During my nearly quarter-century tenure as adult education/GED teacher at the Bristol Jail, I taught countless inmates. The vast majority of my students were never real gang members. Oh, but a few (especially if they came to Bristol by way of a big city) certainly were.
It may surprise you when I say that I often found gang members to be among the most socially charismatic and loyal people I ever knew.
But they could also be shockingly cold-blooded and violent, if you were not part of their “inner circle” - their “family”.
If you and I had no family in this world … we, too, would grow desperate (yes, even you and I, my friends). We all long to be a part, to belong, to have an “inner circle” that we can call our own … to have a real “family”. To not want to do so is to deny our basic humanity.
And when our most basic of human social needs - that of belonging to a beloved family - is not being met, then even you and I might join a gang.
I was lucky (if you want to call it that, and I did) that I was granted “inner circle” privilege by some of the gang members I taught over the years. For many an hour I sat side-by-side with Crips, Bloods, Aryans, and MS-13s (no, I didn’t teach them all at the same time … as that would not be wise).
My students and I would sit together at the same table, in the extremely small and stuffy Bristol Jail library. I never carried a weapon, nor even a walkie-talkie, and I sat far from the only door. Yes, on purpose - to show my students how much I trusted them.