News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- "I was affiliated with 974 IGD. Insane Gangster Disciples."
He met us at dusk, asking only that we blur his face and not use his real name.
"A lot of people in the prisons and on the streets, wherever it may be, they'll stand just like this, and if a G comes up, he'll use his third eye, read the body language and know he's affiliated," he said.
As the sky got dark, so did he.
"I mean, the numbers for 976 IGD are 666."
It hasn't been too long since the sun set on his life in a gang, but on this night, as the light slipped away, his mind slipped back to the crime and chaos.
"I didn't have a clue," he admitted. "I didn't have a single clue. About the time I had my face reconstructed, and I sat there for six weeks and I had all these metal wires and stuff through my jaw, 21 shots in the mouth and titanium plates surgically installed in my jaw, that will give you six weeks to think about just what landed you there in that pain and agony."
He hopes others can avoid that pain and agony by hearing the story he lived to tell.
"Growing up, I was something of a social outcast. Combine that with the fact I lived in poverty, you know. It's really a protection and acceptance thing," he said.
So he sold his soul to the streets.
"You are expected to respect your superior like you would the God of your religion."
He went on to say it was more than just a cult; it was a company.
"They use corporate principals to set up a street gang. And it's ... it's ... it's nuts for lack of a better word."
New members have to put in a lot of hours. He says their work becomes assignments like drug deals and robberies. He says you have to do any and all orders that come down from the bosses. Chaps, as we'll call him, quickly learned a promotion was not likely.
"There's no way you can really work your way up other than the first couple ranks, and you're going to do a lot of dirt. Probably end up in prison or jail," he said.
He says it's designed that way.
"It's like a pyramid scheme," he said.
Chaps says even society's perception of gang members is a sham.
"Color doesn't matter. The only color that matters is paper, and that's green. I mean, a lot of people think the classic description of a thug is a black guy with his pants hanging down. The truth is that white guy over there who's dressed nice? Just as likely to be affiliated. Just as likely."
But he says the biggest misconception is that a gang is a brotherhood or family. He's seen members of his gang work with a rival gang just to make a quick buck.
Chaps: "Sure enough, they're over there with them, doing work, playing both sides of the ball field."
Meredith: "So you don't even know who to trust?"
Chaps: "Sure don't."
Meredith: "You think you're getting in this group you can trust ..."
Chaps: "You don't have a clue ..."
Meredith: "... And you can't even trust them?"
Chaps: "Not a soul."
He couldn't even trust his superiors who were supposed to be his God.
"My superiors developed something of a relationship with me. It's like a manipulation. A boss, you know, gets more comfortable with his employees so they will trust him more so he can manipulate them better," he said.
Some of that manipulation comes in the form of information.
"The book of knowledge is certain secret information that only certain people should be allowed to know, depending where your rank is."
Some of it, like hand signs, all members can know.
"The way gangs look at it, you don't even have to be affiliated. You can just be an average Joe Blow off the street. If you're standing wrong, you're violated. Regardless."
Chaps could be violated, too, because of what's inked in his skin. We can't even show you his tattoos without risking his life.
"You're in even if you don't want to be. You can't tell somebody, 'Hey, I dropped my flag.' Well, you're getting violated automatically."
Meredith: "Because they don't want you to get out."
Meredith: "Why not?"
Chaps: "Because they want soldiers. They want word."
They'll get you to do their work anyway they know how.
"Luckily, I didn't have anybody close to me killed in retaliation to me, but I had friends have their ass beat because of me. Just trying to get to me," he said.
At the end of each day, they want fear to control you so you can help them control the night. But Chaps knows you can rise above it. Every morning when the sun comes up, he knows he now controls his own life.
"They tell you, you can't get out. You can get out. You can."
As soon as he was gone, he knows he was replaced. Someone else is now doing his dirty work. Someone else is now committing his crimes.
It's just a vicious cycle.
Chaps says the only way you can stop it is if you can to get to a person before a gang does. Chaps says he was targeted at a vulnerable age and time and that gangs do that on purpose.
He also says it happens fast and to kids who have involved parents.
Coming up later this month, News 12 will go in depth about what you can do to spot it.