Violence, Risk, and Leisure Lifestyle in Gangs: The Impacts on Health, Well-Being, and Life Prospects

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Liza BERDYCHEVSKY, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Monika STODOLSKA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Kimberly SHINEW, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore leisure lifestyle in gangs, the roles of violence and risk in it, and its impacts on health, well-being, and life prospects. The data were collected with 39 in-depth, semi-structured interviews (lasting on average 1-1.5 hours) with former gang members and practitioners working with potential, current, and previous gang members. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using constructivist grounded theory and the elements of the situational analysis. The findings revealed that violence (both perpetration and victimization), vandalism, substance abuse, and sexual risk taking were prevalent in gang leisure lifestyle leading to various detrimental physical and mental health consequences as well as negative repercussions for life prospects. Violence was described as a “glue” that holds the gang together, defines the hierarchy in it, and underpins many of the gang members’ leisure practices. Participants explained that gang members’ perceptions of risks are distorted because many of them believe that the only two ways to get out of the gang are through death or prison and some even presume that they are destined to die young. Former gang members reported having been shot, stabbed, beaten, raped, abducted, and addicted to drugs, which resulted in severe health-related ramifications (e.g., coma, paralysis, or acquired disability). The gang lifestyle was the cause of various subsequent mental health issues, including depression, paranoia, suicidal ideation, posttraumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, loneliness/isolation, nervous breakdowns, emotional detachment, and anger issues. This lifestyle also led to psychological wounds, traumas, guilt, regrets, self-doubts, fear of exposure, and trust issues. Some former gang members noted that their experiences in gangs had altered their personality and sense of self, and this has affected their ability to relate to others in both their personal and professional lives, which continues to influence their life course negatively.