I cannot tell you how many people (inmates) I’ve met and have conversed with who have expressed their disdain and indignation for the lack of support they’ve received from their “friends” and “homies” from the streets when they came to prison. They are shocked and dismayed to discover people they’d always thought loved them and would do anything for them are nowhere to be found when the dust has settled and they’re confined to a six by nine cell for years. No letters. No accepted collect calls. No money. Nothing. But think about it: these so-called friends are guys who, for the most part, have made a life of committing crime themselves, manipulating others to do things for them, and living by a model that puts self above everyone else.
The friends I speak of are not childhood friends who’s friendships are based on values and principles that are wholesome and upright; I’m referring to the bonds built with those who dwell in the streets and live by a code of conduct that runs contrary to societal standards and expectations. These friendships are typically, although not exclusively, found among gang members.
Many men in prison, as you can imagine, belong to gangs. They operate from the notion that their loyalty to their gang supersedes that even to their family. Members of their gang, they believe, are the guys who “have their back” and “look out for them” at all cost. Yet, when these young men find themselves in prison, the loyalty they thought was embedded in their bonds with their street friends and would surely show up when they needed it the most is nowhere to be found. So they logically begin to question if what they devoted their lives to and ultimately sacrificed their freedom for was worth it. They quickly become disillusioned with the idea of belonging to a group of friends who, when they needed them, were nowhere to be found. This doesn’t reflect loyalty, solidarity, or commitment. Yet, these were exactly the principles they were told they were buying into when being recruited and pledging their loyalty to when they joined the gang. What was used to recruit them turned out to be a false promise, an enticing lie that revealed itself when it was put to the test.
It is not their friends from the streets who are there, supporting them through this most difficult circumstance–it’s their real family. It’s Mom. It’s Dad. It’s their brother, sister, grandparents and other family members. It’s not “Big Mike” or “Flaco” walking though the door to greet them when they enter the visiting room . . . it’s their family. It’s not “Lil’ Gunsmoke” or “Spider” sending birthday and Christmas cards, it’s Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad. It’s ironic that these young men would forsake their family to join a gang in the streets, creating a pseudo-family they believe will love them as a real family would, only to discover it was not the band of “brothers” they pledged their loyalty to who loves them in their time of need–it’s their family, the one they chose to walk away from in a sense.
I used gangs as my focal point of reference here because it’s a common theme in this situation, but it doesn’t have to be a gang that reveals this truism; it can be any network of people whom you befriend and share ties of some kind with who will disappear when you need them the most. Generally, street ties are not rooted in principles that would comprise a genuine friendship based on love, loyalty, and support. No. They are characterized by superficiality, selfishness, and manipulation. Sadly, these young men don’t realize this until it’s too late. That’s why I make it a point during my conversation with them to tell them, “The streets don’t love you . . . they just take you from people who do.”
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
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