Not Bowing Down

Gang Resistance to Prison Co-governance in Southern California

  • Randol Contreras Department of Media and Cultural Studies, University of California
Keywords: gangs, prison, jail, crime, ethnography


In the United States, some prison gangs control not only inmates, but also what happens on the street. Since most gang members eventually get detained and incarcerated, prison gangs will victimize or kill any resistors in jail and prison. In this paper, I examine such a case between the California prison gang, La Eme, and the rebel Maravilla gangs of East Los Angeles. La Eme controls almost all the Latino gangs in Southern California and enforces prison and street rules that “Southsider” gangs must follow. Between 1993 and 2006, the Maravilla gangs resisted La Eme’s prison co-governance and then experienced a violence and victimization perhaps unrivaled in the gang world. Through field research on the Maravilla gangs, this paper reveals how some gangs defy prison co-governance, which then makes them feel meaningful in the gang world.

Author Biography

Randol Contreras, Department of Media and Cultural Studies, University of California

Dr. Randol Contreras is the author of the multiple-award winning book, The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence and the American Dream, which captured how the transformation of an illegal drug market in the South Bronx shaped and influenced drug dealers to become violent drug robbers. Currently, he has a published a book entitled, The Marvelous Ones: Drugs, Gangs, Violence, and Resistance in East Los Angeles. This book documents the violence and hardships of the aging Mexican Maravilla gang members in East Los Angeles. A common theme in his work is the critical intersection of history, social structure, and biography, an intersection that sheds light on how crime emerges and shapes and influences the behavior and meanings of people.


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How to Cite
Contreras, Randol. 2024. “Not Bowing Down: Gang Resistance to Prison Co-Governance in Southern California”. Swiss Journal of Sociocultural Anthropology 29 (1):55-68.