Black Gangster Disciples: Prison Gang Profile (part of Folk Nation)
The Black Gangster Disciples (GD) were formed in Chicago's Englewood
neighborhood in the 1960's. The organization has traditionally portrayed
itself to the public as a legitimate yet aggressive agent of social
and political reform. Indeed, some members today claim to pursue Larry Hoover's
new public title for the gang, "Growth and Development"
exclusively, denying further involvement in criminal activity and
instead focusing on community development. Police argue, however, that the name
is simply a public-friendly disguise for illicit operations. During the 1960's, the Gangster Disciples, alongside the Blackstone Rangers (which were later renamed the Black P. Stones), received substantial public funds from Chicago's municipal government to set up and operate community service programs targeting delinquent street youth. Police argued that these programs were strengthening the gang's criminal operations, while giving legitimacy to their politics of radicalization. In 1967, the Office of Economic Opportunity, with the help of the General Motors Company, gave $50,000 to fund the Youth Manpower Project, a program whose goal was to get black, inner-city teenagers off the street and into academic training programs and, eventually, work-placements. The program was run jointly by the Gangster Disciples and the Black P. Stones, under the leadership of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), a controversial grassroots organization that was often in conflict with Chicago's City Hall. Since the training and placement were carried out by the gang leaders, themselves, (two leaders from the Disciples and two leaders from the Black P. Stones), critics argued that the Youth Manpower Project also allowed the gangs to fund their own drug-trade operations, prostitution rings and gambling establishments, and to stockpile weapons (Jacobs, 1983).
Three years before the beginning of the TWO project, however, Chicago had already received a $685,000 federal grant from the Kennedy administration to fund street youth programs (called "Streets"). This program had also backfired on the city, and instead, had channeled gang members and street youth into the civil rights movement under the charismatic leadership of a select few Disciples and P. Stone leaders.
In any case, the reorganization of the Chicago Police Department's Gang Intelligence Unit that occurred during this time in respone to the renewed financial power of the two gangs (and later the Vice Lords, on Chicago's West Side) resulted in a sharp spike in arrests and prison sentences in Illinois' state prisons and county jails. The Cook County Jail, for instance, was thought to house roughly 275-300 Gangster Disciples each year between 1967 and 1975, including about 100 that had been convicted of serious felonies and another 20 convicted of murder. Researchers argue that the prison environments within the Cook County Jail, Pontiac, Stateville, and Joliet Prisons during this time contributed to the political radicalization, militarization, and community-mobilization that characterized the Disciples during the 1960's and 1970's. Between 25% and 50% of the gang's membership at this time was recruited from inside prison.
Despite being considered the least organized of the four Chicago "supergangs" at the time (the Vice Lords, Black P. Stones, Latin Kings, and the Disciples), the Disciples maintained smooth operations in Stateville in the 1970's, electing 9 cell house chiefs, to represent each of the organization's branches, to jointly run operations of the facility.
Today, some 30,000 members have been reported on the street, however by the 1990's reports estimated that approximately 50,000 members were active in 35 states.
In the 1960s, the GD were a dominant force and were the first street gang to appear in Memphis Tennessee in the 1980s.
Rules and Codes
The following written rules were recorded by Jacobs (1983) in the 1970's. They were passed out as pamphlets by cell house chiefs to new Disciples members entering Stateville Prison, and (although very outdated) described a calm and well-organized unit that was attentive to social order within the prison culture:
- Degradation of another Disciple will not be tolerated at any time
- Disrespect of any governing body within the cell house will not be permitted
- There will not be at any time any unnecessary commotion while entering the cell house
- Homosexual confrontation with another Disciple will definitely not be tolerated
- Dues will be paid on time at any designated schedule
- Fighting another Disciple without consulting a Governing Chief will result in strict disciplining
- Upon greeting another Disciple, proper representation will be ascertained
- There will never be an act of cowardice by any Disciple, for a Disciple is always strong and brave
- There will not be any cigarettes upon entering the hole for those who relentlessly obstruct the rules and regulations of the organization or the institution
- Anyone caught perpretrating the above rules and regulations with disorder and dishonesty, will be brought before the committee and dealth with accordingly
Govern yourself and walk like a true Disciple, the eyes of the world are upon you.
Current chairman Larry Hoover, also known as Old Man, or "the
King," ran the gang for several years from inside his prison
cell in the super max facility in Colorado. He is serving a 150-
to 200-year sentence for a murder in 1973, where he shot a man six
times in the head and once in the arm. Hoover once praised the Black
Panthers, as being efficient, strong, and powerful, and "the
most beneficial organization in the 20th century." His efforts
towards parole have arguably been responsible for many truces and
peace talks within the organization.
Hoover was born in Jackson, Miss., in 1950, later moving to the
South Side of Chicago with his mother when he was 4. He joined a
gang called the Gangsters when he was twleve, and had later recruited
over 30 members by his late teens. His followers quickly grew to
reach the thousands.
Inside prison Larry Hoover merged his Gangsters with another gang,
the Black Disciples, allowing greater economic flexibility and control
over the drug market.
The Gangster Disciples have a corporatelike structure that allows
drug dealing and extortion rackets, violence, and murder. As a street
gang, the Gangster Disciples had a board of directors, governors,
regents, coordinators and, of course, soldiers to do the dirty work.
They are heavily organized, using code language to communicate,
and have been reported in the news to use children as young as 8
years old to smuggle guns and drugs and carry out gang executions.
In all cases, members who show disrespect, or who fail to honour
their obligations or debts, are fined or beaten, sometimes murdered.
Punishment for gang disloyalty usually is death.
GD members have been reported to teach gang literature and gang
history to potential recruits, as well as collect fines and distribute
drugs to other incarcerated members.
The Associated Press characterized the gang's structure concisely:
"Hoover at the top; then two boards of directors
- one in prison, one on the street; a set of governors and associate
governors; a layer of regents; and literally thousands of lower-level
members, most of them street-corner drug peddlers." (Associated
Press 24 Feb 1996)
In 1996, executive managers distributed narcotics to roughly 6,000
salespeople a year, allocating $300,000, the proceeds for one predetermined
day's of work, to the gang leaders at headquarters.
Several leaders have run in community elections, and the wife of
leader Larry Hoover opened her own fashion line called Ghetto Prisoner
that includes jackets stitched with Hoover's prison number. They
have often infiltrated community politics, at one point running
a group called Save the Children Promotions Inc., which sponsored
In the 1990s there was significant tension between the Bloomington-Normal
Gangster Disciples and the Harvey-Markam branch of the GDs, however
both factions worked out the conflict internally without resorting
to warfare. During the 1990s GD members had been charged with drug
conspiracy, narcotics racketeering and criminal drug conspiracy
as part of Illinois' gang investigation entitled Operation Southern
Passage. At the time drug dealers for the gang had moved operations
to the Twin Cities, where profits could be doubled or even tripled
compared to what they could earn in Chicago's markets.
Signs, Labels, and Symbols
- "All is One"
- "BOSS" - Brothers Of Strong Struggle
- "Lon City" is a gang term for Chicago's South
- "sessions" refer to gang meetings where problems
involving the drug business are resolved.
- Raider jackets
- Pitchfork and a six-pointed star (referred to as the Star
- Points of the pitchfork with the numbers "274"
or the letters "BGD"
- a heart with wings, flames, tail, or horns
- a bent-eared Playboy bunny
- a devil's tail
- The letters "BOS(S)," for "Brothers of the
The organization has been reported in:
As a street gang, the Gangster Disciples have notoriously owned
Englewood, along with Chicago's South Side, which includes Woodlawn,
Hyde Park, Bridgeport, and Chinatown, since the 1970s. However,
their presence stretches across the United States, including:
- In 1995, Dixon Correctional Center, leader Larry Hoover's place of residence.
- Joliet Correctional Center, Illinois
- Logan Correctional Center, Illinois
- Menard Correctional Center, where they make up 28% of the total prison's gang population, compared to the Vice Lords, which make up a slightly lower 26% percent.
- Metropolitan Correctional Center in Downtown Chicago
- Pontiac Correctional Center in Illinois
- Shawnee Correctional Center, Illinois
- Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin - users have reported frequent activity and large numbers of Gangster Disciples, as well as initiations, inside Taycheedah.
- Vienna Correctional Center in Southern Illinois.
- Atlanta, Georgia - where one leader allegedly controls 3 GD
sets of 150 disciples, two of which are entitled DOA (dead on
arrival) and MMG (money making gangsters), and one of which is
unnamed. The gangs frequent the areas of College Park, Eastpoint,
Union City, and South Atlanta and North Atlanta.
- Austin, Texas
- Bloomington, IL
- Buffalo, New York
- Charleston, West Virginia
- Cleveland, OH
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Columbia, Tennessee
- Denver Colorado
- Detroit, Michigan
- Houston, Texas
- Indianapolis, Indiana (prevalent)
- Los Angeles, California
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Memphis, TN
- Milwaukee, WI
- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
- Nashville, Tennessee
- New York City, New York
- New Orleans, LA
- Peoria, Illinois
- Portland, Oregon, where a former leader of the Gangster Disciples made a bid for a spot in City Council runoff elections in 1995.
- Richmond, Virginia
- Rockford, Illinois
- Seattle, Washington
- Sheboygan, WI
- Springfield, Illinois
- St. Charles, MO
- St Louis, MO
- St. Peters, MO
- South Omaha, Nebraska
- Washington, DC
"Gangster Disciples exposed in trial," 2 July 1997,The
"Big 4: Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Crips, Bloods,"
23 March 2008, The Commercial Appeal
"Hoover tapes reveal details of gang life," 25 March
1997, Chicago Sun-Times
"GANGSTER INFESTATION," Violent Chicago gang spreading
its tentacles, 18 February 1996,
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
Jacobs, JB. 1983. Stateville: the Penitentiary in Mass Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press