Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In the 1970s, gangs like the Seven Immortals, the Savage Skulls, and the Grateful Dead fought turf wars in the South Bronx. As a former Bronx Minister gang-member, Bobby Donnielly has not forgotten those days.

Donnielly recalled the Ministers' clubhouse: Jethro Tull played on an eight-track, a blacklight shined overhead and the odor of marijuana wafted through the rooms. It was here, at the age of ten, that Donnielly would begin his gang career.

In the mid-seventies, at the peak of the Bronx's criminal and social turmoil, Donnielly served as a warlord for two years. As a warlord, he helped coordinate movements of the Bronx Ministers 230 gang-members. "We pretty much fought the gangs and beat 'em all," Donnielly said.

But Donnielly did not focus on the violence of the era. "Back then, it was all about good times. Money was not our focus," he said.

Nor was Bad blood universal amongst gangs. Donnielly remembered police, priests, and social workers organizing a gang meeting. "A brawl almost broke out, but afterwards we all drank wine and got high, We invited each other to hang out, but we knew it wouldn't happen."

Donnielly admitted to enjoying talking about the old days, but he seemed ambivalent about his criminal past. "I guess I learned to like violence. Now, I won't even spit on the sidewalk, but if I were backed into a corner, I wouldn't even think twice about sticking a knife in their head."

After surviving heroine addiction and homelessness, Donnielly entered rehab. The Bronx is also on a parallel path. According to the NYPD, major crime in the Bronx has dropped 70% in the last twelve years.

Donnielly said he is now working on "being a productive member of society." He is 15 credits away from a bachelor's degree and miles away from the South Bronx of his youth.