Tiger Talks: MS-13 “La Vida Loca”

By Nicolina Vega

Holy Family University recently celebrated its birthday on February 11, 2019, and what better way to celebrate then by offering informative Tiger Talks. Out of the many Tiger Talk’s that day, there was one presented by Dr. Jonathan Rosen, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice for the School of Arts and Sciences, who talked about the gang MS-13, and violence in Central America. He also gave an inside look at the immigration crisis, particularly those fleeing their country due to violence.

According to Rosen, MS-13 is a gang that was originally started in the 1980s in Los Angeles, California. This gang is often times known for its cruelty and its rivalry with the 18th Street Gang. Only two percent of the roughly 10,000, immigrants in the United States are currently affiliated with MS-13, mostly residing in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York.

Dr. Rosen was extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter and dove into many avenues of how and why individuals join street gangs, how difficult it can be leaving a street gang, how they make money, and what individuals receive or feel, in and out of prison from being in a street gang.

The reasoning for joining a street gang has not changed in the last 20 years, according to Rosen, who said that most individuals, male and female, start as early as 12 to 13 years of age, only receiving education up until the seventh grade,  join a street gang because of domestic violence, abuse, or runaway from home. Interstingly enough,  there are female gang members as well, who make up 10% of the gang population.

“They are property of the gang, usually not leaders, and care for the children,” Rosen noted.

Furthermore, when recruitment is in effect, many gang members will hang out around schools and lure teenagers in to the gang life, because joining younger and putting in the time automatically moves you up in the hierarchy.

Moreover, gang members of MS-13 make money, not selling drugs, but from extortion. These gang members are both on the streets and in prison. Many members of a gang feel competent and respected and enjoy having the money and material things that go along with it. The respect and competency is given in and out of prison as well. Prison is seen as the heart of the gang, especially in El Salvador, where clique leaders exist, and consist of 85 gang members per clique.

“Before many of these gang members go to prison, they already have their Bachelors. When they leave, they receive a PhD in organized crime,” Rosen said.