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Do or Die is the first insider account of teenage gangsthe lives, loves, and battles of children who killfrom the only journalist ever allowed inside this closed and dangerous world.
This is no West Side Story. Welcome to a world where teenagers wear colostomy bags and have scrapbooks filled with funeral invitations; where a young man, after being shot in the chest, drives himself to the hospital; where another youngster, caught in crossfire, uses his girlfriend as a human shield; where teenage gangsters are kidnapped, tortured, and held for six-figure ransoms; where kids hum the latest movie's theme music while killing people. It's a world of clickheads, sherms, bangers, ballers, and mummyheads; a world where the strongest feelings of family come from other gang members; a world where the most potent feelings of self-worth come from murder.
Read an Excerpt
As you travel the northbound 101 out of Los Angeles heading toward Malibu, you leave a vista of faded bungalows and crumbling apartment houses. Youdrive past Koreatown, Sunset Boulevard, and the Hollywood Bowl, past Studio City, Encino, and Topanga Canyon. Past Hidden Hills where newly erected office complexes, designed in the style of the Greek Revival, and vaguely Tudorescue condominium townhomes--mustard stucco and pressboard crossbeams--loom fortresslike over the freeway. The foothills are covered by a scrubby pelt of sunscorched brush and they bristle with new enterprises: Porsche bodyshops andthree-storied Nissan and Acura showrooms; real estate offices disguised as Hopi villages; one-hundred-room, twenty-seven-dollar-a-night motels.
If you are a thirteen-, fourteen-year-old kid from South Central Los Angeles, from Compton or Watts or Inglewood, maybe, if you are a hardcore--or just a wannabe--gang member and you are sitting in the back of an L.A. County Probation Department van, the odds are that you are seeing this panorama far the first time. You're straight out of Juvenile Hall, and the judge has just sentenced you to one of the county juvenile detention camps situated in this area--Miller or Kilpatrick; Gonzalez if you're a hard case--for at least four months, maybe longer, and this is probably the first time you have ever been out of your neighborhood.
There are eleven people inside the van: two deputy probation officers, nine kids. The van itself, a late-model Ford, has barred windows and the Juvenile Hall logo stenciled on both sides. One of the D.P.O.'s (deputy probation officers) does the driving;the other keeps an eye on whatever is going on in the back seats during the trip. Not much, actually; not much more than goes on inside a school bus. The kids who are friends engage in a little light bullshitting, the kids who are enemies ignore each other. Some of the relationships are automatic, based on association; some have developed in the two or three weeks spent in the confinement of the Hall. Every kid in this van knows everything he needs to know about every other kid who's in here with him: who's a straight killer, who's a buster (a coward), who can't open his mouth to speak without lying.
If you're that thirteen- or fourteen-year-old kid you're probably sitting quietly, trying to wind your thoughts into as tight a package as you can. You probably go back over what got you a ticket for this ride in the first place. Maybe you got picked up just for being out on the streets too late and the cops found a concealed weapon on you. Maybe you stole a fancy car so that you could strip all the parts off it. Maybe you got pulled over with a bunch of your homeboys after some of your enemies got shot up in a drive-by. Maybe you got arrested with a stack of twenty-dollar bills in your pocket and a litter of bagged-up dope thrown down on the pavement too near your feet to be coincidence. You think about your hands cuffed behind your back and the way one of the cops covered the top of your head with his hand to keep it ducked down as you got into the back of the black and white. You think about the property search they did on you, and the fingerprinting, and the way the cop read you your rights, explaining to you how you had all the same rights as an adult, excepting bail. No bail for minors. You think about how they separated you from whoever it was you got picked up with, and how you sat in a holding cell for three or four hours before they loaded you back in the cop car and rode you over to Juvenile Hall. You got a pat-down search there, they looked for hidden weapons--unless you were in on a drug beef, then you got a full strip-search--and a shower and a change of clothes. But before that some nurse took a needleful of blood from your arm and gave you a plastic cup to pee in. Then you waited, sitting on a long bench with a bunch of other kids, and a guy read you more of your rights and laid down some rules. The rights were all about phone, calls and three meals a day and going to the bathroom and having a lawyer. The rules told you how you weren't allowed to curse or talk back to the officers or ask another kid where he was from. You weren't allowed to throw your gang sign1 and you weren't allowed to look at anybody in, "a challenging manner." You hid your smile when the guy said that--why the hell didn't he just say not to mad-dog somebody? All the rules were going to get broken anyway, you could tell that by the way some of the kids were sitting there on the bench like fucked if this place was going to break them down, and fucked if they were going to look at an enemy with anything but death in their eyes. All of you knew one thing though, and that was that however you acted in here, it was going to get back out to the homies. And it would be part of your reputation forever.
Your homeboys, the ones who had already been away, told you about that early on, along with the advice that once you got sent up the only way to get along was to do your own time and try not to act like a fool. If you had to stand up for, yourself and your neighborhood, you knew that you'd handle it, but you wouldn't go looking. And you wouldn't back down.