By David Amoruso for Gangsters Inc.
There are over 26 thousand gangs with around 750 thousand members in the United States. From the East to the West, in big cities and the suburbs; gangs have become an integral part of the social fabric of America. What is it like growing up surrounded by gangs? Crips member-turned-successful author Stanley James II shares his experiences with Gangsters Inc.
Stanley James II grew up in a tough neighborhood in North Long Beach on the borderline of Compton in California. Murders, drugs, prostitution, and crime were an everyday thing. He got jumped in – got his ass kicked by fellow gang members during the initiation ceremony – at the age of 16 and joined the Notorious 4 Corner Bloc Crips, which operated on the Northside of the Long Beach County borderline of Compton, surrounded by Southside Crips and Neighborhood Compton Crips.
“The Notorious 4 Corner Bloc Crips was originally established in the early 1960s as the Squarehood Crips and later changed its name to 4 Corner Bloc Crips in the early 1980's,” James II tells Gangsters Inc. James II can be seen in the photo on the right holding a photograph of Crips founder Raymond Washington. For youngsters growing up in the decades since, these well-established gangs are part of the neighborhood like certain mom and pop stores. Its members and bosses are viewed as part of the community and forces for both good and evil.
“There are many roles gangs play in a neighborhood,” James II explains. “For one, the original concept and mission of street gangs was to keep outsiders and rival enemies and different races away from committing various crimes in one neighborhood. But there are many other roles members play within their own area, such as the gang banger who is the poster child for one's set. They got members that make money through various ways such as drugs or robberies.”
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Even within gangs there is a distinction between members. James II: “Within every neighborhood you got gang bangers and gang members. There’s a critical distinction between the two. A gang banger is someone who is on the frontline and still active with everything that's involved with their set and gang. A gang member is one who already went through all the trials and tribulations, has been active and is known throughout their area, but now mostly guides and aides the gang bangers.”
Born into it
With such an organized structure ready and waiting, youngsters are easily absorbed by the gangs. “A majority of members is born into their gangs,” James II explains. “Because their parents or cousins are already well known and established in their neighborhoods with some kind of ranking or stripes within the gang.”
Rankings vary from generations and stripes earned. They contain OOOG (Triple Original Gangsta), OOG (Double Original Gangsta), OG (Original Gangsta), BG (Baby Gangsta), TG (Tiny Gangsta).
Photo: James II (right) posing with OOOG "Pretty Boy" from the 60s.
The other side of recruitment is more brutal. Every new recruit has to fight to show his metal. For those that opt not to, pick your poison. “Some females can be “sexed” into a gang by having sex with various members if they don't want to fight.”
Recruitment starts early. Kids grow up surrounded by gangs and learn from an early age who is who and the wealth, power and respect that comes with their position and status. James II: “Most kids that are being recruited are between 12 years and 16 years of age. Schools are the predominant sites for recruitment.”
“One way ticket to prison or a plot in the graveyard”
“Kids will see the glamorous life of gang banging, the parties, the fast money that's coming in, the women, but rarely or hardly ever see all the pain, destruction, funerals and gang wars that happen on frequent daily basis,” James II sighs.
Photo: Scene from the 1988 movie Colors
“Gangs don't offer anything except a one way ticket to prison or a plot in the graveyard, truthfully,” James II says bluntly. “Gangs we're originally designed to offer protection and the love that was missing from family in one's life. But they have transformed into an all-out clout war for attention and popularity. Gangs today don't really hold as much weight and or adhere to the same principles as they once did in the previous decades, which Bloods and Crips originally stood for.”
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Teenagers are easily manipulated and even when they are not forced, the choices they make at that age, are not always in their own best interest. When they join a gang, however, they made a decision that is cast in blood and comes with lifelong consequences.
Reality creeps up on ya
“To some - and especially to the real gang members – the gang is for life and even after death. There have been times when it is completely acceptable for some individuals to go and walk a straight narrow honest path. But for the majority of members that been through it all, the good and bad, normally, they can't turn their backs on the gangs. Simply because that is all they know. They have given so much of their life to the gang and know nothing else. A gang member can have done so much in their life that even if they wanted to get out and go straight your past will always creep back up on ya and remind you what your reality really is.”
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