Among the most surprising revelations in Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics is the news that many gang-related drug dealers earn little more than minimum wage while facing violent death as a daily job hazard. Far from being the big-living kingpins of the public's fevered imagination, many of the dealers Levitt looked at made so little money that they still lived with their mothers in some of the nation's most notorious projects. If the rewards are so low and the dangers so high, why would anyone choose to join a gang or sell crack? Among its many virtues, Colton Simpson and Ann Pearlman's gangsta memoir Inside The Crips answers that question in depth.
For former Crip Colton Simpson, membership in a gang provided everything he'd yearned for and lacked in his tumultuous family life: acceptance, solidarity, a sense of belonging, approval and respect from his peers. Initiated into the Crips before reaching his teens, Simpson became an elite battle-sharpened fighter, specializing in smash-and-grab jewelry-store robberies. It was a lucrative gig, but also an extraordinarily dangerous one, and much, if not most, of Simpson's book takes place in prison, where the conflict between the Bloods and Crips is only amplified by the claustrophobic surroundings.
Simpson's book echoes the emotional arc of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, but Simpson's radicalization and growing social consciousness didn't come from a single transformative act so much as an ongoing process instigated by a series of strong intellectual and political mentors. Simpson's Crip status alternately aids and impairs his spiritual awakening, which is compromised throughout by the irresistible lure of his bad old ways. In this book, the Crips function as a shadow society operating furtively within a hostile larger one, complete with rules and regulations, a complex hierarchy, and even its own slanguage.
Inside The Crips' immersion in the emotion-centered language of therapy betrays its origins as the product of a collaboration between an O.G. former Crip and a psychotherapist. (Matronly white, middle-aged co-author Pearlman frustratingly provides no indication of her own gang affiliation.) So do telltale sentences like "Every Crip, including myself, started out as a child open to love." Simpson goes out of his way not to glamorize or romanticize his past, but the thrilling early chapters nevertheless reverberate with the vicarious excitement of riding shotgun as he robs and loots his way to neighborhood super-notoriety. The book loses much of its velocity and danger later on, as one nonsensical prison war bleeds into another and the prose gets increasingly overheated, but Simpson's book nevertheless puts a compelling human story behind a gang epidemic that too often comes across as a scary abstraction.