Figuring Out I was in Fact a Gang Member

By Arnulfo T Garcia
Editor-in-Chief

At 23 Kim (Al-Ameen) McAdoo of Oakland was arrested for the murder of Tracy Smith and attempted murder of Brian Cole. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

In a book review for Patten College, McAdoo reveals himself as a reckless young gang member who terrorized his community. He did this by selling drugs and carrying guns that led to a turf war, which took the life of an innocent young woman. She had nothing to do with violence, but made the fatal mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The author describes three characteristics of “lifestyle addictions” relating to obsession, compulsion, and progression. McAdoo’s essay gave me a better understanding of criminal addictions and the definition of a gang member.

McAdoo defied his mother’s authority; he rebelled against his teachers; he was angry and out of control. At age 19, he found himself in jail with his father. It would be the last time he saw his father, who was in and out of prison himself.

In 2012, McAdoo’s own daughter was seriously injured in a drive-by shooting, which devastated him. He was inspired to create a program through The Last Mile, titled Public Outcry, designed to give a voice to communities affected by violence.

Two months ago, McAdoo was found suitable for parole after 19 years. He is presently awaiting Governor Brown’s mandatory review before he can be released.

This is how he told his story about his struggles and involvement with the street life, where he lived when he was a young man.

“For many years I never identified myself as a gang member. I figured the definition of a gang member was one who is jumped into a gang and represented the gang color, red for Bloods or blue for Crips. I hung out with a group of individuals in a neighborhood that we claimed as our territory and where we engaged in illegal activity: selling drugs representing a particular neighborhood. [Our] understanding of a gang member was one who identify themselves as a Crip or Blood and who participated in driveby shootings, as well as beating of other gang members that didn’t represent the same color or neighborhood.

“Growing up in Oakland, I didn’t recognize that drug dealers are the same as gang members. Individuals who sold drugs identified themselves by the neighborhood where they lived. There wasn’t no initiations like the Crips and Bloods. The conflicts between drug dealers were basically over another group attempting to sell drugs in a territory or neighborhood that was established by other drug dealers. This conflict usually led to someone being beat up, robbed, shot or killed.

“After reflecting on my previous criminal lifestyle and reading CGA (Criminal Gangs Anonymous) literature, I came to the realization that there wasn’t much of a difference between Crips, Bloods or drug dealers. They all represented one and the same criminal lifestyle. CGA’s definition of a gang member is, ‘Two or more individuals with or without a group name, who associate with each other following destructive beliefs and whose behavior, actions and habits are centered around illegal activity.’ This definition provided me the understanding that I was a gang member in the sense of one who hung out with other individuals in a neighborhood where we sold drugs and shared the same criminal mindset.

“Ultimately I became obsessed with my past disrupted lifestyle. The longer I continued to sell drugs, the more I became powerless over my addiction to make money illegally, which was a direct result of my criminal thinking. Also my addiction to this criminal lifestyle caused me to justify my actions by ignoring the fact that I was destroying the lives of addicts and the community of Oakland. CGA calls this ‘Compulsion’ behavior.

“Eventually, my life became unmanageable. I started carrying a gun after being robbed, beat up and shot at by other drug dealers. I adopted a retaliatory mentality and a distorted belief that it was necessary to protect myself and my so-called drug territory from other drug dealers. Over time, I progressed out of control to the point of going from selling drugs to murder and attempted murder.”

“Furthermore, in CGA’s 12 steps, I found step 7 the most interesting. It states, ‘We honestly recognized our shortcomings whenever bad habits surfaced, promptly correcting our thinking and actions.’

“In the Breaking Barriers program, I learned how to identify negative thinking patterns that I adopted through distorted beliefs and values. I began examining my old belief system where I once thought that it was OK to carry guns, sell drugs, and break the law. I no longer think this way because I harmed many others due to my out-of-control criminal lifestyle.

“In regard to step 10, ‘we continued daily to take a personal inventory of ourselves, and whenever wrong, had the courage to honestly admit it.’ This step reminds me of my responsibility of being aware of my thinking and feelings. If I am thinking positively then my speech and actions toward others will follow with peaceful and non-threatening behavior. My attitude and perceptions are what determine the outcome of my actions. If by chance I am at fault, I own up to the mistake in behavior or actions and correct the situation immediately. By conducting a daily self-inventory, it keeps me conscious of my thoughts, words and actions and from relapsing back into a lifestyle of crime.

“In conclusion, through the CGA literature I gained an understanding of what makes an individual a gang member. How the components of obsession drove me into the compulsion stage of my addiction to criminal thinking, to where my life progressed out of control. This information has given me the skills to address my previous gang and drug-dealing addicted lifestyle.”

Upon release, McAdoo intends to enroll in San Francisco State University.

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An OG’s Perspective

By Larry Stiner, Jr.
Contributing Columnist

The man who fathered me said I was his champ. He told me I deserved that title because I had stood strong in the boxing ring of life. I had gone toe-to-toe with a challenge that not many others would have willingly accepted.

He praised me for becoming the legal guardian of my much younger siblings and for being a stabilizing presence in their lives when legal circumstances made it impossible for him to be.

I deflected his compliments and expressed why I felt that he was the real champ.

I told him the title was appropriate because he had sacrificed so much, including his freedom, in the fight to create a way for his children to have better lives.

In the end, we settled on being co-champions as we reflected upon the many years we had fought together in attempting to end his lengthy incarceration.

On Jan. 11 my father and I yelled in excitement, breathed a deep sigh of relief and took our imaginary boxing gloves off. For the first time in more than two decades, we could finally stop fighting for the freedom that had eluded him.

No longer did we need to guard our emotions, in order to protect our hearts from the punishing blows of denial repeatedly delivered by the Parole Board.

Each of the first 10 hearings with the Board of Prison Terms had been like a round of defeat in a hard fought boxing match. We would jab with letters of support from family members and friends, before following up with punching combinations of job offers and stable living arrangements.

Still, the board always seemed to block the punches and counter with something that knocked out our hopes. We’d find ourselves not only fighting for my father’s freedom, but also fighting off the painful feelings of frustration and hopelessness. This pain hit us each time my father’s collect phone call connected us, and he uttered the words, “Once again they claim that I’m not yet suitable for parole.”

On that recent Sunday morning in January, however, all of those seemingly ever-present feelings of disappointment and sadness instantly disappeared.

The 21-year fight had finally come to an end. My father was released from San Quentin State Prison at last, and we were over the moon with pure joy. Thankfully, we could step outside of the fictitious boxing ring and celebrate like we had dreamed of doing since the cell bars first closed on him back in 1994.

So much time had passed. My pop had been escorted into prison at the age of 46 with a head full of thick, black hair, worn in an Afro style. He walked out of the penitentiary, just a few weeks shy of his 67th birthday, with short graying hair and a smile that lit up the world.

He had made it to the other side of the wall, and on that other side was a beautiful place where freedom, family and friends had been waiting for him—for what seemed like forever.

The long and hard fight was finally over. Now, we could stand side-by-side in victory as true champions.