Adjustment of Gang Members to Prison

Adaptation to a given environment is a human instinct; nevertheless, a jail which forfeits and defeats all other human sensibilities requires more than just mere adjustments when one has no choice but to accept the penalties to living in prison devoid of rights and privileges accorded a freeman. It is not easy because a prisoner have to dwell in a place common to criminals and civil offenders of the law with different set of minds and attitudes. Commonality may lie however in the desire to belong.

This must be the reason for the brotherhood associations formed by individuals within prisons to survive. The existence of gangs and the problems associated with them have been a societal problem since the beginning of written history ( Nawojczyk, 1997; Cohn, 2006). References describing gangs have had both positive and negative connotations, but in years more recent, the negative imposing influence of street gangs has infiltrated society through media coverage and glorification by some in the entertainment industry (1997; Virgil, 2003).

This is especially true in the African-American and Latino-American communities (Virgil, 2003). This infiltration into society has create a subculture of gang-wannabe’s, gang related clothing and language that associates these individuals with a particular gang or organization (Sivan, Koch, Baier and Adiga, 1999). One common thread of this population is the violent nature used for membership and advancement in the gang.

The involvement in violent and illegal activity has caused a dramatic increase in prison populations and incarceration not seen until the late 20th Century to the present (Cohn, 2006; Trulson, Marquart, & Kawucha, 2006). Over the past several years, it has become more apparent that gangs and gang related violence is not only an urban problem. There has been an increased presence of the gang lifestyle and influence deeper into the heartland of America (Studying Gangs, 1996; Cohn, 2006).

A problem once considered primarily in the Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Miami areas is now becoming manifesting itself in the less populated rural areas of the nation (Evans, Fitzgerald, Weigel & Chvilicek, 1999; Cohn, 2006). With the increased of coverage of gangs in the media and recognition in general society, more individuals are becoming influenced and motivated by the glamorization of this violent, and at times deadly, lifestyle (Alonso, 2005).

There are potential gang members from every societal level, each with a variety of reasons and influences, ranging from lack of structure and parental guidance in the home to the desire to be a part of a family or group (Burnett, 1999). Gang members providing candy, new clothes, a meal, friendship, not realizing that by accepting what appears to be charitable gesture is actually a favor requiring repayment in some way in the future (1999) lure children and young adolescents into the lifestyle.

Attention from gang members provides the child with a sense of entitlement and privilege (Ruble & Turner, 2000). There is an opportunity to be a part of something they were not receiving at home; a feeling of acceptance. As time passes those mimicking the gang lifestyle, the “wannabes”, provide a recruitment pool for the gangs, demonstrating the desire to make a commitment to the gangs through membership (Alonso, 2005).

Once a young person takes that step into “the life” as those involved describe it, the attraction becomes an elixir they are not able to wean themselves from, causing a chasm of despair and misunderstanding between themselves, their families and others that may have had a positive influence on them at one time. Although the decisions made at the time they became involved with the gang lifestyle may have appeared to be the right thing to do, many find that this way of life is very treacherous and unstable (Burnett, 1999).

The only way some find out of gang involvement is by moving to a different area, going to prison or death. None of these choices is a sure guarantee that gang members or gang-wannabes will be able to move forward with their lives, but the alternatives remain few and difficult. If a gang member does go to prison for the activities they were involved in, the choices of how to react and live their life becomes a paradox they may not be ready to handle.

The volatile environment, the need for survival, or feelings of despair does not evaporate because of the separation from the environment (Peterson et al, 2004; Anonymous, 2006). The gang member must learn to adapt to the new surroundings provided by a prison. The ability to adjust could mean a difference between life and death for this individual (Trulson et al, 2006). The above discussions prompted the researcher to conduct this study because the researcher believes that this will lessen the continuous growing population of youth in prison and change the connotation of the meaning of gang.