In order to be initiated into a gang, a boy with whom I worked was given a choice: eat dog faeces or rob and stab another boy in the leg. The boy opted for the former.
This resulted in serious illness and hospitalisation. He gained membership but he has little scope for promotion within the gang because he failed to demonstrate capacity to be ruthless to the "Olders".
The lure of the gang is magnetic for vulnerable inner-city teenagers, offering a sense of belonging and materialistic gains that would otherwise be out of reach.
The hierarchy is loosely divided into two levels, "Youngers" and "Olders". The lengths to which a potential new member is prepared to go to join the gang highlights their potential to climb the hierarchy.
While there is not necessarily direct pressure from the gang to join, opting out has consequences. With no gang affiliation, you lack the supposed protection the gang offers and may be perceived as untrustworthy. Experimenting with the idea of joining the gang and then deciding against joining is less favourable. You are then likely to be victimised by them.
Some London gangs affiliate themselves with the Bloods and the Crips of the United States .
Urban music plays a critical role. While there are artists in the mainstream preaching a positive message, local underground artists offer an alternative. Their message is often conflicted, proudly representing the gang and glamourising the criminality and violence, while accepting that ultimately there will be negative consequences to leading such a life.
I recall taking one boy to a supermarket to get some lunch. He began to rifle through what was on offer at the self-service salad cart with his hands, sampling everything. I told him that he couldn't do that, and he replied "Why? Who's going to stop me?"
The writer is a youth worker and mentor working in North London