MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
by Sanyika Shakur (aka Kody Scott)
As far as choices in literature go, this one was kinda hard to explain to my psychologist when she came to collect me from her waiting room the other week…
To give it a little context, I’ve always been fascinated by human psychology and behaviour. I’ve always been interested in how other cultures operate, what motivates communities at war, what factors unite people, how individuals leading lives completely different to mine think and feel and act. Enter MONSTER.
This book was written by one of LA’s most notorious gangsters, Kody Scott, from the confines of his prison cell, after spending 16 years of his young life as a gang member on the streets of Los Angeles. After killing members of a rival gang at the ripe old age of eleven back in the 1970s, Scott was officially a Crip, and a “soldier” of the streets. But this isn’t just a story about gangs. It’s a story that, while written over two decades ago, is still incredibly relevant. It’s a story about racial prejudices, about the lives that impoverished and uneducated black children can fall into, about the way they become victims of a system that didn’t/doesn’t care enough.
“How many fell that first night? And from what sets did they come? No one knew the actual count, except the recipient set and the parents who had to bury their children. And that’s what we all were, children. Children gone wild in a concrete jungle of poverty and rage. Armed and dangerous, prowling the concrete jungle juice in search of ourselves, we were children who had grown up in a city that cared too little about its young.”
It’s a surprisingly well written account of LA’s gang life, no holds barred, written as you’d imagine it being verbally retold, and completely unapologetic. The number of gangs on the streets were (and still are) at war with each other. And they took the war seriously, comparing themselves, their actions, their organisation to military outfits. One of the most horrifying aspects of the book, and one that was really difficult to constantly keep in mind, is the age of the subjects. Scott wrote this passage about himself at 16 years of age, only two weeks after being released from prison; he makes no attempts to hide his wrongs, but he also refuses to be anything but transparent about the wrongs of others involved:
“Our missions were largely successful because we had logistical help from the LAPD CRASH units. For four nights in a row now, we had been getting helpful hints from “our friends” in blue – as they liked to refer to themselves…
Then, calling me to the car in a secretive manner he said, ‘They on Fifty-ninth Street and Third Avenue. All the ones I just mentioned who’ve been bad-mouthing you. I was telling my partner here that if you were there they’d be scared shitless. If you get your crew and go now, I’ll make sure you are clear. But only fifteen minutes. You got that?’ he added with a wink and a click of the tongue.
‘Yeah, I got it. But how I know you ain’t set to’ me up?’
‘If I wanted to put you in jail, Monster, I’d arrest you now for that gun in your waistband.’
Surprised, I said, ‘Righteous,’ and stepped away from the car.
We mounted up and went over to Fifty-ninth and Third Avenue. Sure enough, there they were. And just as he had said, we encountered no police.”
Whether you’re into the gang scene or not, whether you know the streets of LA or not, whether you’re into the politics of racism or not, this is an unlikely but completely fascinating read. Hard to justify to your psychologist, perhaps, but utterly worth your time. Pick up a copy here and appreciate this brutally honest look into the lives of ghetto LA.