At 21 years old, Dallas 415 gang member Antong Lucky was sentenced to seven years in prison by the United States criminal legal system that locked up minority citizens for the “War on Drugs.”
The infamous drug crack cocaine filled the streets of urban communities in the 80s and 90s, where economic instability, survival crimes, and drug addiction consumed and overwhelmed pockets of the population that were already dealing with systemic issues from the past.
Even though he prided himself on being a straight-A student and showing his family numerous achievements in the classroom, Lucky’s story echoed the same sentiments which led him away from the dreams and aspirations he had at an earlier age.
He eventually entered into gang life at 13 years old, while at the same time dealing with a rocky home life after his father was sentenced to prison and his mother worked overtime to pay the bills.
For the troubled teenager, all the fights, drug dealing, alternative schools, and imperfect decisions came to a head in the Dallas County Courtroom in 1997 when a judge called him a “menace to society,” just one week after his daughter was born.
Lucky said now he is on a path of accountability and activism after his seven years in prison helped him to grow intellectually and spiritually.
Fun fact: Lucky’s favorite hobby in prison was reading. Sometimes up to 18 hours a day.
For years he worked in public schools around South Dallas to work with students experiencing the same transgressions. Now, he oversees Urban Specialists, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate violence in Urban Culture, according to the website.
The Signal spoke to Lucky about his childhood in South Dallas, starting the 415 Blood gang, his spiritual transformation in prison, and his work in activism.
The questions and answers in this interview are edited for clarity.
As a child watching the cycle of drugs and poverty influence your family and community, why do you think it was hard to break out and create a new path for yourself?
“From an early age, we have an impressionable mind. I was an A-roll talented and gifted student who loved bringing those grades home to my grandparents. And I loved their praise because I was the smartest out of all my cousins. But that love and desire for those good grades weren’t a match for the community I encountered once I left that door. The messaging that goes inside urban communities. This idea of toxic masculinity —you have to be tough, and boys don’t cry — all that stuff over the years becomes who you are. It’s layer after layer. When you go through all that stuff as a kid, and you don’t understand systemic stuff happening. By the time we realize its effect on our lives, it’s almost scary to unlayer.”
While you were in school, you were also one of the founders of the 415 Blood Gang in Dallas. Can you talk about the experience of trying to fix the very system that you started the foundation for?
“It’s something I’m definitely not proud of and something I very seldom talk about because I walk the fine line of not wanting to glorify like most guys who’ve said they denounce the gang but still glamorize it. I was a real gang member, and I did some real stuff that, when I look back, I was so ignorant, and it caused me a lot of harm. For me, when I retrace back to when we first started the Blood gang, we started because our neighborhood was surrounded by four other neighbors not even a mile or two away from us who were young people going through the same thing we were. We would fight these dudes regularly, and their neighborhood already identified with the Crips. We didn’t have an identity. In 1988-89 when the movie “Colors” came out, and we said the enemy of the Crips are the Bloods, so we said we’re going to be the Bloods. At the time, nobody in the city of Dallas was wearing red. We went neighborhood to neighborhood. And I vowed that we would be the deadliest gang in the city, and I think we lived up to that. I lost a lot of friends through gang banging. So when I get to prison and as I’m going through my transformation, brothers in prison are worshipping me, and it felt weird. I’m running into youngsters 17 years old just coming into prison who are saying to me, OG, I represented for you. I put in work for the hood. And I would ask them how much time you got. Sometimes a life sentence or 99 years them not even understanding they are going to be there for the rest of their lives. Those interactions made me very firm in denouncing gang stuff, but I do acknowledge the cultures, music played a part.”
For context, Lucky shared a story of two friends he lost to the streets, and other acts of violence he still vividly remembers 20+ years later.
The school-to-prison pipeline, a pathway Lucky rode himself, is still a critical piece in increasing Texas’ mass incarceration. Now in his organization, Urban Specialists, he’s hoping to break the cycle for the next generation.
In your memoir, “A Redemptive Park Forward,” you also wrote that when you came back home from prison and tried to bring opposing gang groups together, it was hard for both sides to see a way out. What do you think is the disconnect? And why does it have to take being behind bars to kind of understand the gravity of the situation?
“I don’t think it has to get there, but prison is designed to destroy you. Break your spirit and your dignity. It’s slavery in the modern-day. I know for me coming up if I had a mentor, I probably would’ve made different choices. And I take full responsibility for the choices I made, and I accept them, but it shouldn’t come to that. I think the problem is we get to a point where we judge our communities so harshly rather than understand and learn. That judgment turns them off without really understanding all the trauma these kids face.”
His leading-with-love work in the community eventually led Lucky to Washington D.C., where he worked temporarily alongside former House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2015. Luckily, Lucky said he still hopes for reform on the federal level but said the change also starts locally.
What do you think in terms of policy and working with these senators who, like you said, may not understand the system as you do? What do you want to see there?
“First of all, I want to see more of us getting involved because education starts at home. So for us, we represent the majority of the prison system, the majority of people on probation or parole, and the majority of people who buy up all the land for cemetery land, something is wrong there. Education starts at the home, and we have to begin to shift the narrative and get more people of color into positions. We’re begging people to help us that see us as a threat. We have to begin to make part of our mission in educating our community. We educate on voting rights because our community has this apathetic idea that voting doesn’t matter. And that hurts people who are passionate about criminal legal system change. A person can be lynched by this system if they don’t have any representation. Then we have to find those individuals who are championing our cause.”