The following are common reasons young people join gangs. However, what they find after joining is not what they anticipated. There is nothing good to be gained, and usually a serious price to pay.
Assault, harassment and extortion are common means to coerce membership. Joining increases the need for protection. Joining a gang means joining a group of criminals who accept violence as a means of achieving their aims. New members also gain instant enemies in the form of all other rival gang members.
Drug trafficking, robberies, extortions, burglaries, theft are the common illegal means of obtaining ‘fast cash’. Fast cash doesn’t last. The criminal record does last and the consequences of any violence involved can be permanent. Laws enable courts to seize proceeds of crime and offenders can receive up to fourteen additional years in prison for participating in a criminal organization offence.
The entertainment industry glamorizes gang lifestyles. ‘Cheap thrills’ only last for a few moments, and they aren’t cheap. The reality of losing life or limb, of going to prison, of having family members targeted can be sudden, sobering and permanent.
Gang lifestyle involves crime, drugs, violence and weapons. Gangs exist for greed and the aims of gang leaders. Gang rules are not for the benefit of gang members. While some gang members may support each other, they do so in an atmosphere of danger and fear. Sooner or later the time comes when it’s everyone for themselves.
More than belonging, new gang members may become stuck with their new gang ‘friends’. Be prepared to give up family, school, friends who aren’t in the gang, and other wholesome activities. Belonging to a gang means one’s first loyalty goes to the gang, even before family. The gang restricts who you hang out with and they will be watching to make sure you stay in line.
Young people who aren’t doing well in school or sports or who don’t have confidence in themselves may join a gang for status and recognition. However, doing wrong or harmful things, or just “going along” does not build feelings of self worth. The identity one gains in a gang is a criminal record, a prison number or sometimes a toetag.
Gangs deal in such blatant brutality that it's difficult to understand how anyone could be sucked into them at any age. People want to believe all kids are coerced or frightened into membership and though that's true for some, there's a deeper truth. Gangs exist and are growing, simply because gangs are meeting genuine human needs that appeal to young people, albeit in a dangerous and pathological way. Gangs provide for those needs, yot kids don't realize the dangers.
What do gangs offer? They provide an immediate promise of belonging to something. Gang allegiance depends on members trading individuality for community. For a lonely young person, the feeling of belonging is very powerful. Suddenly, they aren't alone anymore. The gang becomes mother, father, brother and friend. Family, friends, church, sports, academics, and hobbies are suddenly set aside, as allegiance to the gang is all-consuming.
Gangs maintain a sense of mystery and secrecy, and this is extremely appealing to young people. While gangs operate outside the law, the sheer excitement and mystery surrounding gang life is a huge draw for young people. It is human nature to want to be "in the know" an d to be privy to inside information makes people feel important. Gang members have secret hand signals, tattoos, neighborhood grafiti and colors that show everybody that they belong, similar to the exclusivism seen in lodges, sororities and country clubs. It's natural for anyone to feel better when chosen to be a part of something, when others were not.
Easy money is a lure for kids to join gangs. Kids as young as 5 or 6 are given great wads of money and the promise of more to come if they join. Money is a powerful incentive for anyone, but to a child or young teen, it is practically irresistable.
Gangs foster a sense of power that is very appealing. Young people feel invincible anyway, so gangs deliberately foster the myth of invincibility that only age and experience can normally dispel. Power is addictive, and many young people like the rush.
As soon as possible, recruits are expected to perform a home invasion, rape, murder or carjacking as a form of initiation. Gangs do this for several reasons. First, it makes the recruit cross an inner psychological line. The new member's own innocence is shattered and he's now a like-minded participant. Once a new member does something like this and gets away with it, there's usually some kind of tangible reward, such as money or stolen goods, as well as the applause and praise by other members for their courage and loyalty. When a young person is the center of a hero party atmosphere, it's difficult to resist.
Eventually, real danger becomes a plaything to gang members. Guns no longer seem like things that can kill, but as tools to get what they want. Running from the police, carjacking, rape, and all the rest become games of power-proving grounds for rank in gang activity. Young people lack the discernment to really see the consequences of these actions.
After a while, this participation into brutality for sport robs the young person of any sense of goodness he may have had and replaces it with a sense of shame. The gang becomes the justifier, an agent of salvation making wrong seem right. The gang provides members freedom from moral obligations and shame.
Unfortunately, the gang member eventually becomes an important and powerful person in the organization. The gang member is ruled by mindless obedience and follows a group mentality. For all intents and purposes, the original young person, won by shining promises and street savvy power talk has been obliterated as an individual who thinks and chooses for himself.
It is a very hard battle to reform a gang member-never impossible, but very difficult. Why? The gang member, now feeling dehumanized and undeserving of redemption into normal society, usually doesn't feel he deserves another chance. After brutalizing innocent people, turning from family, church and friends, and knowing what the gang members are capable of doing to someone who left, getting out seems impossible. The gang has won--now the individual is his own taskmaster and a better way of life seems to belong to a better type of person.
The only way to undermine the appeal fo gangs is to start meeting the person's needs. Kids need to belong to something bigger than themselves. Getting them involved in community, church, sports or other organizations is a start. Knowing where they are and who they're with is also critical. Many schools, churches and community organizations have programs to fight against gang membership. There are no easy answers but keeping track of your kids and knowing their friends, activities and whereabouts is considered one of the best preventative steps to deterring gang membership.