I recently finished reading this awesome book "Gang Leader for a Day" by Sudhir Venkatesh, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, New York. Sudhir spent 7 years of his life walking around one of the biggest housing projects in Chicago - The Robert Taylor Homes, documenting the life of people and the working of underground economy and street gangs. Under the friendship and protection of the local gang leader J.T., Sudhir meets and writes about drug dealers, crackheads, squatters, prostitutes, pimps, activists, cops, organizers, and officials.
Some interesting quotes from the book:
"J.T.'s gang seemed different. It acted as the de facto administration of Robert Taylor. J.T. may have been a lawbreaker, but he was very much a lawmaker as well. He acted as the organization truly did rule the neighborhood, and sometimes the takeover was complete. The Black Kings policed the building more aggressively than the police did."
"I mean, you're stuck. These n____rs make your life hell, but they're family. And you can't choose your family."
"The gang and the building are the same."
"In a neighborhood like this one, with poor police response and no shelter for abused woe, the militias sometimes represented the best defense."
"After a while it became clear to me that crack use in the projects was much like the use of alcohol in the suburbs where I grew up: there was a small group of hard-core addicts and a much larger group of functional users who smoked a little crack a few days a week. Many of the crack users in Robert Taylor took care of their families and went about their business, but when they saved up to then or twenty dollars, they'd go ahead and get a high."
This last quote carries significance for medical professionals. Although we are taught to be nonjudgmental when dealing with patients, we do tend to judge patients admitted to the hospital with drug overdose.
This book reinforces the fact that a lot of these people are just trying to survive in an unfair world, very similar to people who are trying to survive in some of the poorest countries in the world. Except that these people live in the center of some of the richest cities in the world!