"Life Sentence" by Mark Bowden (Atlantic Monthly Press).
Mark Bowden took us to Mogadishu (Somalia) for a brutal 1993 battle against elite American forces in "Black Hawk Down" and to Teheran to get an insider's look at 1979 Iran hostage crisis in "Guests of the Ayatollah."
Bowden's latest book, "Life Sentence": The Short and Tragic Careers of Baltimore's Deadliest Gang Leader offers a ground-level view of another type of battle in Baltimore, which is known as Bodymore, Murderland for its pervasive violence.
The riveting tale is a true story about an FBI investigation that led to eight criminal bosses being put behind bars in a city featured in the American crime drama, 'The Wire.
Montana Barronette is the most well-known of all the gangsters. He was the head of the group called 'Trained to Go' (or TTG) that terrorized 72 blocks of row houses in West Baltimore's deadly Sandtown neighborhood.
Bowden uses his access to FBI files as well as his knowledge of Baltimore to paint a vivid picture about Baltimore's oldest Black neighborhood, just 10 miles (6 km) away from the white suburbs of Baltimore where he grew.
Residents of Sandtown live under the burden of the past, which includes slavery, segregation and other discrimination that prevents them from moving to more affluent neighborhoods with better schools and homes. Bowden argues that the teenagers of the neighborhood are mostly normal children who were forced into an abnormal and violent environment. However, he does not forgive them for the violence they have committed.
Barronette was an orphan growing up in Jamaica. His father returned to Jamaica, and Barronette's mother became involved with the local drug trade known as "The Game."
His grandmother tried to keep Tana, the young boy also known as Tana, and his siblings away from 'on the corners' by using strict rules and weekly services at the church but to no avail.
Tana was nine years old and weighed only 65 pounds (29.4 kg) when he was first arrested for stealing a car.
He and his friends grew up and became adolescents. The Game provided them with the opportunity to buy new shoes, gold chains, and hot women. This was in a neighborhood that fatalism was a natural thing and where the sight of a dead body was almost as common as the sight of an ice cream truck passing by.
Barronette grew to be an extraordinary influence in his area. Federal and state authorities began to realize that they were not just investigating a huge drug business but also a murder operation in which rivals and snitches were killed for a fee.
Social media was full of gang members celebrating their brutal exploits. The killings were mirrored in popular gangster rap songs.
Barronette was sentenced in 2019 to life imprisonment. He had been known as "Baltimore’s Number One Trigger Puller" because he participated in a violent racketeering operation that involved eight murders, six of which he himself committed.
Bowden writes that Barronette is currently serving his Louisiana sentence. It is unlikely that he will ever be convicted or have his sentence reversed.
It's business as usual in Baltimore's hardscrabble neighborhoods. New gangsters have set up shop at the corners and struggle like Maryland blue crabs in buckets, being pulled down by the rest when they reach the rim.