When you think about thugs, what comes to mind? Society might say probably a group of people with tattoos on their body, covering their arms, and head. Maybe scary people who love to rob and do drugs committing illicit. Or maybe big strong gang bangers. But gangsters aren’t like that, they are scared and degraded in today’s society. Some gangsters joined gangs because of the environment they were raised in, but it is mainly fear. Fear of either getting rejected by others in their environment or fear because a gang is after them. Joining gangs can protect gang members from getting robbed or killed from opposing thugs. Based on research, gang members should be treated with respect because they might have wanted to join gangs for protection, but ended up setting themselves up for a scary dangerous life without even knowing.

What Does “Join For Protection” Even Mean?

To begin, gangsters have a hard life, some probably have came from another hemisphere to Oakland looking for an opportunity. But ended up being exposed to a hard life of violence and drugs because of the neighborhood they were put in. This can be proven by an article written by The Enquirer interviewing Javier, a gang member from colombia. Javier had escaped Colombia due to his family being in danger of a civil war going on. Javier and his family moved to Oakland because his father found a job cleaning boats.The Enquirer wrote, “But instead of escaping violence, Javier found himself surrounded by it. He’d unknowingly traded guerrillas for gangs. As he adjusted to Oakland’s colder weather and different food, he also learned which colors not to wear and which of his middle school classmates were gangbanging.”(The Enquirer) Javier had escaped violence just to see more violence making him join slowly because of his friends influence. When The Enquirer said “traded,” they meant that he had left Colombia and went to Oakland trading his old culture for a new culture where instead of fighting for guerillas (small group that fight against larger forces), he was now fighting for gangs. Knowing that Javier had came to Oakland and joined a gang allows us to look back at another reason why people might join gangs.  If we pay attention to his story, we get to know why we should respect people like him for trying to escape violence just to come for more. 

Interview with Joie Fung told me what Oakland citizens think about why people join gangs. She is a student at San Leandro High School and lives in san leandro, but was raised in 98th street Oakland for 10 years. She walks to school and frequently goes through dangerous parts of Oakland to be able to meet up with friends or to attend programs. She has experienced some of her friends joining gangs and she herself has asked them why they have joined. Interviewer asked why do people join gangs and she said, “People can be part of a gang because of family members making them feel a bit better and if they are treated as family members by other people, they can most likely have a really good feeling about being in the gang.” (fung) People join because they want to feel accepted by others. Gangs are a way in which people from dangerous places in Oakland to get supported by other friends. When Fung said “treated”, she meant that gang members joined to feel empowered and respected and would love it. Understanding people’s view on gangs will make us understand what makes people feel scared about gang members. If gangsters understand the fear, then they can see how they should act to be more respected.

How does it feel to be in a gang?

Being in a gang also affects members mentally, thugs know they aren’t allowed to do some activities because of the risk of being shot. Even going into another neighborhood can be dangerous to most gang members. In the article, life on the streets of Oakland, CA, by author Stanley Greene, he had gone around Oakland asking gang members how they felt being in gangs, an anonymous gang member had talked about how it is like in Oakland to walk around people knowing they are a gang member. Stanley wrote, “…growing up in East Oakland, the ‘hood’ to some, places like Brookfield you just do not travel unless you are packing steel so the gang bangers stick to their own hoods, and when you go to someone else’s hood, you do not disrespect them, ‘cause if you a’int from there, then there is a good chance you will not make it out alive.”(Greene) In east Oakland, people are born to a neighborhood, if it is in a gang territory, they can be seen as a part of them and they wouldn’t be able to go out to other neighborhoods because of the danger they can encounter. When Greene said “stick” he meant that gangsters from their own street need to stay with their own people because going with other people meant that they can harm them. If we understand this story, we get to see how gangsters feel scared on a daily basis, going to another neighborhood a not very scary action but for them, it’s a risky situation that can get the hardest gangster scared. 

On the other hand…

Gangsters are also responsible over a lot of deaths, drug usage, and hospitalizations. Some gangsters can be dangerous such as the younger ones who barely have joined the gang. They can be the ones who shoot other people and steal. Younger OG’s have been through the hardest parts of being in a gang so they might be tired of it and would want to try to keep people out of them. In an interview with Martha Ramirez, She is originally from Mexico but moved to Oakland when she was 18 and has lived here for 15 years. Having to struggle making money and taking care of her kids in a new country. I asked her if she thinks gangs should be terminated or be kept in Oakland. She was against gangs saying that all they do is damage people’s mental state and makes people into killers. She said,“ I think the gangs should be terminated because they can kill people, they can serve drugs, they can harm people, and no one deserves to die for being in a group.”(Ramirez) Gangs are responsible for so many deaths and drug usage, no one should die for being in a group just because of drama. When Ramirez said “terminate”, she meant that gangs shouldn’t be something that people join, but they should be removed from the streets of Oakland and stop them from spreading around. Having an understanding of this quote, gangs would understand why they are so dangerous and what they should change to be less harmful to the community. If we don’t fix what gangs are doing, violence rates will become higher and it would be more dangerous to walk out in the streets of Oakland.

In summary, the next time you see a gang member, treat them with respect, maybe even try to get their story. They are sensitive people too but hide it with their hard attitude. Living life on the edge at risk of being killed everyday gets old and makes them want to leave, but sometimes leaving get them killed by if not their own gang, then other rival gangs. This life sounds and is scary and just supporting them can help them realize that there is more support outside of gangs and might support them to make their own programs that help others exit gangs and continue in school to make them more successful. 

Annotated Bibliography

Brocklin, Elizabeth Van. “Aftermath: ‘You’re Going Back to East Oakland’.” Cincinnati.com, Cincinnati Enquirer, 5 June 2018, www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/06/05/youre-going-back-east-oakland/668965002/.

The article picked someone from Oakland to give their experience and show how they felt while living in danger. Javier escaped colombia to come to Oakland where his dad found a job. But jaier was surrounded by gangs and violence.This article interviews an actual gang member of Oakland giving him the opportunity to talk about his experience in the Oakland streets.

Greene, Stanley. “LIFE ON THE STREETS OAKLAND, CA.” Facing Change, 11 Feb. 2012, www.facingchangeusa.org/project/stories-life-on-the-streets/.

Article talked about people trying to help out others to make them be safer out in the streets of Oakland. Telling stories about others and how they struggle out in the streets of Oakland. Growing up in the hard streets of East Oakland as a gang member means that you have to be more careful of your surroundings and have to look out to where you are going because if you do something wrong, you might end up dead. The article was made in 2012 so it is relatively new and includes some facts that might still impact people today.

Ramirez, Jesus Alejandro, and Martha Alicia Ramirez. “What Do Gangs Do?” 25 Nov. 2019.

I interviewed Martha Ramirez about how she feels. according to her, She was against gangs thinking that there is where all of the drugs, violence, and deaths where from. She said Gangs are responsible for so many deaths and drug usage, no one should die for being in a group just because of drama. She is a credible source because she is originally from Mexico but moved to Oakland when he was 18 and has lived here for 15 years. Having to struggle making money and taking care of her kids in a new country. She has been in struggle because she came with no one in the U.S to help her so she lived in the ‘hood’ since she got to Oakland to now.

Ramirez, Jesus Alejandro, and Joie Fung. “What Do You Think about Gangs?” 29 Nov. 19AD.

I interviewed Joie Fung about gangs and she talked about how She was a little against gangs and how she has encountered multiple gangs on her way to school and has seen them usually just hanging out not doing anything. Being more on their side saying that gangs are like big families. She is credible because she herself has lived in east Oakland until she moved when she was 10 over to san leandro when her mom got a better job. She has been in Oakland for 16 years and has been in the most dangerous parts of Oakland just going to her friends’ houses.

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Michael Pearson
Michael Pearson
December 5, 2022 12:04 am

Dear Jesus
We all make difficult sometimes terrible choices but those choices impact those who have no voice winen, the elderly, and children There’s more than one way to negotiation a solution but respect has to be a part of the equation Intimidation will faul only lead to more heartache because justice even if under the surface ultimately will win Corruption breeds perversion it can’t be allowed to happen

September 26, 2022 2:31 am

Dear Jesus,

I am impressed by your post, “How Do Gang Members Feel While In A Gang,” because it is a big topic that nobody thinks or talks about. This topic could help others who aren’t in the same type of life to understand gang members better, and might even show why some actions by gang members are done. They always talk about how gang members act but never why they act.

One sentence you wrote that stands out for me is: “gang members should be treated with respect because they might have wanted to join gangs for protection, but ended up setting themselves up for a scary dangerous life without even knowing.” I think this is just wild because there shouldn’t be a, should or could, if someone is human they should automatically be treated respectfully whether they are in a gang or not. This is true though, many people believe just because they are in gangs that they are going to be “hard” and rude, but at the end of the day they are still human.

Thanks for your writing. I look forward to seeing what you write next, because you have a different point of view that many should read into. I also like that you brought other articles, just shows that you actually did your research and you aren’t just talking on whatever.


May 14, 2020 9:09 pm

Hi Jesus,
I agree with you in how you stated that gang member are still to be treated like human beings. I feel like that is a general rule we should apply with everyone. A lot of these people have no choice kind of a “hunt or be hunted” mindset. Gang culture has so many deep and intricate levels but on the outside it easy for people to label them as thugs, criminals, and menaces to society. I think those labels also impact how they may feel about themselves, like “ if the world already thinks of me as a criminal, why not?”. On the other hand, so many innocent people are affected by gang violence, so many innocent bystanders have been hurt. It’s a complex issue but I think if we focus on solving the root causes of why people join gangs and providing the needed support we can make a difference. Thank you for your post!

May 13, 2020 7:16 am

Dear Jesus,

I’m a student at San Jose State and I wanted to thank you for shedding light the topic of how gang members feel while in a gang, as this group is often misinterpreted. One sentence you wrote that stood out for me was when you had mentioned was how “people join because they want to feel accepted by others” and how “gangs are a way in which people from dangerous places in Oakland to get supported by other friends.” Many times outsiders who are not part of gang life see gang members for all that their criminal acts and threat to society. However, many do not fully understand the hardships many gang members face and the reality that many do not want to be involved in gang but rather join as a means of survival or as a way to feel connected and a part of something they believe is bigger than themselves. However, joining a gang comes with many hardships and gangsters are faced with the reality of living a fear dominated life where they potentially never live a life outside of a gang. I enjoyed your post and how you shed light on such an important topic and gave us an inside perspective on what life is like as a gang member. You should check out the book Concrete Rose which talks about the hardships and realities of a 17 year old boy whose father was a former gang legend, reminds me a lot of your post. Thank you, Jesus for shedding light on such a taboo topic. You have a way with words. Keep up the good work!

Heather S.
Heather S.
May 12, 2020 7:16 am

Hi Jesus,

This is a really interesting topic to choose especially considering the stigma regarding gang members. That in itself is impressive and I’m really glad you decided to write about a group that is widely misrepresented. I really like how you included the interview with Joie Fung and included a perspective on why people may join gangs in the first place. You showed that gang members are not inherently bad, yet kept them accountable for “deaths, drug usage, and hospitalizations.” It’s really important to understand others for preventative measures, but not to excuse any wrong-doings. I also really liked how you mentioned education and it reminds me of this movie called Freedom Writers. I highly recommend watching that movie especially if this is something you are passionate about! It highlights a true story based on gang members in Los Angeles who were able to find their way out through education. Your article reminded me so much of it! Thank you for writing about this topic!

April 24, 2020 10:06 pm

Hey Jesus!

I am a student from San Jose State University and I just wanted to say great blog! It was very well written, and as others have mentioned very enlightening. I appreciate that you wrote this blog from both perspectives. You have emphasized that we should all treat one another with respect and to not be so judgmental. Like you have written in your blog, I have heard that most people who join gangs only joined with intentions of receiving protection. Sometimes joining a gang is the only option someone might have, it is a means of survival. You wrote “they might have wanted to join gangs for protection, but ended up setting themselves up for a scary dangerous life without even knowing”, this is very true and once they have realized what is really going on, it is too late or too dangerous for them to leave. Most people join gangs at such a young age where they are still naive, as you mentioned, some people also join gangs for status.

In addition to treating a gang member with respect and hearing what their story is, what other ways do you think we can do to support our youth and let them know they have other options aside from committing their life to a gang?

Keep writing as you have a way with words! You can continue to enlighten others on such a prevalent issue in society!


Terri Towner
Terri Towner
March 8, 2020 11:59 pm

Dear Jesus –
To echo another poster, this is such a great post because the topic of gang membership is rarely discussed, particularly a gang member’s “sense of self” or personal identity. You tapped into the latter by interviewing citizens about local gangs in their community and citing relevant media coverage on the topic. I thought the interviews you conducted were most compelling, as many interviewees noted joining a gang and being in a gang was driven by fear, empowerment, and gaining respect. This is a perspective about gangs we often don’t discuss. The definition of a “gang” is a group or collective of friends/family/neighbors with a leader and an organization in a community that engages, either individually or collectively (in illegal, and possibly violent) behavior. Hey – that doesn’t too bad. I want to join a group with a leader who takes action. Unfortatunely, the gang takes on that negative connotation due to the possible illegal, violent behavior – as you noted in your blog. This negative definition is the dominant viewpoint and I’m glad you discussed this perspective as a contrast to your argument. I examined some of the scholarship on this topic and there is quite a bit. Much of this research focuses on the dominant viewpoint: gangs are violent and hurt the community.
I appreciate your different take on this topic.

Sandra Plancarte
Sandra Plancarte
February 12, 2020 2:26 am

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for writing on a topic that is rarely talked about. You truly humanize gang members and that’s absolutely powerful. I like that you first talked about the human side of gang members, and then at the end added in what most people associate them with (i.e. deaths, drug selling, etc). You were realistic, but also empathetic. By changing the narrative, you get people to see and understand the “why” behind joining a gang. Protection is a valid reason and I think many people take it (being safe) for granted. It’s difficult for people to understanding being stuck to certain “turf” and constantly fearing their life but you did a great job helping the reader envision it. I know of this because my brother has this experience. He’s safe though since he doesn’t cross “turfs, he’s left alone. Don’t worry! Lastly, I was wondering if you have done any research regarding racism and limited job opportunities that might entice people to join gangs too? I believe it would strengthen your work. I hope to hear back from you. Keep up the good fight!

December 20, 2019 10:16 pm

Dear Jesus,
I am really enlightened and amazed about the topic you decided to talk about because it emphasizes different perspectives and views on gangs. One sentence you wrote that stands out for me is “In summary, the next time you see a gang member, treat them with respect, maybe even try to get their story.” This line stood out to me because it’s so true, to not assume anything without knowing the full story. Because people don’t know what others are going through, and by trying to talk to them and learning, one gets to better understand someone to be more empathetic and so they aren’t disrespectful. Another sentence that stood out to me was ” Some gangsters joined gangs because of the environment they were raised in, but it is mainly fear. Fear of either getting rejected by others in their environment or fear because a gang is after them.” By adding this, you explain how gang members not always get the choice of getting an education, because of fear, and because sometimes they are forced into being in a gang and they have no choice. Your blog reminds me of other stories where sometimes people don’t know the full story and that’s why they are disrespected. Thanks for writing. I look forward to seeing what you write next because you have great thoughts and opinions that need to be shared.

Youth Voices is an open publishing and social networking platform for youth. The site is organized by teachers with support from the National Writing Project. Opinions expressed by writers are their own.  See more About Youth VoicesTerms of ServicePrivacy Policy.All work on Youth Voices is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


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