Words by Brandon Jenkins Photography by Will Robson-Scott
These days when you think of Newark, New Jersey, the word “Blood” usually comes to mind. Which isn’t a surprise, considering how few resources and opportunities are available to folks living in an inner city with an exploding unemployment rate and failing school districts. With one of the largest and fastest growing Bloods populations, some look to the infamous street gang for the kind of opportunities that aren’t available to them in the “civilian world.” For better or for worse, for a select few, the organization becomes a system in which one can excel and rise through the ranks — or die trying. We sat with “Nutt,” one of Newark’s Capos — who happened to be caring for his grandmother at her nursing home at the time — to discuss the nuances of gang life.
Mass Appeal: How did you wind up becoming a Blood?
Nutt: I was locked up. When I first heard about it, it was like, “Damn, why they bring that shit over here?” Know what I’m saying? And like, my cousin just came to me like “Yo, I’m ‘bout to be Blood.” I’m like, “Why muhfucka?,” you know? I’m mad. But we was so tight on the street. “Damn, you ‘bout to do it? Fuck it. I’ma do it too.” But also, when I’m calling home, or people writing me, it’s like this neighborhood, that neighborhood … everywhere I was from was Blood. I ain’t had no choice. If you’re not [Blood], you’re gonna be labeled it anyway. And I knew I wasn’t gonna be done with being out here in the street. So it was like, I might as well become it and earn something where it counts. Because in prison, this where you get your credit at. On the streets? Ehhhh [waves hand in a so-so gesture], but in the prison, there ain’t no guns. Know what I’m sayin? And there really ain’t too many people that’s gonna help you when you gotta get down, so I earned it in there. Earned my stripes. Next thing you know, I was just running the whole damn building. I earned everything I earned in there. Came out here and earned more. I’ve been a Blood since ’99.
MA: How heavy is the presence of Bloods in Newark?
N: The presence is thick. It’s real thick. It’s everywhere. And in prison or growing up out here you have a bond with certain people. So if he this, then I’m this, know what I’m sayin?
MA: What’s your rank? Or is there a title associated with your position?
N: Capo. The Captain.
MA: How long have you been at that rank?
N: About five years.
MA: How far does the jurisdiction associated with your rank reach?
N: Mine’s is wherever I’m at. I could go to Atlanta right now and be good. It’s called “Universal.” Some people’ status only goes as far as the neighborhood. But that’s cool though, ‘cause you gotta earn it. Some people look at it as “Damn, he only got the neighborhood.” But maybe he’s only a neighborhood guy [laughs]. Any neighborhood I’m in, if you move in, I come greet you. You need help moving in? We’ll help move you in. On Sundays, we gotta chill out. You can’t just be out here all the time doing whatever it is you wanna do. Show these people some respect. There was a lady that I didn’t even know, she must’ve been seeing me on the block, I don’t know, but she saved me from getting locked up. A stolen car crashed on the corner. So we down the block like “What the fuck?” We want to see what’s going on. What’s niggas doin’ at the top of our block, nah mean? As we going up there the cops come in. It was ‘bout to get crazy, because we wasn’t tryna go to jail for something we ain’t do. So we was not letting them grab us and it was about to get to that point. Like okay, if we going to jail, we going for something we done did. But the lady came out and held us down. She told the cops, “Nope. It wasn’t them,” and they turned around. That lets me know that I am doing something right.
MA: She definitely didn’t have to do that.
N: I respect the next man. However you living. However you getting money. You could be gay, that’s your business. Just don’t be lazy. That one thing we won’t allow. If I ask you what you’re doing and you just chillin’ on your mother’s couch, you gotta get up or get your ass whooped. Do something. Shit. Go to the welfare office. Help feed the homies. Do something, bruh. We done helped people with Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas gifts. We try, nah mean?
MA: So respect is a huge portion of it, in various forms. What other qualities have gotten you to this point of leadership?
N: It’s the way you carry yourself. You gotta earn all that you have, but you can’t just be thinking “I’m the shit” or “I’m the man” everywhere you go, just ‘cause you run it out here. Whether it’s another dude who might be the shit somewhere else or having to deal with jealousy …. There’s a lot of that. Like, I’ll speak to someone and next thing I hear, he’s said some jealous bullshit. So now I gotta go check him.
MA: I’d imagine you have to nip that in the bud quickly.
N: Yeah. Some people will hate and that can turn to something real. So you gotta carry yourself well and handle all situations correctly.
MA: What would you say is the biggest difference between how things are for Bloods in prison as opposed to how things are on the streets?
N: The only thing is, out here you got them guns [laughs]. In there it’s more unity. It was like, we all one. It’s different ‘hoods and sets or whatever. But you got Latin Kings, Ñetas — everybody’s in there. So the unity is strong amongst us. Inside, you dealing with men all day. So the tension level is real high. All types of people going through stuff. They missing they girl and kids. Mighta got bad news and couldn’t go to the funeral. You don’t never know how a brotha’s mood is.
It’s different in different places. In California — like, how you see nothing but Bloods here? It’s a bunch of Crips out there. The Bloods are outnumbered. Out here the Crips is out-numbered. But where it messes up at [out here] is, they don’t have a lot of what they call “Big Homies.” They don’t lead everybody the right way. You know, you got a lot of ones that’s just for self. “I want you to do this because …” And that’s just so corny. I ain’t never been like that. People want status to send you to the store. Get the fuck outta here.
MA: That’s not real leadership.
N: That’s corny. Whatever I want for me, I want for you, I want for the next man. I don’t want to go to the club or the bar and I gotta buy all the damn drinks. Nah, nigga. Let’s send this shit around. Or nigga, it’s on you this week and next week it’s on me, or then him. Let’s grow. In California you’ve got a whole lot of people who are Bloods — lawyers, cops. That’s how I teach mine over here. They work. They go to school. I got college graduates.
I be looking at that show Gangland like “Psshhhh. These dumb mufuckas.” If I’m gonna be on there, then I’m gonna show you that we’re really tryna do something. There’s mad stuff missing that ain’t out here for these kids. What else you think they gonna do? If I see you, and I know that you’re gonna get into it [the gang], then I’m gonna teach you the right way. Some people, it’s like, well, this is not for you. I sit ‘em down like “Nah.” And sometimes it be like, “Aight yea, come on. But you going to school. You ain’t gonna be out here with this shit.” Some people just want to be a part of something. If you gonna try to be a part and be an asshole, you can’t be with me. It’s gonna bring me down and the people I’m with. We’re deep. I got people that own they own stores, doing music. I can’t bring them down.
MA: I hear you, man.
N: I get sidetracked with mad stuff. My life is so crazy, man. Dealing with this [gang life], dealing with personal life, got kids.
MA: How do you balance that?
N: We’ll have cookouts in the park. Bring your kids. My kids is here. The adults chill over here — do what we do. Some of the older kids watch the younger ones. A lot of people be out here doing too much recklessness. It ain’t really all about that.
MA: What was your scariest moment — in prison and on the streets?
N: In jail, I wasn’t nervous. When I first got there I was more mad that I was in there than anything. Handled a couple situations in a way where I ain’t have to lock my locker when I went out to the yard. Or I ain’t have to eat the jail food — I was getting what the officers was eating. And out here? I dunno. It takes a lot to really scare me. The scariest thing was probably when I lost my moms. That was like my best friend, you feel me? Felt like I was gonna flip out. I had to catch myself.
MA: So how do you feel about your career with the Bloods?
N: In reality, it might have helped me be more of a man. It’s showed me the power of unity and loyalty. It showed me how businesses and friendships can crumble. I’ve also learned to take my time. Being in the position I’m in, everything can’t just be a reaction. There’s a lot to be seen and heard. It’s just how you embrace it, how you go with it. [Gang life] can get you to a lot of places. But it can end badly too. ‘Cause if you weak, this shit will eat you up.