Street gangs are something many of you probably associate with poor neighborhoods in big cities, and you visualize its members as being just like the actors you see in television shows or movies.
But the truth is, there are several gangs in South Mississippi and federal agents say members are involved in drugs, gun trafficking, burglaries, home invasions, prostitution rings, shootings and even homicides.
A convicted felon and member of the notorious Simon City Royals agreed to talk to us, but for his protection we cannot reveal his identity. He said, "It ain't something the younger crowd wants to be involved in. "
Joel Lee with The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) said, "I want people to know this is here, this is real, this can affect you and your family just like it can affect anybody and everybody else, it is a serious issue we cannot afford to ignore."
ATF along with state and local law enforcement agencies are working together to learn more about the different gangs and how they work and in doing that they have been able to solve more crimes.
"Maybe there will be retaliation or other crimes associated with that type of incident, because a lot of crimes they commit are calculated, they appear to be random, but they are calculated and deliberate," Lee said.
Jackson County Sergeant Chad Heck said, "We in Jackson County have been paying more attention and have realized a lot of our crimes involve Simon City Royals."
ATF agents say the Simon City Royals is one of the most prevalent gangs here, and there are more members per capita in Mississippi than anywhere else in the country.
The gang originated in Chicago in the late 1970s but because families have been migrating here from Chicago for many years now, most gangs there are also found here.
Many become affiliated with Simon City Royals and other gangs while they are in prison. Survival instincts kick in and despite the abuse prisoners must endure, gangs become a viable option.
This is true for the gang member we spoke to, "I went to prison when I was 22 years old and at the time I wasn't involved in any gangs and I was scared."
Lee said, "They have numbers in the prison system they have formed gangs within the prison system and so for our prison officials and prison administrators that's a dangerous issue to deal with."
Law enforcement agencies across South Mississippi work together to document all known gang members.
Sgt. Heck said, "We have educated our officers, they are getting out with people noticing the tattoos, recognizing their tattoos and they are documenting it in our computer system, so I can pull up a name and see what gang they are affiliated with."
One reason for doing this is so when a suspected gang member is booked into jail they can keep them separated from their enemies, in an attempt to keep fights from breaking out.
Harrison County's sheriff has identified eight gangs in his jail and the numbers are similar in the Jackson County jail.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd said, "Gangs is a big part of prison activity, so it's very important we know who is tied into who."
Sgt. Heck said, "You don't want to mix Royals with Latin Kings and Latin Kings with Black Gangster Disciples."
The sheriff at the Harrison County adult detention center said nearly one out of every 10 inmates locked up there has links to a gang, and that connection continues once a prisoner returns to the streets.
The gang member said, "We have meetings, once a week, once a month. At a time it was once a month about 200 to 300 brothers get together have meetings just to get together and see how we are all doing, whether it's on a level about crimes, drugs guns, and so on."
Agents say gang members do this to network together and learn the best methods to commit crimes and to get drugs without getting in trouble.
Lee said, "It gives you a sense of invisibility. It's because of the advertising they do it's a fast lifestyle, the drugs and things of that nature it can be alluring but as I said it's false, false advertising at it's worst, it's a lie."
A lie that is luring some as young as 12 into the gang life, but getting into a gang, and mixing it up with other convicts, can have serious, even deadly consequences. "It's got it's ups and downs, you can wind up in a coffin easily," the gang member said.
Officers work with local school officials to do everything they can to keep to let students know gang life is not the way you want to live.
Lee said, "They work very long and tirelessly showing there is a better way and gang lifestyle is a lie."
Through hard work the hope is to spread that message to the old gangsters too.
"We are actively working to make sure they are not invincible and we are actively working to dismantle all street gangs," Lee said.
Byrd said, "Be aware that we know who you are and we are going to be watching you and if you are involved in criminal activity you are going to be arrested."
So I asked the gang member, why doesn't he just quit and turn his life around. He said, " It's like you saying screw them, you don't need them, you better than them and they will beat you up and stuff like that. If you are trying to change your life and you got some brothers going to fight or you know what I'm saying, you have got to go."
Mississippi has an Association of Gang Investigators which is made up of local, state, national, and international gang professionals who meet and discuss gang activity in hopes of staying one step ahead of organized crime.
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