The criminal element

While I do a lot of research when I put my novels together, one thing that stymies (what a great word) me is this:

How do all the criminals seem to know each other? Zofia wonders more than once about this phenomenon.

Now the obvious place for the underworld characters to network is in prison. I have not as of this time, spent any time behind bars, something I am very happy to say. If it’s even half as tough as it’s shown in the movies, I’d last about ten minutes. Fortunately, I am writing fiction, and nobody is doing undercover work.

The first time I typed “prison life” into Google, the top results was a porn site and the first blurb under the link was something I wish I could wipe from my brain. There are some other sites out there that will offer you insight into the mind of a prisoner, but in the articles I reviewed, the writers don’t spend a lot of time talking about life in the joint. Though I did read a stomach-turning diatribe full of bad grammar and racial epithets about how the narrator was going to paint another inmate’s cell red with blood. It would be DNA city.  I was twitchy for days.

In the name of research, I’ve considered a prisoner pen pal, and this site looks like it might be a good option, should I go that route. It seems to be dedicated towards getting convicts needed help and resources and I thought it deserved a mention, even if I don’t take advantage of the pen pal option.

Now what if you’re a fledgling criminal and need to outsource? Do they have a magazine like mercenaries have Soldier of Fortune? Web sites? Dial-a-thug? Coded personal ads?

Before you think the idea of a web site is ludicrous, I should mention that in the mid-nineties I was taking a folklore class and found myself researching hobo symbols and found a website of hobo resources. A very nice gentleman emailed me a guide for the symbols that I turned in with my paper.

In D&D and some fantasy literature, you sometimes have an orphan or the child of a prostitute stealing to feed themselves. If the kid has some major talent, he or she usually gets found by a higher-level criminal and gets adopted into a criminal enterprise (Brent Weeks’ first series does this rather well). In these worlds, the thieves have a guild. In some worlds, the guild wields a fair amount of political power, and not they aren’t all of the party you don’t like.

If you’ve seen Goodfellas, you’re familiar with the story of Henry Hill, a rags-to-ill-gotten riches story if there ever was one.  Henry admired the rich and sophisticated gangsters and aspired to be one to get out of poverty. Everyone needs a role model

There’s also the family angle–following in dad’s or mom’s footsteps. Instead of Gwynned and Sons Carpentry, it’s Gwynned and Sons, Cat Burglars.

These are obviously not all the tropes out there, but this is something I think about because I want even my criminals to be believable, not just a version of Snidely Whiplash with one motive up his sleeve.  What’s with that guy and railroad tracks anyway?


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