Cook County Jail, Chicago
They come up, one at a time, from the innards of this place, in handcuffs, sometimes in leg chains, wearing the tan pajamas that are the uniform here. The jail is huge, 9,000 prisoners including 850 women, most of the population being black with some hispanics and a few whites. Most are short-termers or awaiting trial. Sentences of more than a year go to prisons elsewhere.
A correctional officer leads them into a small room and handcuffs them to the wall. They are attached to something at all times. The chaining is ugly. It is also necessary. These guys are genuinely, seriously dangerous. They are the ones you read about in the papers who stab a woman repeatedly to get her purse, the ones who do drive-bys in the bad neighborhoods. Let them have their hands free and sooner or later, meaning this year, one will grab something heavy and crush someone’s skull.
The officer closes the door behind him, leaving me to interview the guy. They have all agreed to talk. It gives them a sense of importance, which they crave. It’s less boring than sitting in the day room.
The following is translated into English, being at times virtually unintelligible without decryption. The original was on the order of, “I be needin’ some drugs, know what I’m sayin’?” The latter phrase appears every ten words like the hippy’s “like, you know?”
How do kids end up here, I ask Lawrence Groves, who in his mid-twenties is a Three-Star Perfect Elite, a high rank indeed, in the Vice Lords, a major gang in Chicago.
“Peer pressure,” he answers readily, being more articulate than most. He has a feral look, the eyes somehow blank as if the shades were drawn, and he misses looking me in the eye by about two inches. He is a psychopath or the functional equivalent.
“Kids see the big kids banging, selling drugs, and they want to do the same thing. Their parents don’t pay any attention to them or maybe slap them around, but the gang accepts them. The gang is their family. So they want to do things, like shooting, that shows they have what it takes. So they do it.”
Everyone I talk to says this. These guys lie like rugs about anything that affects them personally (most of them have just found Jesus Christ, and it has changed their lives) but they are candid otherwise.
Incidentally, “gangbanger” has nothing to do with serial sex. “Banging,” “bangin’ and hangin’” and so on mean doing as gangbangers do.
How about your kid, I ask Groves, knowing he has a son, aged three.
“I don’t know. I don’t want him banging, but he will. It’s in the family. My father was a Five-Star Perfect?, and my boy, I’m his only sunshine. He’ll bang too. We’re like a royal family.”
Note the grandiosity of the titles, the “royal family” reference. It shows in the names of gangs: Vice Lords, Black Gangster Disciples, Simon City Royals, Latin Kings, Satan Disciples, Majestics, Imperial Gangsters.
How can all of this be stopped?
“It can’t be stopped. There will always be gangs. It’s drugs. How much do make in a year?”
I give a plausible figure.
“You can make $75,000 a day selling drugs. Why would I take a job making piddly little money like you do?”
Yes, but mostly no. Higher-ups in the food-chain make real money, and you see the Beamers at the projects to prove it. Most make far less and don’t know enough to launder it and put it in mutuals: They can’t accumulate wealth. But it’s true that they make much more, with less work, than they could at McDonald’s, their only alternative.
Is it worth it if you end up spending half your life in this pit, I ask?
“I know I’m going to end up killed. But I’m going back to it. I don’t want to spend my life in a nine-to-five job with someone telling me what to do. It’s do or die.”
Tragic grandiosity from a flat loser. A tattoo mentality: Born To Die Young, Death Before Dishonor. Groves is smart enough to have some authority in his world. Most of those I talk to are posturing dangerous nobodies, posturing and dangerous because they are nobodies.
Why, I asked, do you guys kill so many blacks?
“We’d rather kill whites, but we know we’d lose.” Worth thinking about, that.
The cleaned-up language and distance given by print don’t convey the hatred rolling off these guys in waves, the lethal fury an inch below the surface. Nice middle-class people have difficulty believing such minds really exist, that they can’t be fixed if only we are reasonable.
The Washington Times, Saturday the twentieth, page one: Two teenagers burst shooting into a school in ski masks, one dead. Page nine, carjacker who stabbed woman 38 times, killing her, says it’s her fault because she resisted. See?