The Apollo Story

An interview with John 'Apollo' Payne
By Shelley B. Blank
Shelley B. Blank
Shelley B. Blank
October 19, 2015 Updated: October 19, 2015

“I grew up in South Central, Los Angeles. A close-knit community we liked to call ‘The Jungles.’ Although born in the south (1963), Monroe, Louisiana, the hard streets of L.A. is where I spent a lot of my time.

“At a very young age I recall being brought to church. Church has always been my foundation and I also learned responsibility at an early age working at a Convalescing hospital at the age of twelve.

“Growing up in the jungles I faced tremendous peer pressure. I wanted to be accepted by my peers, which led me into the hands of the youth authorities. It was not okay to rat someone out. Snitch on a fellow ‘member’ I continued to live by those rules until I got a taste of prison.

“I’ve learned from my past mistakes now and live to challenge young men growing up like me to reconsider the life choices made in order to fit in. Prison is not a way of life, and has been explored by enough individuals to keep a lifetime of youth away.”

—John “Apollo” Payne, 2015


SBB: Why do we join gangs?

JAP: Los Angeles streets are filled with gang violence! We have the old school die-hard gang members and counting. Every minute of the hour, more and more of our youth (especially) become gang members!

What makes some of us want to be a part of such menace-to-society activities and position ourselves to be locked up, confined, and executed? 

Most neighborhoods are surrounded by gang affiliation. Every hood has its own identity, each represented to the fullest. 

SBB: What do they stand for?

JAP: Steadfast is what they stand for, and the bond that runs between them runs deep.

Some people join gangs because it gives family structure, guidance, and security. Someone constantly watching, by any means necessary!

SBB: Is there a flip side?

JAP: The flip side of gangs is how to survive in South Central Los Angeles without surviving off the streets. How can drugs leave our streets when that’s the only way some people eat and pay to live in this world and its brokenness—even though it is the drugs being used that are still destroying our streets, leaving them desolate.

SBB: How do we get back our self-respect?

JAP: Discovering self-LOVE puts our life in direct contact with our God-driven purpose of what we are truly here for.

Healing the world starts from within, then spreads to others like a domino effect. “Each one teach one” will stir up the gifts embedded inside us. Tapping into these hidden talents will help create new businesses and open job opportunities.

SSB: What are the ways to begin to something positive?

JAP: Reclaim our streets, working with law reinforcement. This country has a Constitution. It is a great document. Let’s make it come alive, make it come alive for everybody, of any race or religion.

We are either a nation of laws or we are a war zone, and nobody ever wins a war except the crack dealers or the gun dealers and funeral parlor owners. We either love one another—I don’t mean love as a possibility, I mean spiritual love. That’s what makes us alive. Love as a tool of reasoning, love as the reason for being alive, the love of being alive; the love that make you put down this paper and get in your car and get on the freeway to South Central, get out your car and talk to people, and listen to what they have to say.

Believe it or not, they want to hear what you have to say. Hang with the homeboys.

SBB: Talk about the homeboys… no one ever talks about the homegirls.

JAP: They are on your pillow, and the pillow to a large degree rules the hood. The hood is a very sexy place to be. You hear it in the music, the language, the words, the way you move, the dancing; it’s Miles, Sidney, Lena Horne and Bouncee, Jimmy Baldwin and Malcolm. Malcolm had a great sensual energy about him.

The black man has an authentic sensual soul. Its sensual spirituality is what helped him overcome the lash and the lynch rope. He survived, he overcame, and he gave us the Duke, Louie, Bird, and jazz. And when all the pain is mostly forgotten, there will be jazz and our music.

SBB: You were talking about the homegirls, the girls and the gang life.

JAP: They are basic to the life of the homeboy. Life is a spiritual freeway, and your woman is always by your side on your journey, telling you what exit to take, and to drive more carefully, you got a baby on the way.

SBB: John, if you had one basic idea you wanted to share with our readers about gang life, what would it be?

JAP: Think! Think with that part of your soul that thinks, that part off your soul that thinks and feels love, the love we can have for each other that will enrich all our lives.

SBB: Thank you John.

“[T]he monstrous growth of the prison-industrial complex, the planetary emergency, which we are engulfed at the present moment, is demanding that instead of just complaining about these things, instead of just protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and hope for, another way of living… I see a movement beginning to emerge, ’cause I see hope beginning to trump despair.” 
— Grace Lee Boggs, social activist


The real estate manual of Street Gangs: the land grab of turf. 

Robert Ardrey, in his 1966 book, “The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry Into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations,” deals with many different views on our evolutionary instincts for security, deriving from our grasping for the earth beneath our feet—now that we have learned to walk standing upright, we can see what lands, countries, or streets we can control.

Many of the kids who were “ganged up” come from lower income, single-parent homes, youths that are often vulnerable to gang life because of a need to fill the void of not having a “family.” A poverty-stricken life limits life’s parameters: not being able to go to the corner without being attacked, your teenage sister not being safe on the streets. Loneliness is more then a luxury; being alone can be life-threatening.

Being part of a gang makes you a person of property. You and your new family will own the corner. They’re “your streets,” and you and your friends are going to keep the streets safe from the bad gang guys. Your block and the next one and maybe the next one are something you can call your own. These illusory and exclusionary property rights are called your “turf” or “hood.” It will limit your ability to grow into the larger world for the rest of your life.

These dark, pain-filled streets are the hellish inheritance of poverty. It is as though a whole community has a plague, an illness of the future crippled, and those conditions will be the inheritance of future generations. Do they have to be? Or will they be? Or do we write a new will, a will that gives the opportunity to live a life of positive promise and the possibility of a life fulfilled, rather then a life of territorial terrorism, which is existence without a future.

And yes, your new family members would die for you, as they will kill for you. It comes with the territory.

Shelley B. Blank has worked with major national and international newspapers as a journalist as well as a corporate executive. He has produced programs for Public Radio and lectured on modern multimedia communications and technology.