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Becoming a gang member is often assumed to imply few long-term life opportunities beyond dying or being imprisoned. In most of the world, however, this only concerns a minority of gang members, with the majority tending to "mature out" out of their gang, and becoming (more or less) upstanding members of society.
Indeed, a striking finding of my longitudinal research in Nicaragua is that many former gang members can actively thrive directly as a result of their gang-related experiences, to the extent that we can talk about there being clear dividends.
Book - Freakonomics - Steven - Levitt - Stephen
In their book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner famously highlight how the benefits of being a member of a drug-dealing gang are often quite limited. In particular, the authors describe how the overwhelming majority of those involved in the US drug trade earn less than the minimum wage, with only gang leaders receiving anything in the way of substantial material returns.
While this is not necessarily the case everywhere, there is no doubt that the material benefits of drug dealing can often be unevenly distributed.
Time - Member - Drug - Gang - Individuals
At the same time, being a member of a drug gang can also provide individuals with more intangible benefits drawing from street-experience or specific skills and knowledge inherent to the "job". These can potentially have more important consequences for post-drug dealing trajectories than any putative material returns.
However, the long-term benefits are highly variable, as my research shows through the contrasting trajectories of Milton and Bismarck, two former members of a drug-dealing gang in the barrio Luis Fanor Hernández, the poor neighbourhood in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, where I carry out my work.
Milton - Crack - Dealer - Drugs - Manner
Between 2010 and 2011, Milton was a crack dealer, selling drugs in a concealed manner to avoid attracting attention. As he explained:
"I wouldn't sell on the streets but would only sell to regular clients...
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