By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Now 20, he was "born into" the Crips. Roland wasn't initiated with a physical beating, like the members who are "jumped in." The Crips already knew him. He grew up in the West Side neighborhood of 60th Avenue and Encanto Boulevard, and was around members of the Crips every day of his life. The first time anyone asked where he was from, what colors did he "represent," he proudly said he was West Side City.
Roland is short and slight, with soft, almost baby-faced features. His sister and friend joke about his modeling career. But his attitude compensates. He doesn't brag or try to come off harder than he is; he is matter-of-fact about his life in the gang.
Roland started gang-banging hard when he was about 12 years old. His grandmother died, and without her, the family fell apart. He says his parents got into drugs.
"My parents started smoking rock, weed, everything. They couldn't take care of themselves or us. We started to take care of them," he says.
"That's where the gangs come in," Roland adds. "They showed us how to make a little money, showed love for us."
The 12-year-old Roland believed it was the best possible path. He moved into a circle that wanted him, respected him, kept him entertained and put money in his pocket--and most of all, loved him.
He showed his love back. Nobody could insult his colors. He wouldn't allow anyone to talk "crazy shit" about his neighborhood.
"By doing crimes, fighting, you prove you're down for your neighborhood," he says. "If people were talking crazy, saying you weren't down, you don't represent, you got to show them."
He didn't have much else. His family's orbit was disintegrating. His church tried to help, he says, "but the church can't do it forever. The church can't keep a whole family together." School was nothing to him; he mainly went there to mingle, he says.
He got into his first gang fight in seventh grade "with this Mexican dude, Wetback Power [a Hispanic gang]," he says. Roland doesn't even remember what started it. "He said something, I said something, he kicked me, we got into it."
Watching from the sidelines were his homies, as always. "They back me. We got love for each other. If you go somewhere, someone gets on you, they'd be there for you," Roland says.
Roland was first shot at before he turned 15--it became so much a part of his life, he isn't certain when it was. It was sparked by the same thing as the fistfights, only this time, the other gang-bangers came back with guns. A group of Bloods drove by while he was hanging out, looking for vengeance for a fight a few days before. They missed. Roland never took any bullets, although he admits he did some shooting of his own.
Roland was kicked out every semester he was in high school, for offenses ranging from fighting to skipping class. "They'd throw me out for a week or two," he remembers. "Then I'd go back and they'd throw me out again."
He finally dropped out in the 11th grade. He played a little football and basketball on school teams, but that ended when his education did. The gang filled the rest of his life; partying and fighting were his only extracurricular activities.
He began selling in Woodmar two or three years ago. Another West Side City Crip brought him in, and soon he was making up to $400 a night. He bought the cocaine--usually in rock form, but sometimes in powder he'd cook himself--from a small group of suppliers. He'd double the price he paid and sell it; 100 bucks worth of rock was $200 to him.
His customers came from all over the Valley. "I didn't look down on them," he insists. "They was like my boss; they were paying my money. I looked for them."
Roland's buyers weren't limited to the usual stereotypes, either. "Sure, there was people on government checks and stuff," he says. "But I sold to everybody. Sold to doctors, lawyers, white, black, you name it, people from all over town."
It was almost like a regular job. Roland would get up in the morning, get dressed, go to Woodmar, sell some crack, and then party on the proceeds.
Roland was at the center of his own universe: He had money; did what he wanted, when he wanted; he carried cool weapons and was respected and feared; there were always girls hanging around him; and he wore the colors of a group that would kill on his behalf.
"It's addictive," he says. "You got easy, fast money, you get to kick it with your friends all day and all night, you never have to go to work, you can just sit around getting high and getting drunk. Everyone I knew was over there."
Woodmar was their kingdom, Roland says. The cops were a joke. He never tossed rocks at the Phoenix police himself, but he watched as his friends did. Roland joined them in their catcalls and insults when the police would venture out of their cruisers.