#19 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part IV
No series dealing with this subject would be complete without my favorite gang related story of all time. It is a bit different than the rest, but should still be of interest.
Years ago, I met a prisoner named Howie. Now deceased, he was a biker, a heroin addict, and was notably untrustworthy and scandalous, in an environment replete with those who exemplify such character. He never showered; his argument against doing so was "It's bad for you! Water rusts metal, so that shit can't be good for your skin." Perpetually on the verge of being murdered over his drug debts, he had only one real survival skill, which was that he was the funniest guy around. He could literally make a person coming at him with a knife laugh. He was the guy with 100 stories, a virtuoso troubadour of the absurd, and always managed to get a break, and get by.
At one point, by some miracle, he managed to go long enough not being caught using drugs to be transferred to a lower security prison. Unsurprisingly to anyone, he was back in months, for "pissing dirty". (Being positive for drugs in a urine test.) Along with him came his newest and rather dubious tale of having founded a gang by accident.
Upon arrival to the new prison, word had quickly spread that he came from a notorious max security lockup. Soon he was sought out by those eager to hear the stories of mayhem and murder, which form the staple gossip of any dangerous prison. Howie was more than happy to provide what they wished, no doubt with great exaggeration thrown in for free. When he was eventually asked if he was in a gang, his answer was "yes".
He swore he only did it for self-amusement at first, telling them of ridiculous happenings, piling nonsense upon outrageous lies, just to see what they would believe. It was only after the morons ate it all up with a spoon that he realized he could turn the situation to his personal advantage.
It must be remembered that lower security prisons are always stuffed full of young men with little life experience, and even less common sense, with low self-esteem, and nothing in their lives to be proud of. They are often fearful, and looking for something that makes them feel both safe and included, while at the same time, they are hungry for recognition and status. Joining a gang gives all those things, taking them from no one, to someone, in the blink of an eye. So it is no real surprise that when confronted with an "authentic" gang member, from a high security prison, many asked how they could join.
He could not use the name of an actual gang; "claim jumping“ or claiming to be part of a gang when you are not, is a killing offense that follows a person forever. Not even Howie was stupid enough to try that. So his new gang was called the Knacknoids, and he soon has them running around, signaling each other with the Star Trek salute. (You would expect the name and the salute to give the game away, but those who want to join gangs are not usually the sharpest tools in the shed.) Their founder was "Moose", a giant of a man, who had taken over prisons, assaulted wardens, murdered entire graveyards full of people, and was in short the most dangerous and highly feared individual behind bars. To be a part of this exclusive group, the prospective hopefuls only had to pony up $200 for consideration, then a further $50 each month in dues.
This money was ostensibly for the support of their many "brothers“, held in supermax lockdown, such as the mighty Moose. In reality, of course, it went straight to the dope man, then into Howie's arm. Before long, he had his Knacknoids robbing other prisoners of anything which might be traded for drugs, and later robbing the dealers themselves. Then Howie failed a urine test, and was transferred back to the prison where we met.
No one had any idea if the story contained a shred of truth. He always had a story, few of which were ever rooted in fact. Yet it was too good to be ignored, and ended up begin repeated endlessly, till everyone had heard.
A few years later, a group of prisoners arrived, from a medium security prison. They began to inquire after anyone who might know Moose. Calling themselves The Knack at this point, they had been angry that the Special Investigative Services (SIS) had refused to recognize them as a real gang. (Believe it or not, being named an STG, or "security threat group", is a point of prestige among small gangs desperate for recognition.) So they had staged a mass assault in the chow hall, injuring about a dozen other prisoners, and all received transfers.
When they arrived, expecting to be some sort of celebrities, they could not understand all the snickering. When introduced to Howie, they had no idea who he was. The original prospects had brought in more after he left, who then found others, and these were 4th or 5th generation recruits. They only knew the origin stories, not the person who made them up. So when he laughed in their faces, and told them Moose did not exist, they promptly attacked him, and nearly killed Howie for slandering their leader. (Subsequent to this incident, he was no longer so fond of telling the tale!)
The Knack never did become established as a real gang. They were quickly "checked in" (forced to seek protective custody) by actual gang members, who knew their story, and that was that. However, there remain several lower security facilities, where they persist, and I hear of them now and again. No doubt they are still vainly seeking their ever elusive leader, the infamous Moose.
I guess it's not always a gang, even when the members believe it is!
#16 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part I
#17 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part II
#18 It’s Not Always About Gangs – Part III
Picture: Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock.com