By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
He landed in a juvenile detention center at 14. That's when he joined a gang.
Todd didn't know about the rivalry between the Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples. The Gangster Disciples originated in Chicago, an offshoot of the Black Panthers.
Some Vice Lords tried to jump him, and Todd stood up to them.
"Some guys from another clique seen how I didn't back down, you know, and I was down for my shit. So they came up to me later on and said, 'Yeah, why don't you join this gang? You won't be getting jumped no more and this and that.' At the time it seemed like a good idea. I didn't even realize how deep it all was."
He was jumped in. "What they do is they blindfold you, and you learn a prayer that you have to say before you do it. . . . And then everybody commences to kicking your ass. What they do is they put six pennies down in front of you and they don't stop until you've got all six of those pennies in your hand."
He doesn't recall how long it took him to pick up the pennies. Then his new homeboys -- or, in the Gangster Disciples vernacular, GDs -- branded his back.
Todd is white; most GDs are black or Hispanic. It was never an issue, he says.
"I was a down-ass crazy little fucker. I had my enemies and all, of course, but I can't say that I ever got picked on."
Gang life wasn't so intense while he was locked up, Todd says. Not so much could happen. He had terminology and rules to memorize. But once he was out of jail, a lot was expected of him.
The gang has an intricate hierarchy, and his superiors gave Todd orders: rob crack houses, jump people. He wasn't scared. He liked it.
"I kind of got out of hand myself, 'cause I was going up in my rank. I was so into it. . . . GD, that's all I was about."
When Todd was 15, his mom resurfaced and moved him and his brother -- who had joined GD as well -- to Memphis. "The judge asked us if we wanted to go with her, and the only reason why we said yes was we just wanted out of the place we were in." But it didn't matter.
"They're [GD] in every state you go to. It's not like a little local gang, you know. If you just want to get out of that gang, you just leave the neighborhood, you know what I mean? But with this, it's not even considered a gang. It's like an organization."
How did he meet other Gangster Disciples?
"Just walking down the street. The way it works, like, I would have a blue bandana hanging out of my right back pocket, folded a certain way, and if another GD sees that, they'll just right off the go, they'll be like, 'What's up, folk?' Or, 'GD.' They'll say that to you, and if someone says that to you, you're automatically supposed to test each other. The first thing you do is you walk up and you have your handshake, you feel each other out. You find out if this person is real or not, and then you go from there."
And from there, Todd ended up in detention again. Soon, he was back in L.A. with his old friends, selling drugs and gangbanging. (His brother stayed in Memphis; Todd's not sure where he is now.)
Did Todd consider the GDs his family?
"I don't really call myself having any family, you know? It wasn't really about the family or the love. I mean, the way I was going in my life, shit was so fucked up in the beginning that I don't want to say it turned me bad, but I was just a bad kid. I started out on that foot, and when I got older, I thought it was the thing to be doing, to be out there making money, easy money, sitting on your ass, getting high."
Then his dad tracked him down, and Todd figured what the hell, he'd move to Mesa. The GDs weren't hard to find.
"I was walking down the street over there by the [Fiesta] mall, one day, and I heard someone say, 'What's up, folk?'"
He walked up, did the handshake, spread the knowledge. "It's weird, because after you meet each other, it's like you've known each other your whole life. . . . You'd be surprised how many Gangster Disciples are out here."
But maybe not Todd, anymore.
He was recently charged with theft and possession of liquor and marijuana, and was assigned to probation -- and the Mesa Gang Intervention Project. In lieu of drug treatment, he can attend Kimo Souza and Tony Garcia's group counseling sessions.
Group is good, Todd says. It lets him vent.
"Kimo's cool, man. He's a good guy. Tony, too."
Will Todd gangbang again? "I'm not really gangbanging no more. I'm not running around doing the shit I was doing, but it wouldn't be hard for me to get back."