for f---ing with me / Better watch how you talk, when you talk about me / 'cause I'll come and take your life away…” – from the rap, Many Men (Wish Death) (from his Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album). Education, Segregation, and Marginalization The Boston Public School System has until recently served as an active agent in the marginalization of children of color. On June 21, 1974, in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts, Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that the Boston Public School System had maintained a segregated school system, and ordered that the practice be eliminated. The case was Tallulah Morgan vs. James Hennigan, and was unprecedented in its scope. The decision was met with immediate violent resistance in some sections of the city, and a call for a two-week boycott of schools by an anti-desegregation organization named ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights). Violence took the form of destruction of public school property, a blockade of buses transporting African American children into traditionally all-white schools, and even the public attack of African-American residents of Boston near Boston City Hall Plaza (Figure 9). The union of the Boston Police asserted at that time that it was not obligated to obey orders to make arrests. 25
  26. 26. A White student attacks an African American man with the American flag. The picture was taken by Stanley Forman at an anti-busing rally held at Boston's City Hall Plaza on April 5, 1976 (Figure 9) Various court actions along with continued migration of white families from Boston; private school alternatives; and segregated neighborhood housing patterns contributed to a racially segregated Boston school system41. By March 2010, the Boston Public School System was 87% minority and 76% low income.42 Massachusetts’ “Zero Tolerance” approach to school discipline also contributes to the marginalization of African American and Latino young males. The approach “adopts mandatory or predetermined punishments for certain behaviors without considering the specific context and circumstances”. It is based on a social control philosophy derived from pressure “to maintain safe schools, reduce risk, and preserve learning”. In practice, school administrators and teachers too often make disciplinary decisions that apply the maximum penalty without discretion or examination of context, circumstance, or therapeutic intervention.43 The majority of suspensions occur within the inner city school systems of Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, and Springfield with the majority of student offenders being African American and Latino males.44 The “Zero Tolerance” use of suspension and expulsion for students who do not pose a 26
  27. 27. threat to school safety contributes to the disconnection of Boston children of color from one of their primary social institutions, their school. This policy results in the significantly increased chances of suspended students following a path to crime and prison. A child who has been suspended is three times more likely to drop out than a student who has never been suspended.45 Dropping out of school triples the likelihood of future imprisonment.46 The Code of the Street and Peer Influence Elijah Anderson provides another precondition for gang violence which he presents in his analysis of the Code of the Street47, a set of informal rules within inner cities that govern interpersonal public behavior including violence. The rules prescribe both a proper conduct and response if an individual senses that he has been challenged. The code condones the use of violence to resolve perceived conflict or threats. Anderson points out that at the heart of the code is the issue of respect loosely defined as being treated right or granted the deference one deserves. In street culture, respect is viewed as hard-won but easily lost and must be constantly guarded. In those circumstances such people become extremely sensitive to advances and slights which could well indicate signals or red flags of imminent physical confrontation. Anderson describes an inner city community divided into two types of families: the “decent families” and the “street families”. Decent parents tend to: accept mainstream values; attempt to teach them to their children; have an almost obsessive concern about trouble of any kind; and remind their children to be wary of people and situations that might lead to it. Street parents believe in the code of the street and tend to raise their children using the code as a norm. Anderson explains that these parents can be violently aggressive with children, yelling at and striking them for the least little infraction of the rules set down. Street children learn that to solve any kind of interpersonal problem one must quickly resort to hitting or other violent behavior. 27
  28. 28. When decent and street kids intermingle socially, the children face the option to choose either orientation. Anderson points out that the kind of home from which a youth comes influences but does not determine the way he or she will ultimately react under pressure. Anderson determines that when a young adult ventures into the street, he must adopt the code as protection to prevent others from "messing with" him. In these circumstances it is easy for people to mistakenly think that they are being confronted by others even when this is not the case. Depending on the demands of a situation, many people operate back and forth between decent and street behavior. Although the code of the street has been established and is enforced mainly by the street-oriented, on the street the distinction between street and decent is often irrelevant, particularly among youth from each who socialize together. Anderson’s conclusions are validated by the research of Boston’s Youth Violence Systems Project (YVSP). The YVSP conclusions are based on qualitative data gathered from interviews with active Boston gang members and community hotspot residents as well as quantitative youth violence data. The YVSP process assigns metrics to various aspects of the cultural environment Anderson describes in the Code of the Street and charts an individual’s path to gang membership from “uninvolved” to “gang leader/shooter”. The YVSP “establishes that any youth who lives within a Boston hot spot can progress down the slippery slope path48 (Figure 10) of socialization to gang member violence. In the absence of intervention, each step increases exposure to high-risk interactions and engagement in violent activity: living in the community hot spot but not involved in a gang; association as friends with gang members; being “on the edge”; once in the gang, the member progresses to rookie, nonshooter, and shooter/leader status. “ 28
  29. 29. Figure 10: The “Slippery Slope Path” 29
  30. 30. CHAPTER 5: Hakim Reynolds’s Early Childhood Family Life and Dysfunction In the “upside down” early childhood of Hakim Reynolds, chaos is the normative expectation. His mother is a career criminal, a drug dealer. He has only one memory of his father: R: Well, my father wasn’t around. My mother was around, but my grandfather and grandmother raised me…from about nine on. My mother was into the streets and my grandmother and grandfather were into the church…. The only time I can remember as far as back that young I can remember before that was me, my mother, my father living…there was a pink house and the police had come to take my father out of the house because my mother and father was fighting. That is the only memory I have of living with both parents. And then my memory blanks out and I remember my mother taking me to my grandfather’s house and saying, “You take him, you take him, you take him.” I’m holding onto a banister and saying, “Ma, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go with them, I want to stay with you.” And then, at that point it starts with my grandfather. These traumatic events from Hakim’s childhood confirm his stigmatization from abandonment by his mother. His memory block could indicate a repression of the shame that he felt.58 Hakim’s mother “runs the streets” and earns her living by selling drugs. Since most street drug sales take place at night, it is reasonable to assume that Hakim and his little brother are frequently left alone at home at night without the presence of consistent adult supervision. Witnessing violent family fights is an early part of Hakim’s childhood. His only memory of his father is following a fight between parents when the police remove the father from their home. The father’s removal from the home indicates a high probability of domestic violence. His father never returns. The discrediting effects of abandonment and rejection by both of his parents are burned into Hakim’s mind very early in his childhood, along with the attitudes and techniques for criminal behavior (Differential Association Theory, Edwin Sutherland, 193949). Thus Hakim acquires the stigma and shame that Brenneman cites as common to gang members.50 He is handed over to his grandparents to be raised. This setting is a source additional trauma for him. The norms that Hakim’s grandparents set for him in his new home are vastly different from his previous experience with his mother. His grandparents provide a two-parent 30
  31. 31. family and are “church-goers”. Hakim is nine years old and is accustomed to coming and going as he pleased. His grandparents have rules for when he is expected to be home. Hakim finds it a challenge to abide by their rules. His difficulty with the new normative expectations has repercussions that contribute to further humiliation and stigmatization. R: I never felt like I was a part of that family although my little brother was there. Because it was me and my little brother that my mother gave to them and they showed me love, but I just didn’t feel like I was a part of them…. But I never felt accepted fully by my grandfather. It was very much discipline. He…he beat me. He beat me enough. We had our time…I felt any chance he had to beat me, he would. I think it was simple issues that could have been talked out, as far as me coming in the house late, me messing with girls, um, things of that nature. As a result of his unwillingness or inability to conform to the strict new boundaries, he is regularly beaten by his grandfather. Hakim begins, as Goffman describes, to “alienate himself from the community which upholds the norm” 51 - his new family. R: They were church going folks but I think they were olden time church going folks because as I look back, I don’t, I don’t see…, I’ve always…, it was, it was always seven people in the house because they had kids and I always felt lonely. I always felt separated from them. Coping with the traumatic rejection and abandonment by his mother and perceiving brutal rejection from his grandfather, Hakim finds acceptance among his friends. He can be himself. Feeling marginalized, as a gesture to conform and make peace with his grandparents, Hakim attends church with them. His church attendance provides Hakim with more latitude from his grandparents. They allow him more freedom to roam on the streets with his friends and the frequency of beatings is reduced. Hakim here demonstrates early in life the negotiating skills necessary to navigate within a new environment. Hakim’s skill provides for his basic needs. As he grows older, he uses it to expand his gang’s drug business. Goffman labels this behavior “passing” - a form of impression management of social identity by a stigmatized individual.52 31
  32. 32. Acceptance Found in the Streets In the following portion of his interview, Hakim dwells frequently on the primary need that his street friends meet: acceptance. Goffman calls this need “the central feature of the stigmatized individual’s situation in life.”53 Goffman continues that the need to be accepted is so powerful among stigmatized individuals, that they find themselves bonding to form groups, as did Hakim and his friends. “Finally, within the city, there are full-fledged residential communities, ethnic, racial, or religious, with a high concentration of tribally stigmatized persons“.54 R: ...I never felt accepted at my grandmother’s and grandfather’s obviously, but when I’m on the street, I felt accepted because me and four hundred other brothers probably shared the same fault, about not feeling accepted for what ever reasons they had on their mind, whether their father left or whether their mother left or whether they were mistreated. When we all got together we felt accepted. They understood. Jojo understood me. Stanley understood me. Willy James understood me. You know what I mean. So I could talk to them and I could be me because I know they loved me for me as opposed to being at my grandmother’s and my grandfather’s house and I had to be like they wanted me to be and I didn’t know how to do that, so I was a weirdo in the eyes of people and the reason why was because I was not acting like I want to act. I’m acting the way you expect me to act so when I got out in the streets I could be me and people would accept it. R: We would come over to each other’s houses and talk. We would sit in the hallway, all of us, there would be five of us growing up together and we would literally talk and the things we’d say in the hallway never left the hallway. Things like “My mother did this.”, “I saw my father doing this.” “My mother, my father did this last night.” It caused an intimacy because we said secrets, secrets what bring you close because now that person knows you. This person knows you, that person knows you. Hakim states here the belief that the love his grandparents offer is conditional, based on his behaving a certain way that is foreign to him. He believes that the deck is stacked against him and he is being set up to fail. Failure means getting a beating for non-compliance with his grandparents’ rules. The group of friends which Hakim describes are what Erving Goffman defines as “an aggregate formed by the individual’s fellow sufferers...the one to which he naturally belongs...with the same deprivations and the same stigma.”55 Hakim is not considered a weirdo by 32
  33. 33. his nine to ten year old peers in the street. His friends on the street are like family; hence he labels them “brothers”. They appreciate and respect one another. They are kids who grew up together as neighbors, and have known each other all their lives. They share solidarity similar to the Brenneman gang members.56 Hakim states that up until he turned thirteen, he and his group talked with each other about the stigmatizing issues in their personal lives that cause shame: rejection, abandonment, and abuse. Their low self-esteem, as Goffman postulates, comes from the internalizing the degrading attribute and making it part of their social identity.57 At age twelve, his familiarity with the street and the logistics of selling marijuana brings him increased respect with his male friends and girls. Hakim’s selling of marijuana to win the girls’ respect is an example of behavior that Goffman termed “hostile bravado.”58 Hakim creates a new “normal” identity for himself in this role and becomes a role model for his friends. Brenneman refers to such a preoccupation with winning respect as an “attempt to bypass’ or mask shame.”59 R: Well I think it started around ten or eleven, twelve. I started hustling when I was twelve. Me and a friend of mine started selling little bags of weed. My grandfather never knew it. He knew something was going on. He just didn’t know what. And I was trying to transform, in the form of girls because at one point it was just fun, not for the money... more so, that’s what I knew. The social capital that Hakim has with his friends in Grove Hall and the affirmation it brings, draws his attention away from school. School is Hakim’s “playground”. Elementary and middle school is his place to socialize, not learn. R: My grades were horrible. I think more so because of my attention span and my attention was into the streets now. That’s probably one of the most powerful influences... Yeah, my mind wasn’t in it because my mind was in the streets and the attention I am getting in the streets... Yeah, I’d go to class, but I just would be in class. I wasn’t a trouble maker or not listening because I felt like I don’t have to. Because now, I have a battle in my head. I had an option to be in the streets or in school. No one loves discipline. Everybody loves attention. In the streets you don’t have to have discipline and it gives you attention. H: What did you do when you were at school? R: Basically messing with girls and loving the attention that everyone else was giving. 33
  34. 34. Hakim’s group is not yet defined as a gang. Brenneman comments, “to young boys experiencing chronic shame, the opportunity to be part of a group that inspired awe and ‘respect’...must seem like a dream come true.”60 The Hustle Gets More Serious At age thirteen, Hakim begins to face more serious challenges when his mother begins to use the drugs she is selling and becomes an addict. Prior to her addiction she has been able to afford to buy him the trendy clothes and sneakers that bring status and respect. Once she becomes an addict, Hakim’s mother uses that money to feed her habit. R: Thirteen then come along fourteen or fifteen and I was selling it more because my mother had started using drugs and my mother was the one that was initially supporting me and my brother to wear the gears, the clothes, the name brand sneakers that we had. So when she started using drugs, that went down because my grandmother and grandfather couldn’t see themselves spending seventy, eighty dollars on a pair of sneakers like my mother would. The economic need resulting from his mother’s addiction causes Hakim to begin transitioning the neighborhood group he is leading. The focus turns from fun, friendship, and small-time drug dealing to win the respect of girls to the more business-like purpose of making a profit in order to continue to buy the things that bring respect - expensive clothes and sneakers. 34
  35. 35. CHAPTER 6: The Neighborhood Group Becomes a Gang The Group R: That was just friends chilling in different communities. We would go from Stone Cold to Blue Hill to see girls and Blue Hill dudes and Stone Cold dudes would go to Mission Hill to see girls and dudes from Mission Hill, we’d all get together and just walk to J.P. to see Paris, then we’d all say, “Let’s walk downtown. In the process we’d be picking up people and everybody was friends. The whole Dorchester/Roxbury was friends. No street gangs, no colors, nothing. It was all the Group. R: Before gangs started there was no gang. It was called the Group and, the Group, all we did was run around and snatch hats. And we would sell weed to buy Kangol hats and leather bombers. Now how gangs initially started was there’s Stone Cold, there’s Blue Hill, there’s Intervale, there’s St. Joseph’s Academies, Castlegate, Bromley-Heath. All of us were together. All of us was completely together, even Bromley-Heath. The people who are killing now. We were together. There’s a power in that, but I’ll explain that later, but we were all together. Any gang you can imagine. There were only two separations in Boston and that was the Corbett Street gang and the Group. The Group was the whole Roxbury and Corbett Street was the whole Mattapan....the original beef? Stone Cold and Corbett Street started a fight over a girl named Tracy. In 1983 Hakim is thirteen years old and the social bonds of friendship transcend neighborhood boundaries for the African American and Latino youth of Boston’s inner city. There are few gangs at this time. The kids from the Stone Cold area have large extended families within the various neighborhoods and they serve as the basis for the bonding and friendship. At this point the solidarity of the group comes primarily from socializing with girls and winning their respect by wearing expensive clothes. This group of African American and Latino kids from various Boston inner city neighborhoods is collectively named the Group. They number between 400-500 kids with Hakim as co-leader. The group’s preoccupation is stealing hats off of people’s heads for fun (‘hostile bravado”) and selling marijuana in order to buy the clothes. The group’s members are sexually active. Brenneman asserts that sex provides young males a symbolic association with power and manhood”.61 They fight over girls constantly. The fighting leads to escalated violence, the destruction of friendships, and the formation of the social 35
  36. 36. unit called a “gang”. A fight over a girl precipitates violence between two neighborhood members of Hakim’s Group and a group of kids from the Corbett Street Mattapan neighborhood. A Conflict Changes the Social Order H: What defined you as a group? R: The fact that we stuck together. H: What prevented that group from breaking up? R: Before, we were all together. Now what had happened was it used to be an initial rule that if two people had a fight, we just let them fight, and then after that we would have what you called the circle. It was called the circle and what would happen was that all of us would hold hands in a circle and the two people who had to fight, stand in a circle and fight. Now you got to understand we got a group of little kids together. There’s always emotional hidden agendas cause not everyone can be a man and say, “I lost a fight.” Well, one day, a guy named (I’ll use street names) Joe Rob (from Stone Cold) went up to the Blue Hill neighborhood to meet with Jackie and they got into it over a girl. Because Joe Rob couldn’t fight Jackie himself, him and another guy jumped on Jackie. Then one of Jackie’s friends jumped in, a stabbing broke out. That’s when Joe Rob ran to Stone Cold. Jackie winds up dead. They (Blue Hill neighborhood) come down with a bunch of guys and they couldn’t bring it together (make peace) which caused an immediate separation of “whose side are you on?” so that separated the Stone Cold and Blue Hill. So now you have Blue Hill and Stone Cold and Corbett (gangs). H: What would make them fight? R: They would fight over girls. The majority of all the gangs that initially separated was over girls. The circle Hakim describes is a Group ritual that serves as a one-on-one way to resolve conflict and maintain solidarity without weapons. The circle is a symbolic boundary to reinforce that disputes are to be resolved internally within the Group. A change comes when a Group member fears losing a fight to another member. His concern is that he will be shamed and lose respect. He recruits help. His action is a violation of established neighborhood norms for the circle and results in expansion of the fight to involve Group members from the Blue Hill and Stone Cold neighborhoods. 36
  37. 37. Someone is killed. The result is the formation of two separate groups called gangs: Blue Hill and Stone Cold. Hakim’s group will henceforth have two identities: a personal identity within the neighborhood as a group of friends (“the Group”); and a combat-focused inner city social identity as the “Stone Cold Gang”. This renaming process is a form of what Goffman defines as cognitive recognition: “the placing of an individual, whether as having a particular social identity or a particular personal identity.”62 37
  38. 38. CHAPTER 7: Life in the Gang A Death and a Pact The group of neighborhood kids from Grove Hall is now the Stone Cold Gang. The gang enters an environment that exposes its members to money, power, and increased risk. They begin doing business with older, larger, more sophisticated, and more ruthless gangs from New York City. R: Then me and Bobby had a friend named Nick and Nick got shot in the head and killed when we were sixteen by a guy from New York over a girl named Serena. So at this point when that happened, it shook us because now it really got serious because now we had money coming in and we just lost one of our friends. So I remember the day when we was sitting in the hallway crying and Bobby stood up and said, “From now on, if you’re not from our block, you can’t hang down here.” If you’re not from Boston, if you’re not from this block, you can’t be around us. We’re only gonna stay together and that caused us to come together. So we didn’t allow people because of Nick dying affected us so much that we kind of pulled close to the ones that were close to us. So if you was in Stone Cold, you stayed with Stone Cold and we have core. R: We loved the people that we loved so even though we had ran with Blue Hill and Mission Hill and them, there was still an initial group that grew up together. You hear what I’m saying? We grew up together so we kept them close and we made the vow that nobody would ever come around our way and mess with nobody on our block and that’s when we made the rule that if one fight, we all fight. It was the day after Nick got killed, we sat down and made that vow that if one of you all fight, all of us would fight. No one stands around and watches, no more circle. There’s no more circles with other gangs, none of that. If one person fights, everybody fights... Shame, Respect, and Retaliation, the Decision to Use Guns H: When do weapons get involved? R: Weapons got involved when Nick got killed. We also knew that other people had guns so we had to get our hands on something, but not only that, when crack got involved and money came along, the attention came along. Yes, the attention came along because now we have crack heads bringing jewelry and clothes and money is piling up. I’m talking about like about a thousand dollars a day. And then it started getting to two thousand dollars a day. And then it started getting like to three thousand dollars a day. So now the money is coming in and the Stick up Kids wanted to come in. So what we did was we got guns to protect ourselves and we told, at this point now it’s time to organize. You can’t come down here. Me and Bobby are in control of this drug stuff. If anybody come down, you all continue to get money and come get us. So now we got people on the street following us because we’re getting money. Now we are the group that nobody understands… 38
  39. 39. H: Were some people more comfortable around weapons, using the weapons than others? R: I think everybody was comfortable with using weapons. I don’t think it was so much that they really knew how to use or..., but everyone was comfortable with it, because of the hurt that we suffered. Now you got to understand we were kids and we loved playing with each other. If you’re drawn from one crowd because you’re not accepted and you find a crowd that you are accepted to and one of the people in the crowd that did accept you and you accepted them, and you develop this odd type of love and closeness and comfort. Guys, that sends a shock to your heart that I don’t think anybody could explain. So when Nick died and he was one of the most peacefulest ones that you could probably ever pull over and say, “Nick, this is the problem…” When he died at a young age... and he accepted us. R: So when Nick died, it sent a shock and he died in front of us. We saw it. We actually saw our friend…actually there wasn’t even more than two shots. He jumped out the cab; he grabbed Nick by the front of the head, put the gun to the back of the head. He shot him. His gun broke and he jumped back in the cab and left. And he was from New York. And we were all standing around cause we never experienced nothing like that before. He was an older guy from New York and we never experienced that and when that happened, that changed everybody’s life and then four days later, Nick died. And you had a bunch of crying brothers and Bobby was probably one of the strongest minded people I ever met and he was closest to me; me and him grew up together, he was closest to me and he stood up in the hallway and said, “From now on, nobody’s coming around us. Nobody’s ever going to make this happen to us again.” It was a pain that we never felt and experienced. Like no one ever told us that somebody was going to die. You know, that wasn’t in the scripts cuz we were going to play forever. We were going to snatch hats, go downtown, mess with girls, go to everybody’s houses, and sell a little bit of drugs. It was only a little bit then. Ten and twenty dollars was a lot for us. Coz all we needed to do was go to the corner mall, hang on the corner mall with ten or twenty dollars we could buy a Wendy’s…. Hakim describes his gang’s response to the murder of a beloved gang member/friend. Hakim’s gang members collectively feel violated, stigmatized and shamed for allowing the loss to happen. The gang commits to a pact to overcome their shame by transforming their collective emotional energy into a behavior that will restore gang solidarity and respect. The gang decides to scale down membership to only those they know from the Stone Cold neighborhood; to end the circle ritual; to collectively defend each individual member; and to use guns. These dynamics fit what Brenneman labels as a successful interaction ritual: “bodily co-presence, high barriers to outsiders, mutual focus of attention, and a shared mood.”63 They commit to make violence part of the gang’s normal behavior in order to regain respect. Brenneman observes that a gang member 39
  40. 40. sees his participation in defensive gang violence as an act of masculine sacrifice on behalf of the gang.64 In the act of violence, gang members deepen their shared identity as family and prove their worth and belonging individually. The gang’s decision facilitates a code of the street perspective that anticipates violence. This process of expectation is what Brenneman refers to as an interaction ritual chain.65 Brenneman references Thomas Scheff’s work to clarify this “Shame-Rage” cycle of gang violence66. Scheff bases much of his theory on Charles Horton Cooley’s (Human Nature and the Social Order (1902) observation that “the self is a product of social interaction in which the individual judges himself in the ‘looking glass’ of others’ assessments of him’’. When that individual’s self perception is a degrading one, Goffman would term that a “stigma” and it is that “stigma”, when internalized, that produces the emotion that Scheff calls “shame”. Scheff postulates that personal shame from stigma can be repressed or bypassed due to multiple causes: the traumatization of the individual suffering with the shame; intimidation from a severe power disadvantage; or male pride. The consequence is an emotional tension within the person. It is that tension that produces violent behavior. Scheff terms the origin of this violent behavior “pathological shame.” Prison psychiatrist James Gilligan concludes that “people resort to violence when they feel that the only way they can wipe out shame is by shaming those who they feel shamed them”67. Professor Andrew Papchristos comments: Gang members do not kill because they are poor, black, or young or live in a socially disadvantaged neighborhood. They kill because they live in a structured set of social relations in which violence works its way through a series of connected individuals. The gang qua group carries with it a set of extra-individual adversaries and allies that shape individual choices of action, including the selection of murder victims. As corporate actions between groups, gang murders do not end with the death of the victim but persist in the organizational memory of the gang, which is governed by norms of retaliation and violent mechanisms of social control. 8 Gang murder occurs through an epidemic-like process of social contagion as competing groups jockey for positions of dominance, and aggregate patterns of murder arise as these individual disputes create a network of group relations that shape future patterns of conflict, collective action, and murder.68 40
  41. 41. Trauma and the Code of the Street John A. Rich and Courtney Gray provide further perspective into the response of Hakim’s gang members to their friend’s murder: We interviewed young Black male victims to understand their experience of violence. Qualitative analysis of their narratives revealed how their struggle to reestablish safety shaped their response to injury. Aspects of the “code of the street” (including the need for respect) and lack of faith in the police combined with traumatic stress and substance use to accentuate their sense of vulnerability. Victims then reacted to protect themselves in ways that could increase their risk of reinjury. Their shared understanding of the code of the street and the basic need for physical and psychological safety drives their actions after violent injuries. The meaning of disrespect was a prominent theme in the narratives of our participants, closely paired with its perceived consequence of “being a sucker.” These individuals hold the strong perception that if they fail to retaliate against their assailant, they will be at greater risk for future victimization.69 Rich and Gray believe that concern for disrespect (stigma) is a critical environmental driver for reoccurring violence. It creates the pressure that compels many a young man to retaliate. Retaliation functions to shield him from physical danger by showing others (masking) that he is not weak and does not tolerate being victimized. Retaliation may also be an attempt to recover damaged self-esteem (shame) and a wounded sense of masculinity. The Business of Hustling Crack The Stone Cold Gang and Hakim are approached by a sophisticated criminal organization from New York City, seeking expansion of its crack cocaine market. Hakim Reynolds finds the business attractive. It offers his gang autonomy; crack cocaine is as easy to handle discreetly as the marijuana they sell; and it generates far better profits – a gateway to get rich and more respect. The goal of getting rich becomes a powerful allure from the shame and trauma of their past lives and from the responsibility for creating neighborhoods filled with crack addicts. 41
  42. 42. R: When crack came in, what had happened was that now we go from selling weed to selling this little bitty vial that could potentially make us rich. Cause now remember we was the snotty-nosed little kids that ran around in gangs snatching hats and selling a little bit of weed so now when crack came in, it got serious because now you have these fifteen brothers down here on Stone Cold selling crack. R: There was this guy. He’s dead now. His name was Bernard, from a New York gang and Stone Cold was a hot commodity and he came down and he talked to me and me and Bobby talked with him. “I want to show you all something.” Bernard came to me and introduced ten dollars, but because everybody on Stone Cold was more so looking up to me… because I was probably one of the rowdiest next to Bobby. I was probably one of the most rowdiest, toughest ones out there and the oldest at that point. At the time, crack first came out there was some crack in vials for like forty dollars, then twenty dollars. He showed us what ten dollar crack was and he told us how much money we could make. And we told him, “You can’t come down here. But we’ll bring whatever… It was like a consignment thing. He had carloads so he could give us a thousand jumps so we would bring him back $700… Hakim and his gang became dedicated to the distribution of the vastly more lucrative crack. R: At this point you got to watch it closely because at this point crack came in, ten dollar crack; everyone needed ten dollar jumps. I started selling ten dollar crack, but then everybody from all around started coming to us. He had a carload so he could give us a thousand jumps and at ten dollars a pop. The people we had, people lined up. Literally lined up. Now come along with that is, people taking stuff from us, us losing stuff. We said, “We gotta get a gun.” Went to Bernard. “Bernard, get me guns…” At first he sends his guy down here. Another guy named Prince. No one knew his real name. He died too. Anybody would mess with us. Prince would get him. All we had to do was call Bernard cuz he didn’t want to give us guns and one of the things he said is that when you introduce guns, you can’t get money because guns brings on violence....Somebody shoot off a gun, the police come…So Prince was there to handle anything, but then Prince had left and went back to New York and he left a gun, so now we had Bobby stand out there with the gun. I’d stand out there and watch the money, and other brothers were selling… R: Yeah. Somebody would come up and act like they wanted to get rowdy. Bobby would show them the gun, put ‘em back in place. Cuz like a gun was like unheard of down there like, “They got weapons!” So when we saw the power of guns, we knew we needed more guns. So when we saw the power and respect that we was getting with the more guns, other people were wanting to be with us… H: Outside the neighborhood… R: Outside the neighborhood… Now we got to sit down and talk because we already made this pact that nobody else could come, but we needed the help so we would go to certain people that we knew that was closer to us and we would bring them in. Now we’ve established a gang, Stone Cold. We’ve established the finances, and we established money…so the drugs was bringing in the money. We had the guns. Death was still unheard of to us. (except for Nick)… 42
  43. 43. From Solidarity to Enforcement through Fear Because of the distribution demands for crack and the associated commitments to their supplier, Hakim and the gang make a decision to revise the pact they made following Nick’s murder. They allow others they trust who live outside Stone Cold to sell crack for them. These business relationships account for the creation of gang alliances shown in Figure 3. Trust and honesty in these relationships is somewhat tenuous and often violated. The response is a violent punishment administered to the violator to enforce respect. Witnesses are always present to spread fear as a tool to establish solidarity/conformity around the gang’s established norms. Hakim insists on the importance of having witnesses present, so that they could be the ones to share with others what they saw. The violator being punished is not expected to do so because he would bring stigmatization and shame upon himself. H: Was there any internal enforcement needed within the gang as you spread out further? Originally you had guys that you knew you grew up with. When you started increasing the distribution, you were dealing with people that you didn’t necessarily grow up with. How did you deal with issues like embezzlement? R: There was consequences to be had and it had witnesses because at this point now we learned the concept of control. If people see somebody suffer consequences for something wrong they did, they don’t want it. They did it. So if the consequences were greater than the risk, we’re not going to take the chance. So what we would have to do it with fear, but it had to be real fear. Now we start learning different things. We start learning you have to do what you say. And you have to learn that you just can’t say anything. Because if you say anything, and you don’t do it, people less respect you. So now we start learning that. We had to maintain control of ourselves for people to respect us. So if I went into another neighborhood and somebody called me out by name and something didn’t happen to him, the next person felt like they could do it too. So the simple things would bring consequences, really simple. Because, the respect had to be enormous. Because people now we’re learning people at this time and respect had to be enormous. There had to be control. You have to, if you want to control something, they have to fear you. It’s better to be feared than it is to be loved. You have to control them, you have to control how you are. You have to let them know that you’re not playing. You’re only out for one thing and you’re not playing. You can protect them if they’re on your good side or you can crush them if they’re on your bad side. So that had to be known and the way we went about doing it was that we had another guy. We had another guy so if somebody tried to do something within, we would wait until we was 43
  44. 44. out and then we would get him. And everyone would see them get gotten. Them Stone Cold guys did such and such… R: So now we’re getting money and there’s different people we brought in so say for instance we brought “Tom” and he tried to play his little game of maneuvering and getting his own money. O.k., “Tom’s” doing this. That’s why the money’s coming up short. Then we go, “Y’all got to get “Tom”.” And you got to make known that he was doing this. R: So after they call him out, “Yo, what’s up, you’ve been doing this, you’ve been doing that.” “Naw, naw”. “Yes, you have. Cause there’s the proof and now we have to handle him. So now one of the people watching wouldn’t do it. And for two, the people watching will go back and tell people what happened. So now our unity and our diversity bought us closer. We were all different. We accepted each other for being different, but we understood and we showed each other how we loved you. Now this made us strong. We had money, we had guns, we had the name, we had the power, we were Stone Cold. Stone Cold expanded. Big blocks… Everything in that area was all ours. So anywhere around there you’ve seen different members from Stone Cold getting money. The Gang and Its Business Grow H: It was the largest gang in Boston… R: And it was the strongest… so now from that we grew a reputation. Now we’re not the only kids who needed something and we’re not the only kids that wasn’t understood. I’d go down and meet people and somebody would come and say “I need to get some money.” And I would say to them, “You can’t come on my block, but if you get a block, I’d get you something so you can get money.” So that’s how we would infiltrate that. I’d go to Bobby and say “Dude, there’s some …. I couldn’t be seen going to another block because respect is both ways. Because they wouldn’t come after me because of R: the strength that I carried and the people I had behind me, but they would politely say, “if you don’t want us on your block, why are you coming on ours?” But then I would say, “Well, yours ain’t really getting no money, why don’t you let me help y’all get money? And then I’ll pull out and you give me my share.” So now it was coming to a point of negotiation. Hakim’s success running Stone Cold’s drug business wins him respect with other gangs. Hakim leverages his knowledge of how to build a neighborhood crack operation to circumvent neighborhood gang turf conflict. He creates alliances with other gangs by teaching them how to build a successful drug business, while sharing the profits. The alternative is violent conflict. Hakim’s strategy keeps peace and maintains an uninterrupted revenue flow. R: We had everything and they were imitating what we had; they were just making noise so now what I would do was to take the teachings that Bernard taught me and I’d take it to Cunningham Street and I’d say, “First of all you got to get rid of the guns. Second of all, you got to get rid of the drunk people around here busting bottles and making noise, whatever causes the community to call the police, you got to get rid of them. Third of all, you got to be 44
  45. 45. discrete, be nice to the people, play with the kids, don’t let them see y’all selling drugs.” Those were the Golden Rules. Couldn’t hang around busting bottles cause back then that was a big thing. You couldn’t make noise to scare the community because if they got scared, they’d call for protection and you had to be polite to the kids because if they couldn’t send their kids out there to play, then you ruined their neighborhood. Levitt and Venkatesh draw a conclusion that provides insight into the wisdom of Hakim’s business strategy: “Gang wars are costly, both in terms of lost lives and lost profits. Almost all of the deaths of drug sellers are concentrated in war periods. Moreover, the violence keeps customers away. This negative shock to demand is associated with a fall of 20–30 percent in both the price and quantity of drugs sold during fighting, and the drug operation becomes far less profitable.”70 R: So now y’all have to work this out and we would flood, we would flood them. I’d pump your block up and I would design a way to do it is I would make the crack ten dollars, but a little bigger. You designed the crack so that … say, a crack was that big and it was for ten dollars. I would come in …I would come in and my crack would be THAT big … so I’d come down there and I’d set them up and they would sell out because they were so big that people would keep coming back and they keep coming back so once the block was making a certain amount of money, Bobby would say, “Break ‘em down a little bit.”, but they’d still be coming because they’re so addicted to the drug and that block’s getting money. Now after I did these two blocks and I’m making five thousand and four thousand on this block, I says “You know what? I’m going to go to Codman Square.” Material Benefits to a Dead End H: What’s the return per person in the gang? R: I think at one point it was bringing … so I made a thousand dollars a day. Different dudes on the block would make like three hundred dollars a day...at that point we was kids. It was all about eating out, it was being exploited by our parents, we were exploited by girls, shopping, going to Atlantic City, eating a hundred dollar meals every night, (laughing), and don’t forget, back then it was cabs. And also you got to remember a lot of times, the police pulled us over and took thirty five hundred from us and just didn’t report us. So now you have the police taking money from you. You had your parents taking money from you; you’re spending a hundred dollars on Atlantic Fish and Legal’s, so your money is coming in quick and gone! Jewelry, cars, have fun…You know what I mean? And then if you get locked up for drugs, that’s a five thousand dollar bail. With the successful of the crack business come expenses. In addition to the expensive cars and meals, the police need to be paid-off and parents and girl friends of the gang members 45
  46. 46. pressure them for money. Unprotected sex brings the additional financial burden of children and a series of challenges similar to those discussed in the Brenneman study.71 H: Did you think of things like wife, family, what things were going to be like when you were thirty years old? R: No. H: You didn’t think that far… R: I didn’t think I was going to live to the middle of my life. H: Really? What did you think was going to happen? R: Probably get shot and killed… the things that happened to everybody else. I mean, all my life I was brought up, everyone was getting shot and killed. That was the rules of the game. I accepted that. You either were going to get shot and killed in this game or you going to go to jail. And it played itself out in front of me since I as twelve on so I couldn’t see myself living past that. I didn’t even grasp the concept of working or having a wife. I didn’t even grasp the concept of family because I didn’t have the family setting. My home was dysfunctional so it’s hard to have an image of something in front of you if you didn’t see it. The closest thing I seen was “The Cosbys” which was on TV. So I didn’t have that thought in my head that one day I am going to have a wife and some kids and a nice house and they’re gonna to be running around and I was to be going to work. I had in my head the biggest drug dealer with the most gold chains on, looking the coolest; being a single guy, selling drugs, having three or four blocks. There’s no future. There’s no future outlook in that life. The mindset of a young hustler, there’s no future… it’s so crazy, but the mind shuts off right there. I thought I controlled nature and if the police came, I could just walk away cause I didn’t have nothing, but money on me. H: Did you use the drugs? R: No, no. I was never into using drugs. I just never had the knack for it. I think to be completely honest with you, I got so much attention and so much affection from girls that that was my high. I didn’t need a drug because honestly I had a beautiful childhood as far as evil ways. I was what I called a despotic monarch. If I wanted something done, it would get done, and we would just go on with life. H: So you didn’t think of terms of the development of the organization, a house in Randolph being a “legitimate” criminal so to speak with a “legitimate” cover. Something like that never crossed your mind. R: No, whatever happened took place and you dealt with it right there...immediate. At some point I said “You know, I’m gonna start making different blocks.” Because I’m getting so much money on this block, I’m gonna go down and meet these people and get money on this block. So it was all about me getting money and I could be on the fourth block, but still have the same mindset that I had five years ago on that one block. 46
  47. 47. Hakim articulates the only vision that he was raised to see by his mother: a criminal life, focused on the importance of the moment. Everything in life has to be immediate. When individuals internalize their stigma, they voluntarily choose to agree with the perceived social identity (Goffman) through the emotion of shame. Hakim professes his adoption of this stigma and its shame: a vision of a brief life lived within the confines of a closed, marginalized community. His dreams consist of a life as a gang member “having four blocks”, with no family, no concept of a future, and no end other than violent death or incarceration. 47
  48. 48. CHAPTER 8: Gang Life Goes Bad Locked up, shot, and locked up The Stone Cold Gang’s success in selling crack brings respect as well as an increase in negative attention from rival gangs and law enforcement. From age seventeen through twentytwo, fifty percent or more of Hakim Reynolds’s life is spent in hospitals recovering from wounds or in prison. As the gang’s leader, he isn’t making money away from the business. Hakim begins to have misgivings about gang life as the number of gang-related deaths rise; his periods of confinement become more frequent; and the police continue to arrest more gang members. The ex-gang members in Central America that Brenneman interviewed express a variety of reasons for wanting to leave the gang72 – desire to start a family, disillusionment with the cruelty of gang life, and fear of death. [After the interview, Hakim related that he fathered children during his life in the gang and that this responsibility added to his frustration.] H: So what was the process of like getting dissatisfied with it … what happened? R: I think after we got so big and word got around, the police started coming and they started taking money and I think …a lot of people started dying. It started getting serious, more money involved, more people dying, and now the crime rate is going up. I was like 17 and then I got shot. I got shot and this was when the heat really started … H: Over what? R: I got shot because I had a little cousin. He was down with Blue Hill. And Academy was going up to beat him up. I was going up to stop them, to tell them, “No, don’t beat him up. Y’know. That’s my family.” They’d listen to me if I said that because we were in control and on my way up, Intervale was coming down so I mixed in with them, asked them what happened. They told us what happened and standing there telling us what happened and now I’m hurting God, they hurt my cousin so I’m like, “Aw man, aw man, I tried to tell y’all that’s my family”, so then right as I’m talking, it’s a brick building, was standing by the brick building and somebody pulled around on a scooter and started shooting into the crowd with a 45, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. There’s a line of brick buildings in this alley way so they got about thirty people pinned up against the wall and he’s just shooting in the crowd, boom, boom, boom, boom. I’m on a bike, I turned around, and I tried to ride off, I got hit in the back, but I got hit in the back when I turned down the alley. So then I got rushed to the hospital; I got to wear a colostomy bag. I woke up, my little cousin was over me crying, my little cousin cause he had heard that I came up to stop ‘em. The guy that was shooting didn’t know I was in that crowd, so now it’s on. (Laughs) It just got serious. 48
  49. 49. Grandmother Provides Advice Hakim breaks his own rule, gets caught with a gun, and gets arrested and locked up. Hakim’s grandmother offers him on several occasions her own cost-benefit analysis: if Hakim will promise to trust God with his life, choose to leave the criminal gang life behind, depart from the gang, and commit to live out a “godly” life based on Christian principles like reading the Bible, attending church, and praying, then God will stop putting Hakim in prison. Hakim has occasionally weighed those cost-benefit options and gives lip service to choosing the “godly” life. But each time he is freed from jail, he breaks his promise, and returns to the gang. R: So I got caught with the gun, but I was in jail and my grandmother had came up to the jail cell and she said what are you going to do? I said I don’t want to go to jail. I was sixteen. I don’t want to go to jail. She said, “Well make God a promise that you’ll stop doing what you’re doing.” I was in the holding cell and they had let her come back there and she said “Make God a promise. And if you make God a promise, you got to stick to it.” She never told me the consequences that if I didn’t stick to it, what would happen. She came in and said “Make God a promise and He’ll get you out.” All I wanted to do was to get out. I kneeled down on my knees and I said, “God, if you get me out, I’ll give my life to you.”...Sixteen....I got out that day. They let me go. Now they caught me with the gun. They let me go on personal recognizance as a juvenile. H: And did you keep your promise? R: Nope. I went right back to doing what I was doing. So every six months I’d be out, stay out for a month and get locked up for six more months. H: Weapons? R: Anything, weapons, drugs, assault and battery. I could get out and say, I’m not doing anything and they’d lock me up for robbing somebody halfway cross town that I’d never even touched. 49
  50. 50. CHAPTER 9: Hakim Decides to Go Another Way Hakim is faced with the threat of a sixty year jail sentence. Hakim’s Christian Conversion Experience R: From age seventeen to twenty-two. I never have a full year out. So now this is starting to wear on me because I don’t understand why I keep getting locked up. I say to my grandmother, “Why do I keep going to jail?” She says a few words about it, but she is always on point. She says, “Until you keep your promise with God, He’s going to keep puttin’ you in and out of jail. And one time He’s going to put your back up against the wall where you keep your promise or you don’t get out.” And she says that and the Feds come to lock me up. The Feds look at me and tell me that we got AK47 and we got some drugs and you can either cop out the 40 years or you can let us sentence you to 60 years. R: I sit inside that jail for a week pondering on this, trying to figure out a way out until one night I stand up. I have a Spanish guy in the jail cell with me. He is asleep. I get out of my bed and I look up in the mirror and I say “God, all my life you’ve been sending me to jail. If this is what you want from me.” This is in my ignorance. And I am really mad at God. I am really sincere. I say, “If this is really how you want me to live, then I’m going to live this way. I said, “If you want me to live in jail, I’m willing to live in jail. I’ll live in jail for you.” I’m mad. I don’t know what made me say if you’re gonna make me go to jail. At one point the church used to say. The church had a lot of input, they used to say to me, “Maybe God wants you to do prison ministry.” So I’m getting locked up! Geez…I really want to do ministry now! (Laughs) So I say in the mirror, I look in the mirror and I say, “God, if this is what you want me to do, now I believe in it. If you want me to do prison ministry, then that’s just what I’m gonna do. If you want me to stay in jail, that’s just what I’m going to do ‘cause You’ve been locking me up all my life” and I looked in the mirror and I say, “What do I gotta do to stop going through this?” At that very instant I feel a very big strobe light, I didn’t see it, but I feel it. It goes through my head to my heart and at that second every void that I ever had is filled. And I feel the best I ever felt and the softest, sweetest voice came to me, saying, “Give God what He wants.” The picture in my heart, not in my head, is me holding a little, gentle baby and going, “Awwww.” That’s how I feel. I feel like I have a baby in my hands and the baby is telling me to give God what He wants. Hakim decides to trust God with his life and to leave the gang. R: The next week I go home. I say, “God, if you let me out, I’ll give my life to you. I know that I know what you want. The next two or three days I went to court. They tell me that the Feds can’t use the State’s evidence so they have to get their own evidence. So they let me out on what you call Federal probation. I have to get three …, five applications a week and I have to come down to federal probation to see a probation officer three times a week, but I haven’t even been sentenced yet so I’m saying in my head that I can stick to that term. The event Hakim relates is what Goffman describes as a life event, in which the stigmatized individual singles out and retrospectively elaborates an experience which serves for him to account for his coming to the beliefs and practices that he now has. 73 50
  51. 51. Brenneman references Goffman’s “bridge-burning event”74 to identify a similar milestone experienced by Central American gang members - a transformative Christian conversion experience. The source of this event for Brenneman’s youth is an emotional “crisis” that gets their attention. Brenneman concludes that although some level of cost-benefit analysis occurs when gang members who exit a gang choose the pathway of evangelical conversion, more frequently converted ex-gang members describe the process as one that involves key moments of intense emotion.77 Hakim’s federal prison experience is a bridge-burning event because, with his back against the wall, he steps out of the role of a manipulative hustler and pledges to God his unconditional trust. The transformative event for Hakim mirrors the Christian conversion experience of Brenneman’s gang members75: God forgives Hakim for all his past criminal behavior; removes his lifelong mental and emotional burdens of stigmatization and personal shame; and shows him acceptance, love, and approval – affirmation missing his entire life. Hakim Leaves the Gang Hakim begins his new life, working on his relationship with God. R: I was happy because I knew that God had spoke to me and everything was changing so when I came home. I went to the house where I held all my drugs and I called all the dudes from my crew and I said, “Listen, I’m getting out the gang.” And it was like, “are you for real?” I said, “Yeah. I heard God’s voice.” I started giving away guns, drugs, bullet proof vests, bullets… I had so much stuff. I was just giving it away. “Take it, take it.” Calling people over, “Take this, take that.” “Take it, take it, take it.” My last gun I gave away. God said, “You never pick that up again”, and I never bothered to. I gave my last drugs away. And He said, “You never sell that again.” You’ll never go broke. I walked away, started to go to church. I started to go to Bible class in the morning. I went to my grandmother’s house and I said, “I got to get up in the morning, I got to get a job.” My grandmother put me in this little room in the back. She gave me a little room in the back and I gave everything away. I didn’t have no money. I didn’t have nowhere to stay cause the police had just run in the house. So I did it. I went to church in the morning at 12 Noon. I went to church at 7 o’clock at night. , I went to church in Grove Hall. Bethlehem Healing Temple. My friends and my enemies saw me going to church. It’s amazing; it’s amazing, makes me want to cry…(Hakim is visibly shaken, as he speaks). 51

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