Michael B. Green, 22, a former member of the Crips, one of the nation's most notorious youth gangs, was convicted of drug trafficking in 1987 and is serving a 63-month sentence in the federal prison in Boron, Calif. In an interview with SI's Kristina Rebelo, Green provided this street's-eye view of gangs, sports apparel and other deadly matters:
I used to wear British Knights. To us the BK on the side of the shoe stood for Blood Killer. I heard somebody might come out with a new shoe called Christian Knights, so the Bloods [the Crips' archrival] will wear them. The CK would stand for Crip Killer. If kids had these shoes, went into the wrong neighborhood and were seen by a rival gang, they could get killed.
In Los Angeles, if you wore a Dallas Cowboy jacket, you were a Crip. If you wore a Washington Redskin jacket, you were a Blood. It was the same with the hats. Kids got killed over them. Now I'm seeing it's stupid, but back then, I didn't care. It was recreation.
As a teenager, you want all the girls, so you get the best. The best would be a top brand of sport shoes, Diadora and Ellesse. If we saw somebody wearing them that we didn't know, we'd beat them up, take the shoes.
Why? Kids are bored; they've got nothing else to do. All they see is guys in Maseratis. Some kids play basketball, but when their parents are poor or broken up, they don't have a lot of support.
Like me myself, I played football in high school. It upset me when I could look in the stands and...no parents there. My mom and my dad are split up. It's frustrating, so you try to find a way out. You either join a gang or sell drugs. I did both.
A lot of people say the only thing that will stop it, you know, drug dealing and gangs, is education. I don't believe that. I went almost all the way through high school. I got good grades, I was in the band—I played the drums—but I never got the attention I wanted, so I left it all and joined the gang. There I got a little attention—from the other gang members. I felt they loved me and they were a family. I'd die for them, I'd kill for them, I'd go to jail for them. I dropped out of school two months before graduation.
The shoes, the jackets and the hats are just symbols; everybody's got a symbol. I can drive down the street and point out a gang member just by the way he or she dresses.
Say we go somewhere. We see a guy in some dress slacks, a nice sweater, loafers. You couldn't convince me that he's a gang member. But then you show me a guy in, say, Levi's jeans, or, say, a Cowboy jacket or a Raider hat, or shoes, he's a gang member. You can tell, just by a dress code.
I've been locked up 2½ years, and I've already lost five friends out on the street. Five. One died because he was in a shopping center and he had on all black. Bloods are red; Crips are either blue or black. Some Bloods came through there and just shot him, right there on the spot, no questions asked.
I'm going to try to get out of here and do the right thing. I'm learning how to weld, and I'm kind of getting my mind together as to what I want in life. I want to get married, have kids and show them the right way.
The guys in my neighborhood, I'll always love them. They'll always be my buddies, you know, my homeboys. But I don't want that life anymore.
The answers? Well, if the parents can't avoid being separated, they should spend time with their kids individually and teach them things. What does your daughter like? Ballet? Put her on those programs. Does your son like basketball? Spend time teaching him. The only way it will stop is if parents take their five, six, seven-year-old kids under their wings.
This environment will make you realize what you were doing wrong out there. One of my best friends in here is a Blood. I knew him on the street. Five years ago I would have killed him. It was like brainwashing. It's programmed into your brain that the Bloods are the enemy. Every time you see a red rag, you shoot. After a while, it's automatic.