Before you get to the article…
On February 23, 2018, my book on the Mau Maus and Sand Street Angels, who were two Brooklyn youth gangs from the 1950s, has been completed. It took 15 years of research and writing to complete Brooklyn Rumble: Mau Maus, Sand Street Angels, and the End of an Era. This book is roughly 6″x9″ and has 370 pages and includes a look at the characters in the Mau Maus and the details of a gang killing that happened in February 1959 in front of the iconic Brooklyn Paramount Theater (now Long Island University). If you want to buy a copy, click here and this link will take you to an online ordering page.
Sometimes letters were written to gang members’ incarcerated in prison or waiting in the detention centre for sentencing. Letters from family, friends, wives or girlfriends. They are interesting little glimpses into the relationship between the writer and the gang member. One such letter was written to James Smith of the Bedford-Stuyvesant gang called the El Savons. See “Selling Price for a Switchblade” for more information on James Smith and the El Savons.
Smith was arrested for repeatedly breaking the terms of his probation and while incarcerated a letter was written to him by a member of a family he was staying with at the time – Joseph Wright – who idolized and looked up to James.
Wright ends the letter by saying “So dont for get to wright me” along with some other unsavoury information. It’s hard to tell if Wright is trying to antagonize James Smith, or whether he really did like him. It also almost seems like there is a code or secret message he is trying to convey to James with the way he cryptically underlines some letters and writes in such a way where you almost read between the lines. There is no record of James writing a return letter.