Gangs in America

Monster: An Autobiography of an L.A. Gang

This book presents the story of how Kody Scott joined and exited gang life. In this book, the author presents a viewpoint of an individual who have had direct and personal experience on the inside life of a gang. This thereby provides the reader with a deep insight on how gangs operate. The city of Los Angeles is presented as chaotic with gangs engaging in acts of violence. Gang rivalry was prevalent is the city. The author helps the reader understand the organization of the gangs. The Monster was part of one gang in Los Angeles referred as the Crip Nation. He compares the structure of this gang with that of the US army where a soldier may be a member of First Infantry Division, 196th Infantry Brigade, Second Battalion, Delta company. Likewise, in Crips, a gang member may belong to West Side Crips, Eight Tray Gangsters, North Side Eight-third street (Sanyika, 1993). In this book, Sanyika Shakur presents a transformation process of a lead to monster member of the gang, the Sanyika Shakur with a new identity as a Black Nationalist. 

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The book provides information on Kody Scott, who was born in Los Angeles where life was all about being a member of gang. The area where Kody grew up was characterized by extreme violence, misery and gangs. Being raised by his mother alone, to Kody life was all about a struggle to survive. The social life where he grew up lead would choose the life of gangster or a normal life. At eleven Kody decided to join the Crip Nation gang, eight Tray Gangster (Sanyika, 1993). He had admired how the members of the Gang were given respect. Joining the gang meant that his life now entailed shooting, rooting, and killing. The author presents information on the life of Kody as a gangster for thirteen years. The gangster life involved shootouts in shops, houses, streets, drive-outs, kidnappings, carjacks, murder of both friends and foe, knife fights, selling illicit drugs, police abuse and other illegal engagements. Kody had received the highest status of Original Gangster (O.G) which was key to earning respect from friends and enemies. Due to gang related crimes, Kody spent a number of years in Juvenile Detention Centers before he attained 18 years and a number of years in prison (Sanyika, 1993). Life would take a turn for him in prison after attending a Muslim Service. It was after that that he converted to Islam and given the new name Shakur Sanyika by Muhammad. Muhammad provided him with two books, Soul on Ice by Elridge Cleaver, and Autography of Malcom X which made him understand more on jihad, struggle till death. It is from here that he adopted the concept of “struggle till death” to fight racist oppressors. He had come to the realization that gangs caused problems to the African race and society, adding problems to an already oppressed society (Sanyika, 1993). 

The information presented is convincing especially being firsthand experience of a gang member who had for thirteen years been a member of the highest status. The information presented is thereby based on personal experience. The vivid description of the unruly region of South Central L.A helps the reader have the mental experiences of conditions of living. Narration of incidences in gang life such as the near-death experience where Kody was shot at six times helps one understand the reality in the life of a gangster. He presents information of his poor background which helps the reader understand why he chose the life of gangster. 

I could make a comparison of this book with a book by Dr. Duran, Gang life in two cities: An Insider’s Journey. This book also has a narration of personal experience of Dr. Duran, a scholar who was a former gang member. Just like Sanyika, Dr. Duran presents the insider perspective in gang life while developing his book. However, unlike Sanyika, who presents information about his life as a gangster and transformation, Dr Duran uses similar information but as an approach of researching about gangs. Being a former gang member, Dr Duran had an advantage of the insider informative and unique perspective that other researchers on gangs lacked (Durán, 2013). The book discusses the historical construction of gangs and the response from the criminal justice in the United States Society. It provides information on the historical, cultural and social context resulting from the relationship between gangs, communities, youth marginalization and inequality, and institutional responses. Just like Sanyika, Dr. Duran also presents information about racial and ethnic oppression and its effects on formation and proliferation of gangs. 

The book is presented in a well-structured, organized, and logical format. It has ten chapters that take the reader through the life before being a gang, to the joining the gang and being initiated to the activities of a full gang member, life in Juvenile Detention Center, transformation and conversion to Islam, life with future wife and settling as an African Nationalist. The word choice used by the author represent a slang that is common in the language used in the Ghetto and common in gangs. The book makes use of the single-sentence paragraphs, informative paragraphs and dialogue paragraphs. These paragraph structure helps the reader in better understand the descriptions being presented as it makes it to be more vivid.

This is a book I would surely recommend to other classes. It could be an important reference point in seeking an understanding on the criminological theories. This book would assist learners in other classes understand more about the factors leading to existence and proliferation of gangs. These may include poverty, frustration, aggression, social influence, and racism. 


Sanyika, S. (1993). Monster: The Autobiography of an LA Gang Member. Grove Press. New York.Durán, R. (2013). Gang life in two cities: An insider’s journey. Columbia University Press.

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