Apologetics Index

Street Gangs, Prison Gangs

Street Gangs

street gangs

Gangs operate with structures similar to those of destructive cults

Street gangs, prison gangs and biker gangs have cult-like recruitment and retention characteristics. For that reason Apologetics Index includes an entry on this subject.

Confused about cultural inconsistencies and personal matters such as occupational choice, commitment to physical intimacy, and psychosocial maturity, adolescents have a strong desire to be led. Leaders serve a dual purpose. They save teens from uncertainty by exhibiting a strong sense of direction and purpose, and they provide a model with which youngsters can identify (Lorenz, 1970).

Perhaps teens have no stronger need than the need to be devoted to a cause. Young people want to make the world right, and many honestly believe that they can save both themselves and the world from destruction. To achieve this, some young people are prey to groups (gangs) with strong leaders, and they are also prey to cults. Both gangs and cults frequently disguise their true purposes and hide destructive elements under a cloak of falsely promised justice (Gesy, 1993).
– Source: When Spirituality Goes Awry: Students in Cults, Professional School Counseling, USA, June 1, 2004


  • America’s Biker Gangs The Week, June 6, 2015. As the article notes, biker gangs are not just an American phenomenon.

    Most motorcycle clubs are perfectly harmless groups of leather-clad easy riders with a passion for the open road. But the biker world also has a violent subculture — a highly organized criminal network of Harley-riding outlaws who fight turf wars over drugs, weapons, and women.

  • Drawing Gangs to God “A former recruiter for one of Miami’s biggest gangs now recruits Christian converts from the mean streets. Just getting them to stop killing each other is considered a victory.” by Twila Decker, St. Petersburg Times, Apr. 25, 1999
  • From bling to lingo, US inspires UK gangs Shawn Pgatchnik, Associated Press, Aug. 14, 2011.

    The starkest difference between British and American gangs is the firepower. In gun-control Britain, only the bigger gangs make firearms — smuggled in with drugs shipments from Holland, North Africa and the Caribbean — their weapon of choice. For U.K. teenage apprentices and wannabes, the knife is still king.

    Most of the more than 5,000 stabbings a year in Britain, according police and social workers, are gangs attacking rivals who strayed into their areas, muscled into their rackets, or simply insulted them.

    Already this year in London, eight teenagers have been stabbed to death. One wouldn’t hand over his cell phone. Another was stopping a bicycle-borne gang from chasing his younger brother.

    Such bloodshed pales in comparison to the epicenter of gang culture, Los Angeles, where an estimated 90,000 gang members have been blamed for the majority of 297 murders last year. The LA gang model is the world export leader, with chapters throughout the United States and Central America. Dozens of British gangs brand themselves as L.A.-style Crips and Bloods, too, although no true trans-Atlantic affiliation exists.

    But even before England’s August riots, gangs cast a bigger statistical shadow in London than in New York, where official crime figures last year recorded just 228 gang-related crimes — in a city that suffered 18,000 robberies and 532 murders. While experts there estimate New York’s gangs to have around 17,000 members, they stick to business and discourage inter-gang conflict over turf.

    “New York doesn’t have clearly demarcated gang territories,” said David Brotherton, a youth gang expert and chairman of the sociology department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

  • How gangs took over prisons by Graeme Wood, Atlantic, October 2014. “Originally formed for self-protection, prison gangs have become the unlikely custodians of order behind bars–and of crime on the streets.”
  • Rosaries a popular gang tool, not often for prayer Religion News Service, June 8, 2010

    Like school principals and superintendents in other states, including Texas, California, Oregon, and Virginia, Oneida officials say the no-rosary-beads rule is necessary to “protect students from violence and gangs.”

    They have a point, according to gang experts. After schools began banning gang-related bandanas, clothing, and hairstyles about a decade ago, students have turned to rosaries as a subtle and often First-Amendment-protected way to signal gang allegiance.

    “With the introduction of strict dress codes and the use of uniforms in the school systems, these type of indicators seem to be favored by the gangsters,” the San Antonio (Texas) Police Department says in a handbook about gang awareness.

    Gangsters not only wear certain colors–reds for Bloods, blues for Crips, for example–they also arrange the beads to signal their rank in the gang, and teach young members to plead religious freedom if they’re hauled into the principal’s office, said Jared Lewis, a former police officer in California who worked in public schools.


  • Gang Intelligence Manual: Identifying And Understanding Modern-Day Violent Gangs In The United States By Bill Valentine (former Correctional Officer)
  • Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

    In this artful, disquieting, yet surprisingly jubilant memoir, Jesuit priest Boyle recounts his two decades of working with homies in Los Angeles County, which contains 1,100 gangs with nearly 86,000 members. Boyle’s Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention program in the country, offering job training, tattoo removal, and employment to members of enemy gangs.

    Effectively straddling the debate regarding where the responsibility for urban violence lies, Boyle both recounts the despair of watching the kids you love cooperate in their own demise and levels the challenge to readers to stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.

    From moving vignettes about gangsters breaking into tears or finding themselves worthy of love and affirmation, to moments of spiritual reflection and sidesplittingly funny banter between him and the homies, Boyle creates a convincing and even joyful treatise on the sacredness of every life. Considering that he has buried more than 150 young people from gang-related violence, the joyful tenor of the book remains an astounding literary and spiritual feat.
    – Source: Publishers Weekly review as cited by Amazon.com

    In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times, Boyle said:

    You go into Borders, it’s in the religion section; Barnes & Noble, the sociology section; Amazon characterizes it in the motivational category. I’m happy with all of them. I don’t want anybody to pigeonhole it — “Oh, it’s just a memoir by a priest who works with gangs.” Christian publishers all turned it down because of the language. I’m really happy that they did — I’d rather it have as broad an audience as possible.
    – Source: Patt Morrison, Father Gregory Boyle: Life among the homies, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 10, 2010

  • A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture by John M. Hagendorn, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Illinois

    Hagedorn … a scholar of gangland culture for more than 20 years, contends that gangs have existed since the Roman Republic and will continue to thrive as long as globalization continues to create untenable situations for the urban poor. Hagedorn surveys street gangs from Mumbai, Paris, L.A., Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and 15th-century Florence, examining the role race and ethnicity play in gang formation (the white Gaylords of Chicago, the Latin Kings) and how the gang itself can be regarded as an alternative social institution, providing protection and economic opportunities for neglected populations. Hagedorn’s description of gangs as institutionalized living organisms explains why they are so difficult to eradicate. Although Hagedorn is an undeniable authority on the topic and has logged plenty of face time with gang members, his work relies rather heavily on analyzing academic studies as opposed to providing in-depth descriptions of his own firsthand observations. His focus on old school gangsta rap also reveals a slight disconnect from his youthful subjects, as he refers to passé artists such as Cypress Hill as popular modern-day performers.
    – Source: Publishers Weekly as quoted by Amazon.com


Mara Salvatrucha MS 13 The Ruthless Hispanic Street Gang
Documentary about MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS, Mara, and MS-13), America’s Deadliest Gang – National Geographic
YouTube player
Prison gangs, documentary by National Geographic

  • MS-13 and the Threat of Transnational Gangs A video report by Christiane Amanpour about Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, the largest gang in El Savador. Amanpour discusses the threats posed by transnational gangs with Martin Licciardo head of the FBI’s National Gang Task Force, which maintains extensive ties with law enforcement counterparts in Central America. [Video no longer available]

    The gang is not even native to El Salvador. In fact, it’s an American export. Born on the streets of Los Angeles, MS-13, and its rival 18th Street, both took root in Central America after many of their members were deported for crimes committed in the United States.

    MS-13 is now active in almost every region of the U.S. And Sureno gangs, including MS-13 and 18th Street, are the fastest growing of all the national-level gangs. They’re a big reason why gangs overall are responsible for almost half of violent crime in large urban areas of the U.S.

See Also

  • Gangs in the United States An alphabetical listing of gang acronyms, abbreviations, identifiers, and graffiti tags used in the United States.
  • Managing prison gangs: Results from a survey of U.S. prison systems by John Winterdyk and Rick Ruddell, Journal of Criminal Justice 38 (2010) 730-736

    Responses from a survey of gang management strategies were collected from U.S. prison systems holding1.19 million inmates. The results provided insight into the prevalence of gang members in prisons, gangstructure, as well as the strategies used to manage the threat that these groups pose.


  • Gangs Or Us Operated by retired law enforcement officer Robert Walker. Walker is is an expert on Security Threat Groups and street gangs and has been court qualified as an expert witness in trials involving gang members in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Virginia.
  • Into The Abyss: A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs “One of the Most Up-To-Date and
    Comprehensive Resources on Street Gangs in America”
    This website explores over 80 different gang-related topics and offers more than 2,400 links to useful gang-related websites on the Internet. By Mike Carlie, Ph.d., Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Missouri State University.

    I wanted to learn about street gangs and I wanted to be able to teach about the gang phenomenon. I also wanted to participate in the on-going conversation about what we can do to reduce the formation of gangs and the number of people joining them. To that extent, while nearly two-thirds of Into the Abyss is a descriptive and explanatory study of street gangs, fully one-third is devoted to exploring solutions to the gang phenomenon. The Table of Contents at the top of each webpage in Into the Abyss provides easy navigation to the listed topics directly, without have to read through the entire book.

  • PoliceOne.com: Gangs This section of PoliceOne.com — a website with resources for police and law enforcement — deals with news and information about gangs.

Article details

Category: Gangs
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First published (or major update) on Saturday, February 13, 2010.
Last updated on November 23, 2017.

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