First published back in April of 2014, ‘Status Dogs & Gangs’ formed the ex-South London gang leader turned author, Justin Rollins’, fourth publication on gang-life and street crime.  Offering a truthful and unique insight into this inner-city criminal underbelly, through his books Rollins has shown that there is much more to the issue than just packs of youths turning to crime.  And through turning his back on his criminal past, he has proven that it is possible to break the endlessly destructive cycle of gang life.

DLS Synopsis:
Justin Rollins is not just some author who has decided to look into what it is to be in a gang on the streets of London.  Rollins was once in such a gang.  Not only that, but Rollins was the leader of his gang.  The one who went that little bit further than the rest.  Pushed the violence to the next degree.  Was that little bit crazier than the rest.  And now, having abandoned that old destructive lifestyle, Rollins is able to look back on his gang life, his chaotic and self-destructive past, and share an insight from a truly unique first-person-perspective.

The book is split into two distinct halves.  The first half of the book being predominately focussed on the use of status dogs within street gang culture.  For this Rollins begins by detailing exactly what a status dog is and the reasons behind why these purposefully bred canines have become increasingly popular in the gang scene.  Once again, Rollins has first-hand experience of these dangerous status symbols.  At the age of just three, Rollins was attacked by a Doberman, receiving over forty stitches across his head and face.

However incredibly this attack did not put Rollins off such dogs for life.  Like with many gang members, Rollins’ life had become one spent in the constant shadow of fear.  As such, Rollins ended up purchasing himself a sandy-coloured Pit Bull bitch which he named Bella.  And for a brief period Rollins had his very own status dog.  One which was an illegal breed in the UK, which he would use as a guard dog for his own security and protection within the dangerous London streets.  However, the responsibility of the dog soon became too much for Rollins whilst he was at such a young and volatile stage in his life, and only after a number of weeks, he sold the dog on.

Rollins has nevertheless had more than just this brief sniff of exposure to such dogs.  He knows exactly what these dogs mean to their owners.  He knows the true reasons why they keep them.  And as he reveals, over the years the use of dangerous canines within street gangs has taken off.  Due to that ever-present fear of attack, gang members of all walks of life have taken to equipping themselves with these loyal but incredibly vicious weapons.  And as Rollins finds out whilst speaking with current gang members, as well as Irish Gypsies, the use of these banned dogs is more often than not one drenched in bloodshed, cruelty and a purely selfish yet fearful attitude.

For the second part of the book, Rollins explores modern-day street gangs in London in a far greater depth.  Having been in such a gang himself, Rollins is able to reflect upon the true human element behind these gangs in a very objective manner.  In doing so Rollins explores the sheer scale of the gang problem in our capital city.  He speaks of his own experience and life within such an all-consuming gang.  And from here he ventures into what it takes to be initiated into these gangs.

However, as Rollins uncovers for the reader, there are many conflicting aspects to gang life.  Each member will undoubtedly have their own reasons for being within such a destructive new family.  They will have their own personal burdens.  Have suffered their own traumas.  And they will each be suffering within their own personal hell.  But even though gang life swallows the members up on such a personal level, there are nevertheless common factors that run through almost all cases.  The lack of a strong, healthy family environment.  The addiction to drugs.  The oppression of the Olders in the gang.  The corrupted bond of misrepresented religion.  And ultimately the desire to lash out at society for the way that life has treated them.

And what is unveiled for the reader is a journey into a life of desperation, hopelessness, confused-hatred and oppressive fear.  There are those who control, those who are desperately seeking acceptance, and those who just need to feel part of a family.  The depth of the problem is exposed to its rotten roots; the vicious and often-unbreakable circle of utter destructiveness is laid bare.  It’s a hard truth to accept.  And underneath it all is the often-forgotten or overlooked human element.  These are all individuals caught in the mayhem of gang life.  More often than not, mere kids dragged into something that is beyond their control.  This is violence, conflict, oppression and misery in its bitterest form.  This is gang life on the streets on London…

DLS Review:
In his fourth book around this particular subject matter, Justin Rollins has exposed the bitterly-cold heart of gang life.  Not only has Rollins got first-hand experience from within such a gang, but in writing and researching for the book, Rollins has used his connections to gain access to individuals who are still actively involved in the different aspects covered in the book.  The unique insight is incredible.  And what is revealed is as moving as it is thought-provoking.

Within the early chapters of the book, Rollins addresses a number of cultural aspects that he deems to have a significant bearing upon the street gang culture.  The use of sex and violence within music videos, particularly within gangster rap, comes under Rollins’ spotlight.  The lyrics within popular songs in the current charts, songs that our own kids are being exposed to, are brought into question.  Rollins clearly has an axe to grind with our modern western society.  Indeed, from incorporating a ‘social context’ to the whole thing, Rollins briefly slips more into an all-out rant at our western culture rather than a purposeful examination of status dogs and street gangs.

However, these underlying elements are just fodder for Rollins’ cannon; and once his thoughts on these base issues have been aired, he is in a position to turn the direction of the book squarely on his chosen topic.  And from here on in the focus and delivery behind the book is absolutely undeterred.

For the first half of the book, dealing with the inclusion of so-called status dogs in gang life, even for anyone with very little interest in dangerous dogs per se, it is still likely to prove to be an utterly compelling read.  The sheer brutality of the subject matter is quick to engulf the book’s directional narrative.

Starting off with the use of these banned dangerous dogs, Rollins interviews an Irish Gypsy named Frank who breeds Pit Bulls primarily for dog fighting.  Through this meeting Rollins describes hellish cruelty towards these animals in such a stomach-churning vividness.  And it’s hard not to be emotionally affected by what Rollins writes about.

From here Rollins takes back to the streets to speak with a young eighteen-year-old member of the A.M.P. (‘Any Mean Possible’ or ‘All-about Murder Posse’) in which we see how terrifyingly brutal attacks with these status dogs can be.  Once again, the scene is set with shocking vividness and a resonating honesty to the whole thing.  And yes, expect nothing short of hardened cruelty, horrific viciousness, and the misery of an endless cycle of destructiveness.

From here we then see the situation through the eyes of a drug dealer.  They too have adopted these status dogs for protection against robbery.  And they too have their own reasons for being where they are.

However it’s the second half of the book which really suckerpunches the reader.  Here we see Rollins going back to his time as a young street gang leader.  Rollins tells of the harshness of life on the streets.  The dog-eat-dog environment.  The fake unity and respect that appears to come from within these gangs.  And the painful delusion of it all.

Once again expect stark brutality rubbing shoulders with touching honesty.  Rollins talks from the heart about his early life in a gang, how the gang members are pushed into escalating degrees of violence, and how girl members are so often exploited and abused during their initiation and onwards.

With the reader now raw from so much hurt and hopelessness, Rollins takes the book down the hardest avenue yet - painting an emotionally unnerving picture of how a young boy is coerced into joining a gang.  The reality of the situation cuts into the reader like a badly-concealed blade.  The reader is drawn into the saddening plight of this once innocent young boy.  And god does it make for some hellishly difficult reading.

Nevertheless, perhaps what’s most revealing about the strength of the book is how, at the end, I didn’t come away from it feeling the same anger at the perpetrators of these crimes as I did with the likes of Shaun Hutson’s ‘Compulsion’ (2001).  This in itself shows the level of unbiased examination and intelligent thought that has been put towards the whole problem.  The book has not adopted a simplistic and blinkered approach, merely taking one road and ignoring all other angles.  Instead it shows the situation from different angles – one of which being (very possibly) the most unique insight yet.

This is a book that gets under the grime-coated skin of the gang problem in London.  It’s harsh.  It’s honest.  And it exposes the endlessly destructive cycle of this hate-fuelled violent underbelly.  Absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to see the reality behind the inner-city gang problem.

The book runs for a total of 162 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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