A gang can be described as a group that “resembles an organization of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, name or symbol” (Bartollas, 2002, p. 268). Gangs are either “collectively or individually involved in criminal activities that are often of a violent character or connected to illegal business of narcotics” (San Antonio Police Dept, 2009, p. 9). A gang creates an atmosphere of intimidating specific people or the general public as well as intimidating them.
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Currently, authority in the U.S. estimates that there could be over a million gang members from varying groups who are actively involved in criminal activities in various states including the District of Columbia (Bartollas, 2002, p. 268). The gangs usually classify themselves according to territories, locations, activities, structure and size as well as according to ethnic backgrounds. The gangs are involved in a number of criminal activities that comprise drug trafficking, weapon trafficking and assassination contracts (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1).
The gangs also exist within the realms of prisons and some of them have been a great threat to the correctional facilities due to their criminal and dangerous activities within and without the prison boundaries.
This paper seeks to give a brief profile of each in terms of origin, value system, growth prospects, criminal activities and a comparative analysis of all the five mentioned groups.
Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13)
This gang is one of the largest gangs within the U.S. although, in recent years, it has expanded its operations in various parts of Central America. MS 13 was started in Los Angeles in the 1980s (city’s Pico-Union neighborhood) where the original members were immigrants from Latin America. These immigrants came together and formed a gang which was dubbed MS 13 or Mara Salvatrucha. Initially, the group was only comprised of Hispanics but later on it started attracting members from different ethnic backgrounds such as refugees from Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1).
According to Steve (1997), the gang has about 30,000 members among which, approximately 8,000-10,000 are in the U.S. alone and the rest of the members are saturated in the North Virginia area.
The gangs’ motto is that once one becomes a member one has to forever be a member and in case he wants to disaffiliate from the gang, one has to reduce engagement in gang’s activities failure to which, he has to run away and is hunted down and punished by death (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1).
The gang has been losing foothold in the USA and Central American prisons but it has been gaining a strong grip in El Salvador’s prison system where most of the members are deportees from the U.S. or have fled criminal prosecution. The growth of the Mara is still escalating due to their distinct focus which includes the inclusion of young society members from schools and detention centers.
The gang’s major activities include; “selling and smuggling narcotics, arms trade, extortion, witness intimidation, burglaries, human trafficking, car thefts, home invasions, assaults, contract killing and prostitution” (Steve, 1997, p. 1) where they have gone a notch hire to levy taxes on prostitutes that are non-gang members or drug dealers (Florida Dept. of Corrections, 2009, p. 12).
One of the most horrific crime scenes by the MS 13 was when they brutally murdered young men, women, and children with machetes for no apparent reason. This was said to be the most horrific scene ever witnessed by the law enforcement agencies (Bartollas, 2002, p. 271).
The Aryan Brotherhood
The Aryan Brotherhood is also denoted as ‘AB’ and is run in a structural and functional way just like an organization. The gang is purely mono-racial and the emergence of the AB gang was formed in prison in the 1960s barely based on racial lines and was composed of white minorities which solely were concerned with protecting the white fellows from African-Americans gangs in prisons. The guiding mantra of the Aryan Brotherhood is constructed on the tenets of carelessness and heartlessness when it comes to killing and they focus on vengeance and death without fear (Florida Dept. of Corrections, 2011, p. 1).
Their mission has gradually moved to other criminal activities which include: contract killing, smuggling and control of sale of drugs in prisons, gambling and male prostitution. They are also recognizable in a number of ways: the members mark themselves with tattoos and designs which include the name of the gang or the letters SS, numbers 666, shamrocks and other Nazi Symbols (San Antonio Police Dept, 2009, p. 11). The gang has about 19,000 members both inside and outside prison walls and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the gang makes around 1% of the population in prisons but is responsible for almost 21% of murders within the correctional facilities (Florida Dept. of Corrections, 2011, p. 1).
One of the most notable crimes was the conviction of Aryan Brotherhood members in Santa Ana California, which is one of the largest death penalties in the history of U.S. where two black gang members were killed (Steve, 1997, p. 1).
The Folk Nation
This is a grouping of street crew which has their foothold and strong hold in Chicago and with a few branches throughout the U.S. (Florida Dept. of Corrections, 2011, p. 1). “Within the alliance, there are individual gangs known as Mobs or at times, nations and each one of them has its own unique colors, symbols, hand signs and organizations” (Bartollas, 2002, p. 290). Most of these groups signed a charter before joining the alliance but that has changed over the years that any person can join by the permission granted by a respected gang member.
The Folks Nation was started in 1978 at the Illinois Department collection; the major propeller for this was Larry Hoover who was the leader of the Black Gangsters Disciples. The group was first composed of multiracial members including “Black Disciples, Spanish Cobras, Imperial Gangsters, Simon City Royals, Latin Eagles, Satan Disciples and Latin Disciples” (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1). Larry Hoovers had an insight for the folks to bring all gangs in Chicago in one controlled centralized place resembling a cartel.
The most notable aspect of Folk Nation is their use of right identifiers such as wearing of caps and belts to the right (San Antonio Police dept, 2009, p. 13). Other symbols include: devil horns, 6 dots and a bunny with a bent ear among others. Their creed is geared towards protecting and supporting one another, Folk before Family, where they are supposed to stick to one another in bad and good times (San Antonio Police Department, 2009, p. 7).
Folk Nation activities include: drug trafficking, robbery, extortion and murder. One of the major dangerous crimes was in March 1999 when Gangster Disciple Members, which is a strong affiliation of the Folk Nation and also co-founded by Larry Hoover, witnessed a shooting of Sid Towns in Memphis Tennessee alongside Omar Stokes over a drug deal which had gone badly (Steve, 2011, p. 1).
The Mexican Mafia
This gang was one of the earliest gangs to be developed in the correctional facilities of the United States. It was started in 1957 in California. Its strong foothold rests in Texas. Its current head quarters are located in San Antonio and have spanned across various quarters such as Houston, Dallas and Mid Western and Southern Texas where it is strongest.
“In July 1957, the notorious Mexican Mafia prison gang was founded by Luis Huero Buff Flores, Mundo Mendoza, Joe Peg leg Morgan and Eddie Gonzales at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California” (Bartollas, 2002, p. 287). The Californian chapter is constituted by a written constitution that governs as the legal document that stipulates all the operations of the gang and requirements. The gang was constituted as a result of a desire to establish and create a legitimate network built on character that stressed out love over hate (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1). The organizational structure of the Mexican Mafia follows very strict laws written in the constitution. The gangs major criminal activities include: dealing with drugs within prisons, contract killings, prostitution, large scale robbery, gambling, racketeering and weapon dealings. One of the criminal acts by the Mexican Mafia was in 2002 when the members stabbed and killed Jabilia Barragan in California. The reason behind this killing was disrespect to the gang (Steve, 2011, p. 1).
The Black Guerilla Family
The Black Guerilla Family is a “prison gang that was founded in the California prison system” (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1) by George Jackson in 1966. He was a former member of the Black Panther. The gang is also known as BGF, Black Family or The Black Vanguard. The activities of this group were more politically involving constituting major gangs in prisons. “It was first formed as a Marxist revolutionary organization with a goal of eradicating racism and struggle to maintain dignity in the prisons as well as to overthrow the U.S. government” (Inside Prison, 2011, p. 1). The group is purely resonated to black inmates who have very rigorous death oaths that usually call for restrictive pledges upon joining.
“The leadership and organizational structure within the gang is comprised of paramilitary scheduling where there is a central committee and a supreme leader as well as military ranks” (Florida Dept. of Corrections, 2011, p. 1). Some of its identifiable symbols include: Cross sabers and guns, black dragon overtaking a prison and a prison tower and anti-government mentality that is often depicted in conjunction with BGF initials. The group is widely distributed among the major prisons across the United States but its strongest footholds are within the East and West Coast. The groups criminal activities range from: Drug trafficking, Auto theft, burglary, Drive-by shootings and Homicide.
Similarities and Differences among the gangs
There are a number of similarities and differences inherent within the five gang groups which are as follows:
- Missions: The philosophies and missions behind the five gangs are similar in that all seek to protect their own ethnic groups within the prisons from other rivalry gangs or groups.
- Location: “The Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerilla Family, The Folk Nation and The Mexican Mafia have their strongholds across the United States” (Florida Department of Corrections, 2011, p. 1) but MS 13 has its greater extensions within El Salvador, Honduras, Peru and Guatemala.
- Alliances: All the other gangs have alliances apart from the MS 13.
- Criminal activities: Almost all the gangs have similar criminal activities but the AB is distinct in its inmate prostitution and BGF differ in its drive-by shootings.
- Ranking: The organizational hierarchy and structure for all the gangs tend to follow the paramilitary levels.
- Make: The Folk Nation comprises of Blacks, Whites and Latinos, the MS 13 is composed of Salvadorans, Honduras, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans whereas the AB has only Whites, BGF has Blacks and Mexican Mafia is composed of Hispanic.
- Threat: The threat level to the prison systems for all the gangs is very high with The Folk Nation being a bit mild because of the split up of its part groupings.
The analysis of the five gangs which are part of the most dangerous outlawed gangs in the United States still shows that they have power and influence within the correctional systems and facilities and even though the federal government has been trying to beef up security within the correctional facilities, these gangs exist. There is still need for more corrective measures aimed at curbing the spread of these gangs within and without the prison walls.
Bartollas, C. (2002). Invitation to corrections (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon
Florida Department of Corrections. (2011). Major Prison Gangs. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from, http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/gangs/prison2.html
Inside Prison. (2011). Prison Gang Profiles. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from, http://www.insideprison.com/prison_gang_profiles.asp
San Antonio Police Department. (2009). Gang Awareness. San Antonio Texas. P. 2-13. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from, http://www.sanantonio.gov/sapd/pdf/Awareness.pdf
Steve, N. (1997). Street Gang Dynamics. Retrieved October 6, 2011, from, http://www.gangwar.com/dynamics.htm