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Homeboys: Gangs, drugs & prison in the barrios of Los Angeles

Moore, J.W. (1978). Homeboys: Gangs, drugs & prison in the barrios of Los Angeles. Temple University Press.


The black gangs of Los Angeles made news in the late 1980s as they spread across the country and were "celebrated" in the movie, "Colors." Hispanic gang members are perhaps older and more numerous in the Los Angeles area. A remarkable collaboration among a sociologist, ex-convicts, and community book has produced this work.

Three critical slang terms are important for a consideration of this topic: pinto (convict, ex-convict, one who has served in la pinta or penitentiary), barrio (either neighborhood or gang), and tecato (addict).

This study is significant because it is contextual and holistic. It views gangs in terms of their context in the neighborhood and larger social systems and considers gangs in terms of many related issues:

  • Consideration of Chicano barrios or neighborhood.
  • Persistence and influence of barrios (gangs) themselves.
  • Growth of heroin and barbiturate use in Chicano neighborhoods.
  • Norms of barrios that follow men into prison.
  • Persistence of optimism within Chicano neighborhoods.

The authors work hard to dispose of myths of earlier, misleading studies. They examine carefully themes of the 1970s such as "internal colonialism," "blaming the victim," and "programming for failure." The significance of gangs as they carry into prison life is especially unique and important to this study. Three barrio gangs are examined: El Hoyo Maravilla, The White Fence Gang, and a more loosely organized rural-suburban gang from the zoot suit or pachucho era.

This book moves toward policy for the barrios arguing "that the income-generating opportunity structure...must be drastically modified the illegal and welfare economic structures (and to emphasize the square or legal means of income)." (p. 177)


  1. The first chapter of this book includes the rationale for the cooperative approach used here. It should be remembered by all cross-cultural researchers.
  2. Society’s immediate response to gangs is through law enforcement. If prosecution is spotty and prisons are schools and springboards for further gang activity, the limits of this response are evident.
  3. Relationships with those within the gang is necessary not only for research but for programs and youth work. Relocation, involvement, shared experience, and dialogue are necessary parts of any significant response to gangs. There is still a place for the street worker—if the limitations of such involvement are recognized.