Curtis Howard
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Curtis Howard talks about his past.

When I was released from prison in June of 2008, I received $200 in cash. They call it “gate money.” It’s the standard issue for all parolees leaving California prisons, and it does not matter how long you have been there.

Gate has been the same issue for at least the past 50 years. It has not been adjusted to fit the current cost of living.

When I was released from Pelican Bay maximum-security prison, more than half of that gate money was spent on my bus ticket home to San Diego. Pelican Bay is located in Crescent City, California. It’s actually the last place on the California coast before you cross into Oregon.

For clothing, I was given beige khaki pants, black Vans, and a white T-shirt. They call this release clothing “dress-outs.” I was charged $30 for them. Keep in mind that it rains nine months out of the year in Pelican Bay, so of course I needed a jacket, but that jacket would have cost me the remainder of my gate money, so I went without. I figured, why buy something that I’m going to immediately dispose of once I get into town? Yes, dispose of.

You see: dress-outs are a parolee’s first problem when returning home. Gang members and law-enforcement officers know your story when they see them, and both are inclined to make contact with you because of that fact. To avoid detection, you need to at least ditch the pants and shoes, and I did get rid of the pants and shoes, but it cost all the money I had left to replace them.

I do have a family, and they had been through this “welcome home” reunion with me before. But after so many times visiting, writing letters, and sending money, they got burned out.

I joined the Crips in 1977 at 14 years of age. From then on, I was in and out of trouble so much that I was forced to bear my own burdens. The first time I was charged with a crime, I was in the eighth grade. It was for strong-arm robbery. I had taken a wristwatch from a fellow student at O’Farrell Junior High, in exchange for letting him “pass go” on the way home from school. I looked at the watch and threw it away. This happened shortly before I joined the Crips. My mom retained a criminal defense attorney for me named George Leibers, and he got me a reduced charge of theft and probation.

Probation was given to me at the onset of my gang career, and I suffered more run-ins with the system as a result of that supervision. More criminal laws did not have to be broken for me to face incarceration, just rules. Staying out past curfew and not going to school were common violations. I started out smoking weed and joy-riding in hot models (stolen cars), and then I escalated to robberies and weapons.

My gang life catapulted as a result of going to juvenile hall and the youth authority for those crimes. Everyone there was gang-affiliated and hell-bent on proving themselves.

The Neighborhood Crips gang is located on 47th and Market Street in the Chollas View area of Southeast San Diego. When I joined in 1977, there were hardly any other Crips or Bloods in San Diego, but over the years I’ve watched the ones that are around now come into play or transform. For example, the Southside Bloods of today were once called the 5/9 (Five-Nine) Brims; this was their title when I first became a Crip. Those same 5/9 Brims were themselves the product of a mid-1970s gang known as the Central City Gangsters, located near 40th and Ocean View Boulevard.

One month out of prison, the author (right) hangs out with his best friend and fellow former 47th Street Neighborhood Crips member Kenny Davis. Five months later, Davis was killed in a dispute.

The Lincoln Park Piru of today were once called Paul Lowe’s Control (PLC), a short-lived title named for their hangout, a popular liquor store that was owned by a former San Diego Chargers running back who lived in the general area of Euclid and Logan Avenue. It was rumored that Paul Lowe expressed disapproval of his name being used as a gang title. Out of respect for him, PLC became the Lincoln Park Players or the Lincoln Park Boys — I can’t recall the exact order, but I certainly recall the titles.

The Skyline area was once occupied by the Eastside Hanging Gang (EHG), but they reemerged in 1979 as the Skyline Piru. I was at a house party in Encanto when Skyline made their debut as the first Piru gang in San Diego. I remember warning my homeboys at the party that night about their potential to expand. Skyline was such a big area that Piru could eventually outnumber all of us. It was me (Curt Dog), Ken Wood, Tye Stick, Boss Man, and Will Kill.Also, Alvin “Al Capone” Smith, who was eventually killed by that same gang four years later. The Blood that was rumored to have caused his death was then killed by the West Coast Crips the following year.

The West Coast Crips have got to be the longest-standing Crip or Blood gang in San Diego. I recall them being active as the West Coast Mafia Crips as far back as 1972, when I was just a kid. This was the same time period during which the Crips and Bloods were originating in Los Angeles, making San Diego the next major city to host them after L.A. Incidentally, the Neighborhood Crips, the West Coast Crips, and the 5/9 Brims were all founded by original L.A. gang members.

In 1979, the new gangs started doing more drive-by shootings. This caught us off guard, because the established gangs had built their reputations through fighting only. The new gangs were not the first to carry guns or use them. At least a couple of guys from each gang had been shot, but not killed. These were isolated and/or personal incidents where firearms had been used as a last resort.

I started carrying a gun because the new gangs raised the bar. I had always felt that drive-by shootings were cowardly, so the first time I shot someone I did it face-to-face. Instead of stealing, I started robbing face-to-face, as well. This life inevitably led to trouble with the law. I did time in the youth authority, and at 18 years of age, I was charged with Possession of a Concealed Weapon and committed to the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) state prison in Norco, California.

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Hiyellared Nov. 7, 2012 @ 7:23 p.m.

Curtis is someone I knew of back in the day. As well as Kenny Davis and Alvin Smith "Capone", used to see them around the way and some of same people that he named.

Curtis although you been through the things (All on your accord/admittance) that you have. Glad to see that you have changed your life for the better, sometimes it takes some longer than others, but NO MATTER the length of time you did it/made it through.

Every day is a struggle, but without them you can't Move Forward. Keep your head up and keep pushing Forward.



Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 7, 2012 @ 9:13 p.m.

Powerful and riveting story -- could be the Reader's best cover feature this year --


jenjen Nov. 7, 2012 @ 10:42 p.m.

Should be required reading for high school kids. No glamor here.


LosPlumasHombre Nov. 8, 2012 @ 9:39 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 8, 2012 @ 10:12 a.m.

Author has a story to tell, a good story, and tell it he did.

Should make this into a book, it would work.


Elizabeth Salaam Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:36 p.m.

Wow, Curtis. What an amazing transformation. I'm inspired by your fortitude. I know it can't be easy out there. And your candid, self-reflective storytelling makes for a seriously compelling read. Nice work.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:57 p.m.

Excellent job, Curtis. Congratulations for taking control of your life and responsibility for your actions.


maria52 Nov. 19, 2012 @ 11:13 a.m.

Curtis: glad you showed mainstream just exactly what phenomenol odds you were up against... and you made it! Wow! This story gripped me and did not let go...I even cried. I've seen many, many in your situation, and most don't make it. You told this story beautifully: sweet poingnancy coupled with pierciing reality. You should write a book. You've got talent up the ying-yang!


curtis Nov. 30, 2012 @ 9 p.m.

Hi Maria, it's me Curtis! Glad you read the article with an open mind. I appreciate your review. I have in fact written four(4) books. I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 1, 2012 @ 3:57 p.m.

I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard

That's weird, I was thinking the exact same thing, expand the article into a book by adding in some more stories from the hood and/or the Joint. Great minds think alike.

I'll buy a copy too. As long as you don't jam me for more than a C-note.........


MsSunshine Aug. 23, 2013 @ 10:59 a.m.

Hello Mr. Howard your story had me in tears to hear the struggle you went through to get to where you are today. I hope things has gotten even better for you. I have a 63 year old uncle who is going through similar situations out there in San Diego as your were in the beginning. I'm praying he surrenders and gives it all up. I am looking forward to reading the book. Blessing and Peace to You!



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