In recent years, we have seen a major rise in murders related to gang violence. We have also seen a global rise in the popularity of gangs heavily promoted on social media and among rappers and celebrities. One would think that with this popularity, there must be something rewarding to belong to a gang or involvement in gang life. We have seen singers, rappers, athletes and entertainers tout their gang affiliation and wear gang colors. What is the truth about gangster life and what are the true outcomes versus the illusion?
I have been up close and personal with the gangster life as a young man. Things were much different then, but make no mistake about it, the gangster culture existed as it does today. Gangs were not formally organized but various neighborhoods functioned like gangs. The areas I frequented at different times ranged from what was known as “UWS” (“University of Warren Street”), “Harlem” (McQuay Street), “The Bottom” (Bain Town), and I had friends and interacted with other gangsters in Kemp Road, Masons Addition and The Valley. Although guns were not used as frequently, there were guns (and the guns were different), murders, drug dealing and the same activities as today. I had friends who were drug dealers, bank robbers, murderers and criminals from different backgrounds. I will not give details but I was there during times of all of these activities. I was a youngster but I was there. No details needed!
Fast forward to today and we have high-powered weapons, gang units in the United States of America (USA) like the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples and various others. There is what is called drill rap or murder rap that has seen rappers being killed on a weekly basis. It is amazing that these young men would perpetuate something that only ends in a cycle of death with absolutely nothing accomplished. In addition to gangs, there were and are various crime organizations like the mafia and the Mexican and Colombian cartels. The gangs recruit young men into the lifestyle and you would think that there must be some tremendous benefit to have so many young men chasing the gang dream. The gangster life is not a dream, it is more like a nightmare … an illusion. An illusion is where you show one thing but, in reality, experience something different or realize that what you thought existed does not exist.
The following are some prominent aspects of the gangster illusion:
• You will make a lot of money.
• Your friends will be loyal and will never “snitch” on you.
• That there is a code that exists that real gangsters will not break.
• If you sacrifice for the gang, you will be rewarded.
• There is long-term success for a gangster.
Let’s take a look at the first illusion. It is true that some people will make a lot of money, but the problem is even if you do make money, you never really get to enjoy it. In The Bahamas, and many areas of the USA, the gang member ends up being confined to a small geographical area because if they ever leave these protected areas, there is a constant risk of death. What reward is it if you make big money, advertise it on social media and brag about it but you cannot leave your house or neighborhood except under heavy protection? The gangster who makes money rarely gets to enjoy it comfortably or for any length of time before someone comes to rob or kill them. We see stories upon stories of young men who rise up the ranks in a gang, earn big money only to die within a short period of time because the gangster success is an illusion. You may make money, but it is most often short-lived and the results are tragic.
The second illusion is that there is a benefit that lasts. There is a former mafia captain or capo regime who shared his experiences in the mafia. He stated that he made up to $10 million a week. He was once ranked as one of the top mafia bosses in terms of wealth. He had a helicopter, homes in New Jersey and Miami. He ended up leaving the mafia because he stated that it was an illusion. Ninety-eight percent of his friends were dead or in prison. His father, who was a devoted mafia boss, spent almost all of his adult life in prison or facing trial. He went to prison at age 50 and was released at the age of 102. He also explained that the code that they all swore to was an illusion. When the government indicted mafia bosses and they were facing 80 to 100 years in prison, they abandoned the code and traded the code in for freedom through reduced sentences. He also indicated he and others were promised that their families would be taken care of while they were in prison, only to realize that this never happened. Rappers and other gang members have experienced the same thing. The code is really a figment of imagination. Sure, there are people who try their best to live by the street and gang code, but the truth of the matter is that many who appear to be living by the code are secretly securing themselves. There really is no code; the code is an illusion. I remember during my time on the streets, one of the biggest and most feared gangsters was found to have been on the police payroll for years. You never know who is breaking the code until years later and so many people are breaking the code because the code is an illusion.
The third illusion pairs with number two. We expect our friends to be loyal and never “snitch” or break the code. People are loyal up to a point. It depends on what they are facing that determines how loyal they will be. The other problem is that the ones who swear loyalty and end up going to prison for 30-50 years end up finding out when it’s too late that the people they swore loyalty to actually threw them under the bus to preserve themselves. I have a friend from the Crips in Los Angeles (LA) whose brother ended up doing 40 years for a murder he did not commit for the sake of his gang. Another friend in LA shared with me how his brother went to prison for life for a murder he was forced to commit. Loyalty, too, is an illusion. Sure, some gang members are loyal, but a quick trip on YouTube and you will see hundreds of former gang members and mafia bosses who were loyal up to the point they found out that the people they were loyal to, were not loyal to them. One mafia boss was caught on tape indicating that he was going to kill his right-hand man and the right-hand man heard the tape and decided he would testify against his boss rather than die after being loyal to the boss for 20 years. He was called a “rat”, which is a term often used in the gangster world but if the illusion were to be revealed, many who swore they would never be rats actually did what they said they would never do. Isn’t it amazing that criminals expect loyalty and truth? Gangsters, who base their life on crime, live under the illusion that their friends will not betray them when that life is full of betrayal, meaning it, too, is an illusion.
The next illusion is that there is long-term success or reward in “gangsterism”. There is no retired gangster association. What is most sad is that rappers who have made millions of dollars and had become successful to the point where they did not need the gang life, have fallen for the illusion and are now facing decades-long prison terms at the height of their careers. They will be old men and senior citizens before they return to society broke and depressed. In that life, most have a short span of material success or notoriety only to die within months or a few years. Several LA gangsters from the 80s and 90s left prison with no money, no family and no future. The most feared gangsters who gave their all for the gang ultimately end up broke, addicted with no marketable skills and ended up having to work menial jobs just to make it. This message may or may not reach youngsters of today but it is 100 percent true. Hopefully, at least some of our young people will realize the illusion and see through it and end up pursuing the life they were born to live rather than giving up their freedom and their lives for what is a complete illusion.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.