Slipping Into Darkness: A True Story from the American Ghetto
The updated 20th Anniversary Edition of McCall’s critically acclaimed first book, about the sixteen months he spent living in one of America’s most violent ghettos (the screen adaptation of which he also wrote)…
© by M. Rutledge McCall
“Utterly incredible…a fascinating story…a great writer.”
– Susan Bymel, Founding Partner, Talent Entertainment Group; Founding Partner, Management 360; Producer, “Game of Thrones”
“…‘dirty realism’ [takes] the readers to gritty places and slices of life… described unflinchingly… with a rich but clean writing style. …unanticipated personal descent into darkness. …any reader would be amazed at what [McCall was] able to accomplish without getting killed… took some guts and naïveté…”
– Dr. Wilbur J. Scott, Ph.D., Professor; US Air Force Academy, Dept. of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership
“Gangbangin’a be around forevah…we don’t die, we multiply.” – Bookie; ranking member, Blood Stone Pirus, east side south Central
It was Friday night, October 18, 1991. Bookie and BeFase, two young warriors from the Blood Stone Pirus had invited me to a midnight gathering of scores of Blood gangsters from several different sets. There, I would finally be introduced to the gang leaders.
I had put several painstaking months into my field research and had yet to get near the real meat of the story: the elusive OG’s, the feared “original gangstas” of “America’s Most Wanted,” “COPS” and Nightly News notoriety. It was a huge break. My patience in building a rapport with the G’s had paid off. It would be downhill from here.
The party was in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, across the tracks from the Pueblo Del Rio housing project, two minutes north of Compton. A monthly get-together of the Pirus, the Outlaw Bloods, and one or two smaller Blood outfits, and the Pueblo Bishop Bloods—sets that occasionally get together for some drug-fueled, drunken fun.
Most gangs, whether Crips with Crips, or Bloods with Bloods, don’t usually click up. They’re too busy battling each other over turf control or drug deals gone sour or violent incidents that went down so long ago the current members know only from lore and instinct who they’re supposed to hate.
But these Blood sets know there’s power in numbers. And power is their currency.
A chill was biting the wind as I left my Westside bungalow and stabbed east in my beat up little bucket, a dented gray Datsun. Manchester onto Florence, past Normandie, cut over to Slauson.
I didn’t dare dress in blatant red, I was no Blood. I sure as hell wasn’t black. My one wardrobe acquiescence to being among Blood gangsters was to bundle my chest-length hair behind my head with a strip of red cloth. I wore a leather jacket, black jeans on my drainpipe legs, and black high-tops.
G’d down white man.
The sparse Slauson Avenue traffic was mostly non-descript sedans packed with young blacks or Latinos. There was less light and more blight as I burrowed toward South Central. Fewer street lamps, less traffic, dwindling signs of humanity. Patrol cars were scarce; pedestrians nonexistent. Through Rollin 60’s territory. Under the Harbor freeway. Through an East Coast Crip ‘hood. To the destination, a desolate strip of land north of Watts. A steel forest of salvage operations, manufacturing and construction firms, and packing warehouses.
Jagged, leviathan machinery resting in dark junkyards cast eerie shadows of frozen gargoyles. Bristle-eared pit bulls and Dobermans force bared fangs through openings in flimsy sheet-metal gates, hungrily sniffing for trespassers.
The Five Deuce Pueblo Bishop Bloods held sway over the surrounding turf. I knew nothing about them except that they were descended from The Slausons gang of the 1950’s and 60’s, and that most Bloods and all Crips harbored a deep mistrust and hatred of them.
By the time I reached Pacific Avenue, I realized I was lost. The razor-fenced railroad tracks on Long Beach Avenue zippered the industrial section to the rundown Pueblos housing project, preventing most streets from going through and creating a trap for the unwary.
Suddenly, the cacophony of nerve jangling South Central night sounds stopped. The hairs on my neck tingled. An uneasy hush blanketed the moon drenched realm. No helicopters overhead. No dogs barking. No screeching tires. No breaking glass. No sirens, no screaming, no gun shots. Nothing.
I doubled back around. My imagination riveted itself to the probable fate of a white man with the bad luck to run out of gas at this time of night in the very heart of Gang Motherland, where every human being alive had better be in a police car or carrying a loaded weapon or be safely tucked into bed in a house with iron bars on all the windows.
I felt an irrational measure of security in locking the car door.
I cut down Santa Fe, over to Alameda and up 55th. Ahead in the dark I could make out the familiar, flimsy, mustard colored boxes that represented housing for the county’s lesser privileged.
The projects appeared deserted. I slowed down and peered into the veils of darkness between the barrack-like buildings, and detected hazy forms. Small pockets of men, standing, talking, drinking, waiting.
I was too late. The party had broken up. Dejected, I crossed the Metro Rail tracks to head back home.
Then I spotted them: a crimson sea of gangsters—more than a hundred—clad in hellfire red, flowing out onto the street in front of a drab, cinderblock bar.
Men so hard they didn’t have to act it. Bottles were clutched in fists. Olde English 800, Cisco, Colt 45 Malt, Jack Daniels, wine coolers. Liquid keys to unlock the Beast. Whet the anger and slake mean thirsts. Rinse smoky mouths blowing primo, sherm, bud, bo, chronic—anything to neutralize the conscience and put more bricks in the wall between Us and Them.
Mean glares speared me as I rolled slowly by (“The fuck you lookin at?”) trying to pinpoint Bookie and BeFase. That was the first time I had seen so many gang members together in one place. I’d never even seen that many black men all at once. At long last, I was about to meet the dreaded leaders, the Original Gangstas. With my contacts there, I’d feel at ease being the stranger in the vicious looking horde of street thugs—and I had no doubt every one of them was strapped to the teeth with firearms ranging from .25 automatics to Tech-9 machine pistols.
A subdued exhilaration came over me (To boldly go where no whitey has gone before). I was thrilled to have finally made connections that would allow me to get this close to an element of society that was shunned, hated, and rarely seen up-close by Caucasian civilians.
Attitude and body language, in the world of men, are as important as makeup and shaved legs to women. After months of being with guys who survive daily in a virtual war zone, I had the attitude down. Assured saunter, don’t grin, don’t look confused or eager or lost or amazed or dumb. Look cool and calm and in command and together and semi-detached. And not too white.
I parked and trudged toward the swarm. A tall, heavyset man in his early 20’s was pulling his muscle-bound bulk out of a Pontiac Catalina across the street. His maroon sweatshirt had the sleeves ripped off, revealing arms the color and thickness of telephone poles.
He casually turned and faced me…and froze in place. His nose pumped steaming rods of hot breath into the cold air.
“Whas up,” I nodded.
He straightened stiffly and his eyes nailed into me as I glided past in a measured, assured stride.
As I neared the party, conversations ceased. Jaws dropped. Eyes locked onto me. Bottles held ready to sip were slowly lowered.
“Damn…thas a white boy!”
“The fuck’s he doin down here?”
The mass of gangsters was so thick I had to slice through them shoulder first.
“Scuse me. Pardon. How ya doin, man. Pardon me.”
I felt little concern as I stepped onto the sidewalk. After all, my friends and their big brothers, Blood OG’s, were there. Somewhere.
The air was heavy with marijuana smoke and the pungent, clinical odor of sherms. Drinking, smoking gang members deep in the crowd who hadn’t seen me arrive, suddenly stopped talking as I shoved past with my bold scuse me’s, audacious blue eyes, and impudent blond ponytail…the only white skin for forty square miles. Alone in the dead of night when G’s geared up for a weekend of mayhem and cold murder.
As I plowed ahead, I began to feel resistance. Then more. The deeper I hewed into the throng, the harder I had to lean. It became shoving and pushing against me but I took the blame.
“Oop, sorry man.”
“Well watch yo ass then, mu’fucka.”
Soon I was cutting a wake of stony silence. My eyes swept back and forth, desperately searching, searching. It took every ounce of self control to stifle the numb panic rising beneath my calm exterior. Adrenaline gushed through my body. I felt short of breath but forced myself to breathe like I was strolling through a park in the sunshine.
These were no young warriors climbing the ranks of gang hierarchy. These were the ones who cursed me in the ‘hood and warned their younger homies away from me. These were the founders, the leaders. Street hardened men who’d spent more time in hospital emergency rooms, jail cells and funeral parlors in their teens alone than most white men did their entire lives. The guys I was looking for were a bit younger, a little further down the totem pole—almost children by comparison…and teetering on the edge of the yawing chasm of aimless, drifting humanity before me.
My friends weren’t there.
Utterances grew louder and took on menacing tones.
“Hello, uh, officer.”
“Whachu doin down here, boy?”
“Who you lookin fo, man?” a brawny guy on the corner asked me. He had a 40-ounce in one hand and a reefer in the other.
I didn’t dare let my anxiety show. Seeing my fear would be the spark to bring on sudden mob attack. I tried to act like I belonged there.
“Coupla friends,” I answered. “They told me to meet them here.”
“Whata they names?”
“Bookie and BeFase.”
That drew a blank from the big guy. Tension mounted.
“Boy, you in the wrong neighbahood.”
“White ass mothafuckah.”
As I talked with the guy, other G’s pressed close and sized me up like some strange creature at the zoo.
“Where they from?” he demanded.
“Blood Stone Pirus,” I answered coolly, ignoring the increasing jostling against me. I felt a fleeting sense of relief that I had chosen not to slip the microcassette recorder into my pocket when I got out of the car moments earlier.
“Who are you? How you know them?” he persisted.
I wasn’t sure how Bookie would have explained my presence there and I sure as hell wasn’t about to go into a long-winded discourse on how I had tricked my way close enough to gang members to learn about this get-together.
RUN! my mind shrieked.
I stood fast and lied lamely, “I’m just a friend.”
By that point, it really didn’t matter who I claimed to be. To them I was the Blue Eyed White Devil himself. With no badge, no gun, and no one to vouch for me. To them it was laughable I would know any gangbanger for any reason. Worst of all, I was in an area controlled, dominated, practically owned by these hated Pueblo Bishop Bloods. I was in their den without an invitation.
“Owww, man…somebody fuckin witchu,” the big fellow smirked.
Subtly, the gangsters began to shift away from us. An unnerving quiet settled over the crowd.
The Blood turned his red-clad back to me.
“Man, you betta take yo ass outta here. Real fass.”
My mind streaked for words, answers, explanations. Why hadn’t Bookie and BeFase showed up? Was it all a setup? Over the months, I had developed a budding friendship with them and several other gang members. I’d gone to bat for them when the only white men they knew were trying to put them behind bars. I learned a lot about the world they traversed and the crimes they committed, and never judged them.
What went wrong?
I had to decide quick. Hope to connect with a couple of solid punches before the stomping turned to a blood frenzy? Run? Or let it happen.
A man behind me asked, “They Piru?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. The fist that CRUNCHED into my jaw made a sound in my head like chewing gravel. I didn’t see who landed the first blow. Nor the last. I stood my ground as long as I could.
Welcome to the world of gangbanging, white boy. You’ve thrust yourself into a world you don’t belong. Your punishment is only beginning.
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