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Mirror image of a man facing inward, with the background of a bandanna; one half is tinted red and the other half is tinted blue.
Illustration by Teresa Tauchi; Depositphotos.

In the mainstream press, it is rare to hear from gang members — especially ones from two of the most well-known gangs in American history.

No two gangs are more notorious than the Bloods and the Crips. They emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s, ascending the ranks of the drugs and violence business, and branched off into sets throughout the United States.

The last 50 years have been marked by periodic explosions of intense conflict between the two groups. Those battle lines do not typically dissolve once members find themselves behind bars — in fact, the East Coast Bloods was established by prisoners at Rikers Island in the early 1990s.

But sometimes they do. And although it is taboo to engage in dialogue across this deep, historic divide, two men inside North Branch Correctional Institution, in Maryland, have done just that.

Below, the interlocutors, referred to as “Red Nose Pit” (a Blood) and “Blue Nose Pit” (a Crip), exchange thoughts on various aspects of life in prison. The identities of the men are known to Prison Journalism Project; we are honoring their request for anonymity to ensure both men's safety.

In this first conversation, the two discuss the dynamic inside between those with and those without life sentences. This dialogue is part of an ongoing series, and has been edited for length and clarity. 

— PJP Editorial Team

Blue Nose Pit: I wholeheartedly believe that there is an unspoken conflict between the lifers and non-lifers. You have two different levels of tolerance and two different brain waves of understanding.

Red Nose Pit: Individuals become stuck in their ways of survival. Actions become premeditated. The brain wave of the non-lifer is of a person who believes they have either something to prove or nothing to lose. What they fail to understand is that life on paper is different from the one we’re forced to live in from day to day, correct?

Blue Nose Pit: Absolutely! I concur 100%. As a non-lifer myself, I have witnessed and experienced more impulsive activity and behavior from people without life sentences. To actually live life in the belly of the beast is to completely warp your mind and make this existence your final resting place. Most men with life are more focused on trying to return to the streets than non-lifers. 

Red Nose Pit: To me, life is not just the sentence that is passed in the courtroom. Giving a 15- or 20-year-old 40 to 70 years is a life sentence. 

It comes down to the programs that are available for the lifers and non-lifers. To me, this [produces a kind of] “Willie Lynch Syndrome” — pitting the old versus young, light versus dark. We don’t know that envy festers inside of the subconscious if we’re not taught how to either eradicate it, adapt to it or overcome it. 

Blue Nose Pit: When someone is 25, goes through the judicial process and receives excessive amounts of time, it clearly shows that we are being systematically railroaded into the system. 

Then, once housed in these colonial institutions, we find that there are no constructive or productive programs to assist us in rehabilitation. With no rehabilitation, we are forced to be trapped among individuals with hundreds of various ideals and personalities. Clashes are inevitable. This shows the corruption of the American justice system. This seems to be a recurring theme, doesn’t it?

Red Nose Pit: I don’t believe that true rehabilitation is possible without first creating treatment plans and programs for individual offenders according to their needs. This I believe could be possible, but we’re a far cry away. 

I was just enrolled in a program for individuals with acute need for mental health therapy and medications. I thought this would be an intense therapy session. It turns out this program was volunteer-stamped, and correctional officers were in the room while you unburdened your deepest cognitive distortions to the therapist. It is hard to become vulnerable in this setting. 

So I now must ask, what does life mean when a person’s life is defined by his present circumstances?

Blue Nose Pit: Damn, Blood! That’s a deep question. I believe the course of life develops according to trial and error, so everyone and everything is subject to constant change and evolution. 

I don’t believe one should be defined by their present life, at least not in every aspect. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she was a saint. 

Everyone should remember that, especially the justice system.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Chris.X is a writer incarcerated in Maryland.