Framingham gang member sees tough road to get out

By Dan McDonald (MetroWest Daily News)
September 28, 2009

escapeganglife

Twenty-two seconds of pain separates an 18-year-old man from the straight and narrow.

As a self-described founding member of the Southside gang known as the Deuces, the man, who requested anonymity for fear of violent retribution, is contemplating leaving gang life behind. But he finds himself boxed in by the very rules he helped create when the Deuces were formed about a year and a half ago. Those rules include a violent exodus.

The gang was born on April 22, 2008, he says.

Before that his group of friends was “basically a kick-back crew,” that jumped rope and played basketball. It was not until a trespassing arrest of one member of the group that his crew made it official. After that arrest, police began questioning and insinuating that he was involved in a gang, so the crew decided to live up to that expectation, he said.

Composed of Southside youths, the Deuces now have about 35 active members. Its colors are blue and orange, he says.

To get into the Deuces, gang prospects have to go through a 22-second beatdown. For those who want to leave the gang, it’s the same treatment.

Bricks, bats, chairs, and smoldering cigarettes are all fair game in the initiation and exodus rite.

“If they like you they’ll just use their fists,” said the gang member last week.

News of such a gang and initiation ritual was met with a mix of skepticism and laughs at the Concord Street bus stop Friday. Some questioned the street cred of a gang that allows members to get out alive; others wondered aloud why a gang member would agree to talk to the press.

Grace Calder, who lives on Kendall Street and has a 19-year-old son who lives on the Southside, said she was not aware of any gang activity.

“This is not South Central,” she said. “You want real gangs? Go to Boston. Go to Springfield. I don’t see a heavy presence here. I don’t see the colors. If there is a gang, they have a very small presence.”

She thought many people “see a group of minorities together and assume they’re a gang.” She worried media coverage of a purported Southside gang would further stoke racial stereotypes.

“I can tell you I feel safe walking down the streets here,” she said.

Framingham Police, however, acknowledge the Deuces have existed for about 18 months and were formed by teens who moved to Framingham from other areas of Massachusetts.

Even if the Deuces are wannabes who do not carry the street clout of nationally recognized gangs, the very fact they identify themselves as a gang is a concern, said Deputy Police Chief Ken Ferguson.

“We don’t discount (the Deuces) because the mindset and gang mentality is troublesome for us,” he said.

He added, “We have arrested some of them.”

The gang member interviewed by the Daily News last week says the Deuces have sold stolen electronics, raiding unlocked cars on the Southside for iPods and GPS devices.

But they have yet to delve into the drug trade, according to the 18-year-old. He suggested that a federal raid that sent numerous members of another Framingham gang, the Kendall Street Thugs, also known as KST or the Kendall Street Team to prison earlier this decade dissuaded his crew from pushing drugs.

At least 20 members of that gang faced federal and state cocaine charges in 2007 thanks to a three-year police investigation called Operation Thunderdome.

It was the Deuces gang member’s last arrest, coming in March for assault and battery on a police officer, that jolted him. He’s 18, which means he is treated as an adult in the court system. His last run-in with the law meant a trip to Middlesex County Jail. That is all it took for him to re-examine his life.

“I did not like that,” he said.

When it comes to gangs, Ferguson says police are worried about witness intimidation. They are also concerned about gang members, instead of reporting a crime, taking matters into their own hands and retaliating.

“Gang victims of crimes oftentimes don’t use police as a resource,” he said.

Ferguson says teens join gangs for myriad reasons.

“Sometimes it’s the feeling of family or the extension of family,” said Ferguson. “They can get it from the gang. Or they do it because they want to belong to something.”

The gang member interviewed last week does not come from a nuclear family. He does not live with his mother and he said he hasn’t seen his father since 2001.

All of his siblings have been caught up in gang life at one time or another.

“It was either be a gang member or be a good kid,” he said of growing up. “And I was sick of getting beat up. I joined for protection.”

His older brother, he says, had his leg broken by a baseball bat, in his first gang initiation. That was in the fifth grade.

He got busted for bringing a gun to school at the age of 13.

The Deuces gang member says he has gotten into at least 15 street fights since moving to Framingham three years ago.

He will usually talk trash and wait for the other guy to swing first, so he can claim self-defense.

He said he’s been arrested six or seven times in his life.

He is not originally from Framingham but moved here about three years ago after his house burned down in another part of the state.

Framingham Street Ministries Pastor Jim Bauchman, who has recently, along with his wife, Debbie, become involved in the man’s life says he is trying to turn it around.

The young man goes to church every Sunday. He has his GED and plans to attend MassBay Community College to study writing and computer science. He is trying to get a job. He said he no longer smokes pot and doesn’t drink.

“He is doing the right thing,” said Bauchman. “He’s a good kid. He just did not have life knowledge.”

Sitting on the front lawn of Bauchman’s Ashland home, the teen answers every question in a casual, matter-of-fact tone, occasionally picking at grass or taking a drag from a Maverick cigarette.

Slouched in a chair wearing a backward blue Sox cap and matching blue long-sleeved T-shirt, he was not bitter when recapping his life.

He has yet to leave street life completely behind.

Three weeks ago he got into a fight in the parking lot of a Walgreen’s because “somebody started talking (expletive).”

But he looks at gang life and does not see a bright future.

“You end up buried six-feet deep or in jail,” he said. “But it’s going take a while to get me out.”

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