The Transformers

They created Denver's gang life. A generation later, can they break free?

About the time Abram stabbed the Crip, a 25-year-old Blood who went by the name "Showbiz" requested a chat with him.

Showbiz's real name was Terrance Roberts. Just as Abram had grown up looking up to Denver's first generation of Crips, Roberts had grown up looking up to the first generation of Bloods. And like Abram, he'd earned enough respect from the original gangsters that he was now calling the shots for the second generation.

The county jail had been the scene of several recent stabbings that had all the gangster inmates on edge. Besides Crip-on-Crip violence, the Bloods and Crips were rioting; three Crips had been shanked. Abram and Roberts knew that there were enough Bloods and Crips locked up, with more coming in all the time, that the two gangs could go to war in the jail and stay at war.

Michael Asberry (left), Fredrick Abram and Cedric Watkins faced the cameras for the cops.
Michael Asberry (left), Fredrick Abram and Cedric Watkins faced the cameras for the cops.
Terrance Roberts gave up banging in jail, and now tries to keep kids out of gangs.
Jim J. Narcy
Terrance Roberts gave up banging in jail, and now tries to keep kids out of gangs.

Roberts was facing charges for assault as well as being a felon in possession of a gun -- in this case, a Mac-11 semi-automatic weapon that he'd allegedly fired at someone's vehicle. Both Roberts and Abram were looking at serious time; since they had serious stripes in the hood, they were also prime targets inside.

Outside of a couple of prisons and Park Hill, Crips outnumbered Bloods in Colorado. Since the Bloods were underdogs in almost any battle, they were especially passionate about gangbanging and protecting their set. It was easier to be a Crip, Roberts thought, but he also knew that Abram was one of the Crips who had as much passion for gang-banging as any Blood out there.

He and Abram had crossed paths in several juvenile-detention facilities over the years, but they'd never spoken two words to each other before. Now Roberts asked him, "You guys ain't planning on doing nothing, right?"

"No," Abram said. "Are y'all planning on doing anything?"

And with that, they declared an informal jailhouse truce between the Crips and the Bloods.

The next time Abram crossed paths with Roberts, it was at the Fremont Correctional Facility. There were only ten or fifteen Crips in the place, Roberts remembers, but there were about sixty of Denver's hardest Bloods.

Roberts himself was no longer one of them.

The life he'd been leading, the talent he thought he'd been wasting, had taken a toll on his mother and grandmother -- and on Roberts's perception of himself. So he'd finally declared that he was done gangbanging. He'd laid down his flag and started encouraging others to do the same.

Roberts's cellmate at the time was Cedric Watkins, a Blood a couple of years younger who'd spent time in the juvie system with Roberts. Watkins had grabbed headlines in 1998 when he was shot in Cherry Creek after watching a movie called Dead Presidents.

Like Abram and Roberts, 23-year-old Watkins was on his second prison stint -- an eighty-year sentence for a home-invasion type of robbery. Both inside and outside of prison, Watkins had gained power among the Bloods. His nickname, "Baby Brazy," is how Bloods pronounce "Baby Crazy" -- swapping the C for a B, which meant that Watkins was always giving Crips a reason to fight him, or vice versa. Bloods was all that Watkins knew, so when Roberts told him that he was laying down his flags, Baby Brazy wanted no part of it and changed cells.

Watkins and the rest of the Bloods took note when Abram arrived at Fremont; he was a Crip with stripes. As word spread that the Bloods were plotting to kill Abram, the rumor reached Roberts, who knew Abram was always prepared for an attack.

If he'd learned anything from losing Watkins as a cellmate, it was that anti-gang enlightenment could not be forced. But Roberts didn't want to see anyone else die, so he respectfully asked a few Bloods to leave Abram alone. And it worked: As his parole neared, Roberts noticed that Abram was even getting along with some of the Bloods.

"Even if it's for two different things, people have respect for people with passion," Roberts says. "Even if it's a cop, there's good cops out there and bad, but if a gangster sees that a good cop has a lot of passion for what he does, then that gangster respects the cop -- even if the cop is busting him."

Roberts's passion was now Christ. And when he invited the hardest Crip, Blood and Mexican gang members to witness his baptism in prison, they packed the place. Even Watkins came and wished Roberts the best in his new life.

"They showed me a lot of love," Roberts remembers.

After Roberts was released, Abram and Watkins started spending more time together. They talked about the gangster path and how to get off it. And soon, both followed Roberts's lead.

After Roberts got out of prison in 2004, he went to see Reverend Leon Kelly, who's been fighting Denver's gang problem for more than two decades.

"I have told some of these guys over and over about their choices," says Kelly, executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives. "There's a mindset that they have to adjust to, and that's been hard for so many of them. They're burning my bridges. A lot of these older guys still have a lot of influence over the younger ones. They may not be out there, banging, putting in work, but they still have a lot of influence."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help