Reading for the Gangsta With Time on his Hands

THERE'S A LOT of time to read in prison. Tolstoy? It's not like you're in a rush. But if you want a magazine that really speaks to you, why not try a gangsta magazine?

Since the early 1980s, Southern California's Latino gangsters have had Teen Angel, a magazine featuring art — often spray-painted — poetry, gang obituaries and photos of gangsters, their children and their gun collections. Teen Angel has kept a low profile by doing business out of a post office box in Rialto and, lately, EBay, but more recent titles are far less bashful.

The generator of the modern genre is probably F.E.D.S., which stands for "Finally Every Dimension of the Street." With the cover teaser "Convicted Criminals, Street Thugs, Music, Fashion, Film, Etc.," F.E.D.S. positions itself as a true-crime and music magazine. When it first popped into the news in 1999, the New York Times reported that 90% of its 7,000 subscribers were behind bars.

Lately, all the gangsta magazine hype is going to comparative upstart Don Diva (if you're a gangsta, you're a "don," and if you're dumb enough to date a don, you're a "diva"). The quarterly's editors recently told the Washington Post that they publish 150,000 copies, with 10% going to prisons (Cat Fancy publishes 220,000 copies and doesn't discuss its prison circulation). Unlike F.E.D.S., which prizes gritty authenticity, this is a lifestyle magazine with a website. Sure, it has crime and culture, but also Source-like hip-hop coverage, Maxim's bikini-babe ogling and tawdry sex tips a la Cosmo.

Now, Cosmopolitan can be pretty filthy. But while that glossy might publish 200 words about how to perform a pleasant intimate activity, Don Diva offers 200 words explaining that the best way to deal with your man's mistress is to invite her for a threesome and then do intimate but decidedly unpleasant things to her, just to show who's boss.

Don Diva is written for both sexes, theoretically. But women only get the trashy sex advice; guys get sexy photos, crime stories and interviews with rappers (the website features old personal ads from prisoners, and it's surprising how many list travel as a hobby). The how-to-hide-a-drug-stash articles are probably unisex.

Brendan Buhler is a Los Angeles writer.

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