Former Gang Members Share The Truth About Being In A Gang

Former Gang Members Share The Truth About Being In A Gang

There are plenty of negative stereotypes surrounding gangs, most of them having to do with violence, narcotics, and crime. But a majority of these ideas come from what we see in movies and TV shows or hear in music. While some of these depictions are accurate, they don't really tell the whole story. There's no better way to truly learn about what it's like to be in a gang than to hear it from someone who's been in one himself. To get a glimpse into daily life in a gang, read through the following stories shared by former members.


35. Record Racking Up

Personally, I ended up getting out cause I realized the pattern I was falling into. Before I even turned 18, I had six charges on my record, two of them felonies, and I was on third strike, which basically means if I commit another violent crime, I can be locked away for life automatically and any non-violent crime, no matter how small it is, can be an automatic seven years if they choose. As of right now, since my charges were all between the ages of 13-16, I've been told if I don't get in trouble for the next 10 years after my last charge (2013), I can get my records expunged so that's what I'm aiming for at the moment but it's crazy knowing any little thing can send me back for such a long time because of how stupid I was as a teen. A lot of my friends never got the chance to get out. One of my friends is doing 12 years—he's been in there since he was 17—and another one is doing life so I'm just glad I got out before that happened but I still have to be careful.


34. Part Of Something Bigger

I tell people I know today that I was a completely different person when I was younger. Sometimes even I can't believe that I was ever involved in gang life. (Keep in mind this was well over a decade ago.)

I was in a mixed-race gang, however, the majority was Hispanic. It started as a group of friends needing protection from other gangs but progressed into just plain old criminal behavior. It was exciting to run from cops, cause trouble, and occasionally dodge weapon fire. But it was really a bunch of poor and poorly educated kids embracing the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves and a feeling of family. It felt good.

Getting in was getting ranked in by getting your butt kicked for 30 seconds by whoever was already in the gang and wanted to participate at the time—this was usually between five to ten members versus one. Most days were spent zoning out and cruising lowriders around looking for hyenas or slanging substances or looking to hit a lick or starting things with rivals but mostly just chilling. A life of crime, though, has consequence so rap sheets got long and jail was just another place to go. It was also a dangerous life. Lots of injuries and too many deaths of some of my closest friends.

After my best friend was attacked and my son was born, I made a change. I didn't find Jesus or any religion. I found logic and reason moved far away from all the hogwash. I still keep in contact with one or two of my old homeboys but most of them are gone, in jail, or out of their minds. Gang life is rubbish but when you're poor and defenseless sometimes it's just the way it is.


33. Monkey See, Monkey Do

I come from "the hood". My mom was in a gang back in the 60s and that's where she met my dad. They were in the "swatzmakas". Apparently, that had to do with lives ending... I never asked them if they committed any crimes anyone but I hope not.

Anyway, I grew up hoping to join a gang. I was young and stupid. I joined a gang, mainly because my friends did. The classic "monkey see, monkey do" scenario. I've been jailed three times for some crimes and was too afraid to quit for four years. Finally, I quit the gang last year. Feels liberating.


32. A Man's Mule

I wasn't a member, but I did do some substance mule-ing for an older Italian fraternal organization. I watched someone that I looked at like a father put a weapon to a cops head and pull the trigger twice. I got out after watching a cop lose his life from about twenty-five feet away. I was a fall guy because I was still a minor, so it was never investigated. I still have nightmares about it sometimes, and it's been close to fifteen years. There was only one upside: I got off the substances I was on that day cold turkey.



31. All In Hindsight

I loved it at the time and now I get pretty down whenever I look at my flash.

For the most part, pretty normal stuff. I smoked (what we didn't sell), drank a lot (one of our cash cows was home-distilled drinks), and as the head of security (including legit security gigs we got) lots of posturing and pretty regular brawls.

Please note I'm from a country where weapon crime isn't so prolific.

I did have a couple of friends from outside the club get beat or stabbed in relation to the lifestyle, but as far as I know everyone who has ever been a member is still alive.

In terms of initiation, there wasn't really one, but I made it clear that anyone who didn't want me around could take it up with me (although I did a fair bit of menial dirt for a long time).


30. Masking The Memories

I grew up close to Chicago and throughout high school, I would visit it frequently and built up a network of friends through music. Shortly into hanging out, I was jumped in by four guys and earned respect quickly through being very competent and having good ideas. I never really liked to talk about my role or my tasks until I got older, however, I have had weapons in my face and watched friends lose their lives in front of me. Through it, I started drinking, smoking every day, just so I would have something to focus on. I got to the point where I couldn't be alone for more than a minute without remembering getting attacked and chased.

In school, I was picked on a lot but it made me feel tough and respected even though it was a secret until I started cutting ties and focusing on an actual career. I hated that life.


29. Abandoned Demons

Used to have a very serious substance problem, coupled with the fact I grew up in a rough hood, it was inevitable. Basically, I needed protection and substances. But like most people here are pointing out, eventually you just get too old for it. I kicked my substance habit several years ago, found an amazing girl, and realized I didn't have to stay in such a dangerous spot. We moved out to the mountains and aside from my police record and my ongoing struggle with addiction, I left those demons back in the city. For real though, you can leave your hood so easily if you want to. Took me so long to realize that.


28. Member By Blood

I was born into a club with my dad being a charter member. I'm his son, so technically I'm a member. My dad was, as I was growing up, semi-inactive (or so he said). He was a scout leader, football coach, hockey supporter, and all around great father. He made sure my head was in a place his wasn't. I went to prep schools my whole life, then to one of the best colleges the US has to offer in engineering. It was all paid for by him. Then, finally, after messing it all up on my own, I joined his trade (legit skilled trade). I've had a great life. His life wasn't like mine, and he made sure to never let me follow his path.


27. Fitting In

I grew up in a gang in southern California.

I didn't get jumped in, but definitely had to hang around for a while, fight people (not in the gang), and commit basic crimes like robbery.

When they were comfortable with me, they invited me to more advanced criminal tasks, and eventually, I just became part of the group.

I wore the right clothes to fit in, picked up the proper vernacular, kept my mouth shut, and hit hard.

As much as they claim to be against substances, they all do them. I don't like substances... I tried them all but never like them. I sold some, sold large amounts of weapons, and jumped people.

I realized that it wasn't what I wanted, that I wasn't happy with myself, and the happiness I thought I would find did not exist, because I hate racist people.

Eventually, I just lost contact with people and moved away. Never heard from them again.


26. Health Hazard

I had a screwed up childhood—in and out of foster care; my father passed when I was 10. I also had issues with violence when I was growing up, landing me in juvie. I joined when one of my father’s friends reached out to me offering to help. I still am not entirely out, my health is just to the point where they have no more use for me, so they leave me alone.

My worst memory was when a man angered me on the street, and I ended up following him until we were isolated and hitting him on the back of the head twice with a piece of pipe. I am not sure of what happened to him, as this was 20 years ago at this point.



25. Street Smarts

The original gang I was apart of was full of goofs. It was full of the drama and backstabbing; the only person you could count on was yourself. I became enraged at the incompetence of others and left on bad terms to join a crew who understood me. I've had a lot of fun times with the partying, girls, competition, close calls with cops. I've also had those moments where I thought, "Well, this might be it." I've been attacked, drawn on, sold well over my weight in hard and soft substances, boosted cars, credit card fraud, etc. I had a pretty extensive criminal resume before I got a real job in the oilfield.

Fun fact: I almost failed the initial test screening for the job. I only passed because I hit it off with the screener and he threw the testing strip out. Five years later, I'm making the same amount of money as I did when I was hustling, and about to make even more with a legit sub-contracting side hustle.

Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat. Those streets taught me more than any college degree could. I understand not everyone has the same view and I respect that. Much love to the rest of you who made it out to the world with me, and thoughts out to the boys who we wish were here to see us now.


24. Father Time

Age and the family—you can not be in a gang and live a family life at the same time. At some point, you literally get too old.


23. Tentative Age Of Ten

1990, I was 10 years old. Got clicked into a gang.

So yeah 1990, 10 yrs old, got clicked in by a bunch of teenagers. Got my butt kicked big time. For the next six years, lots of graffiti, break-ins, drive-by's and especially fights. Lots of fights.

In school, my gang was the biggest gang there. They had enemies but mostly just two rival gangs. Keep in mind, this was before my gang became what they are now.

We lived in a border town, so we would skip school, walk to Mexico, get inebriated, and come back home the same day. It was innocent fun to us. Now with all the security and border walls, nothing is like it was before.

Anyway, I have tons of stories, including one where we hog-tied a person and played piñata with him.


22. Switching Sides

I was friends with a couple guys in fourth grade. We played Tech Decks and stuff. Well, they both got in to the gang scene pretty heavy and one of them actually was pretty high up. It was nuts.

It started around seventh grade and I got expelled freshmen year for having a weapon at school. While I was in it, I was always looking over my shoulder when I was alone. Being in a group felt nice, as I was and still am a little socially awkward. There ended up being a gang war between Mexican and Asian gangs. I got involved on the Mexican side. Meanwhile, I was friends with a couple guys I played football with that were on the Asian side (one was Asian and one was white). I ended up switching sides. This was not taken to kindly and I had some people after me.

The school I went to was in the inner city and a lot of people carried weapons. I ended up bringing my weapon cause this one guy was after me hard and he was all stitched up with a pretty big gang over south. After I got expelled, my parents thought a move would help. We moved to a small town of 17,000. I went from gangsters to country folk in no time. I remember I wore a Velour South Pole outfit the first day and received the nickname that was utterly ridiculous. This was years later that I found out about this. I ended up calming down and slowly getting out of that. When I look back on it, I can't believe the amount of stress I was under. I still get the chills when I go to that neighborhood. I regret nothing, I love how my shenanigans made me who I am now. Now, I'm boring and work in finance. It's pretty sweet.


21. Accidental Gang

My gang experience was a little different than most others.

I got into a fight with the wrong person when I was in grade school and had to spend a summer at a detention camp (like a juvenile hall in the countryside). There, I met a group of guys who would be my "gang". We never called ourselves a gang, and we never flew colors.

We sold a lot of substances, and carved out a small piece of territory. We had rivals and allies with other groups. I was ignorant in my youth and didn't even realize I was in a "gang" most of the time. There was a lot of love between us, and I never wanted out, because it was the bad boy's dream. We were making money and had a lot of respect from peers. I got to hang out with people a lot older than me, plenty of girls.

There were dark times, though, when we would get mixed up with rivals or territory war. Only ever had one guy betray us.

The timing worked out that it all just crumbled and faded away after 9/11 because the majority of the members signed up to go fight the war on terror. Those were the toughest times for us younger guys who couldn't join, because we still had enemies, and now we didn't have our friends.

I survived it, and looking back wouldn't change it. I'm not saying I was a good person back then, but I learned a lot about the difference between right and wrong, trust, loyalty, and how almost everyone that doesn't bleed with you is full of bologna.


20. Reckless In The Rearview Mirror

Three things: I got too old for it, I joined the Army, and I realized, thankfully not too late, that almost shooting someone for "talking smack to my boy" wasn't in my best interests long-term. I think back to that point and thank god I did not do something so dumb. Cringy.



19. Truth Behind Bars

Going to prison and seeing that the guys I wanted to be like we're scared and cowardly as well as easily manipulated with no honor. I have been able to do whatever I set out to accomplish in life. However, having to explain my criminal past after every DOJ background is a pain in the butt and, at this stage, quite embarrassing. Even though I was just 18 years old when I was last arrested, I still have to explain myself to people as if it was yesterday.


18. A Piece In Suffering

When I was 14 I became involved in a criminal organization. It wasn't street crime, it was organized crime (they looked down on street crime but for things they were also guilty of).

When I was 16, one of my best friends was beaten. That was the first thing that made me think that this wasn't something I could do forever. After that, the whole thing kind of just broke down. The walls closed in and a few people had to leave the country and the ones of us that stayed tied up the loose ends and rolled up our thing into the major thing and called it a day.

Psychologically it was that I was making the world a worse place. That was the thing that for me made me want to stop. I didn't want to contribute to the suffering in the world and in people's lives and I was. I made my family miserable, my old friends were scared of me, my new "friends" didn't like me because I was always lashing out, and there were people I'd wronged for no reason. There was one time I beat a guy so badly he was in the hospital for weeks, but he owed money so later in the week I had to go to his house and collect it from his wife and just the look on her face and his daughter's face... I was thinking "I did this? I'm the reason you're going through this." It just wasn't okay with me.

My past has never come back to haunt me. There are times when somebody will say something but even when I run into people I had disagreements with, we just go our separate ways.


17. Party Crew

I've been in a few. The first one was in junior high. I needed some extra protection from a gang I had a beef with. I basically told some friends I wanted in. One guy took me to another guy after school. We talked. He said I'm in. Done.

My parents moved cities for job-related reasons and that was the end of that one.

The next one I got burned into. It was more of a party crew. We made flyers for parties, hired escorts, bought drinks, hired DJs and equipment, promoted, collected money, ran security, teamed up with other crews for bigger events, attended events to build up our name. We fought other crews for fun and status. It burned out after we all graduated high school. I still talk to most of the heads of other crews and most of our crew but we just got older and chilled out.

Looking back, lots of fun, lots of memories. Lots of stupid stuff.


16. Shot Awake

I was fired at by the Denver police three times—twice in the chest and once in the arm. It was definitely a wake-up call. I spent a year in jail recovering it; one bullet missed my heart by one inch. When I got out, I knew something had to change. I was 25 years old still messing up. I had some kids, got a solid job, and just stuck with it.


15. Mom's Side Of The Family

My mom grew up in a bad neighborhood, and her two older brothers had joined a gang in their teens. Everyone kind of knew her because of them, and they all respected her, because if a guy has street cred, you don't mess with his baby sister. Anyway, the brother closer in age to her was taken down in the late 80s. After that, she decided to cut ties with everyone she knew in that lifestyle. Today, her older brother is still around, and he is a mess—pushing 50 with a history of substances. He's homeless, no family, in and out of trouble. It goes to show that that life has nothing to offer.


14. Couldn't Condone Culture

After years of living in a culture that worshiped violence, I couldn't see a future in it. I was not a violent person but I felt surrounded by it. It was embedded in our music and our image. No one could look at me and see me as anything but a thug. I didn't want to live that way.



13. Cheesy Gang

I stopped doing the heavy substances. It turns out certain gangs in Asia aren't as savage as their reputation because I was seen off with a parting gift, a literal basket with literal fancy cheese knives.


12. Momma's Boy

I tried to join a gang when I was 10. I was so desperate for acceptance at my new school because the bullying was so awful and my parents degraded me a lot at home. That aside, my experience was that I was initiated simply by getting them to like me. I think these guys didn't attack me because my mom was a powerful woman in the community and they didn't want to risk anything.


11. Terrible All-Around

It sucked. I felt horrible. I was jumped in. I sold substances and robbed people. I saw one of my best friends get shot. I smoked, played a lot of dominoes, and drank a lot.


10. Brothers' True Colors

I had two sets of friends... There were the kids that I grew up with then there was the gang that I became a part of. I was all-in, fiercely committed to my "brothers" and I thought they were to me. I alienated the people I grew up with. During this time, I was in a serious relationship and got engaged. Long story short, she passed away from leukemia. I was devastated. I turned to my "brothers" for support and they couldn't have been less interested. I was dealing with the loss horribly. The friends that I grew up with began to take notice and were there for me 100% despite me acting like a jerk to them. After that, I decided to slip away from that lifestyle and focused on the people that cared for me. I never looked back...


9. Trading Thoughts

I always thought I'd end up in prison or gone and accepted that.

After three years in federal prison, I realized how much I'd lost, especially people I loved.

It wasn't necessarily hard to leave that lifestyle, I have a trade. It can be difficult to change your way of thinking though, my temper seems to flare quickly. I have full sleeves and my hands and knuckles tattooed and my head is still shaved, so I guess I still look like a felon.

First thing I wanted to do when I had some stability in my life was rescue a dog. She gives me something to care about even when I don't care too much what happens to me.


8. Virtual Crimes

I was part of a gang. Odd circumstances going in—I'm American and young, and my earlier years were crime-ridden.

Come my 14th birthday, I'm doing some darknet stuff and get offered a job in my town. I do some stuff with a dude in another gang and meet a Russian. He called me "chuvak" and fought with me in our gig.

I learned a lot in my time with him. It was a three-year thing, and honestly, it's still a part of my life. I still call my gang boss and I have my "vor v zokune" on my breast. I'm becoming a better person, but it's a lifestyle.


7. Three Strikes

The three strikes law is an eye-opener. I got two felonies when I was very young and had someone sit me down and tell me that the next one will get me a LIFE SENTENCE! I slowed down and over the next few years, and gradually stopped hanging out with the fellas.


6. Games Over Gang

I used to hang out with a gang. If I was an official member or not is debatable. My best friend, on the other hand, had a tattoo and everything pledging his allegiance to the gang.

I simply didn't see the thrill of hanging around partying, having the cops pull up to search everyone a couple of times a day, and chasing some guy that they didn't know out of the neighborhood and saying that we were "protecting the hood". So I pretty much stopped hanging out with them.

I was nerdy and low-key enough where my lack of presence wasn't noticed much. I may have also been lucky that most of the members I knew before they were gang members and they knew I would have rather been hanging out at the arcade playing video games vs getting inebriated.


5. Permanent Fear

I left because I began to realize just how stupid it all was. It still haunts me due to the fact that I still have a visible tattoo that could get me hurt at any moment. If opposing gangs see it, they obviously associate me with their enemy. If gang members in my former gang see it, they will obviously soon discover that I no longer am in the gang. I can't go to certain major cities in the East or Midwest due to this.


4. Left For Dead

I used to run with a gang back in the day. Eventually, the leader got too violent, started to attack gas stations and stuff that we had no reason to. This all came to a peak when I got hurt and they left me for dead.

I decided that enough was enough. I married one of the girls that ran with us, and left them. I'm now 37 years old, and it hasn't come back to haunt me so far. Let's hope it stays that way.


3. Child's Play

I saw a good friend get shot twice in front of a kindergarten and children outside of the school during lunch. Really put into perspective what I was doing.


2. 30-Second Massacre

I joined a gang when I was 16. Our gang was the most famous and feared in school we had three initiation processes. The first process was called "30-second Massacre". A gang member will beat you up 30 seconds non-stop but they are not allowed to hit you in the head. Six members beat me up all at the same time. I got beat up so bad, I was unable to get up for a week. I just told my mom I had a sprain.

The second initiation had to be moved to a different day. That one is like psychological torture: They spit on my face, shout all degrading words that you could imagine. The third process is "The Paddle". Gang members will hit you with a whistling paddle (a paddle that has holes so when it hit you it will not swell, but bleed). I was bullied since first grade. I just thought if I joined this gang I would not be bullied and I was sick and tired of getting bullied. The only thing that I knew that would make it stop was joining the gang and it did.


1. In For Life

Depending on who you ask, if it is a regular runt gang member, they will say being in a gang feels like family. You will hear the usual: we rob, use substances and we "jump" to initiate new people in. Dropouts and uneducated young people from bad neighborhoods or broken families usually join. These are all true, but there are deeper aspects to the gang culture and successful/powerful ones are more sophisticated than the stereotypical ones depicted in movies or media.

In fact, some people referred to as OG could be someone you would never think of being part of a gang. They could be someone who owns a business or even someone holding a regular job. In my group, we never mix. In fact, we look down on groups that do this. When they say you are in for life, they mean it. I've seen it all.