Former Toronto gang member Ricky Atkinson turns a new page

posted by Brian Judge on Jul 07, 2017 in Prison TV Blog | 0 comments
Former Toronto gang member Ricky Atkinson turns a new page

By KENNY SHARPE, The Globe and Mail  


“Being a robber and a thief, you don’t need bank accounts. When you were broke, you had to steal something. You’d say to the guys, ‘You broke? You want to rob a bank?’ Twenty minutes later, you had money, it’s as simple as that.”


Ricky (Dirty Tricks) Atkinson is 62. He has spent 32 years of his life in prison cells across Canada. He’s still on parole and unable to communicate with certain associates, and tries to use his past as one of the country’s most nefarious to turn others away from the grip of gangs and crime.

His mother settled in Sudbury, Ont., by way of Ukraine and his father’s family has roots in Nova Scotia’s community of black Métis. Mr. Atkinson grew up in Toronto’s Alexandra Park neighbourhood.


For decades, he was a member of Toronto’s Dirty Tricks gang. Today, he teaches boxing and spins pottery during sessions with children in Alexandra Park as he tries to push them away from crime. He’s just released a new book, The Life Crimes and Hard Times of Ricky Atkinson.


When you think back about all those years spent in jail, what goes through your mind?

Unhappily, I report that I’ve spent 32 years in the system. Mostly for robbery-oriented offences … we were crime experts. We picked locks, we cracked safes, we climbed buildings, through sewers or down through the roof of places. What goes through my mind mostly are the words uttered by judges and people who were smarter than me within the system. Those who tried to steer me in another direction. And the only way you can steer a person like me, who has a lot of – self worth, let us say – is to gently guide them. It’s hard to push someone like me. So it took years for their gentle pushing to push me in the direction that I am going now. And that’s the bottom line. When I think back, I think I resonate mostly on how I should have listened more to the people who were trying to help me best. That’s the best way to put it … I stole for a living, so the psychology behind the thing that I did for a long time was anti-social behaviour.


Why did you write this book?

What happened was [in the mid-90s] I was charged with entrapment by the RCMP. So I was there, and I was going to have to fight it and thinking, “It’s going to take a couple of years.” So I am sitting there in the Don Jail and my late common law wife, Angela Casey, was charged with me. It was a big charge. It was international drug smuggling charges and an international robbery charge. So at the end of the day the people that were around me that were innocent, their charges were thrown out and I plead guilty to the offence. I cut everybody loose and I got the time that I got and then began this process of rehabilitation in a more serious manner than ever before. And I then said to myself, “If I am going to not do anything as I’ve done in the past then I should be more open and honest about what I did do in the past,” and I started to then, pen the novel in a sense, I started writing … it takes a kid to hear from a gang-banger not to follow another gang-banger because that person is sucking them in. That’s my message. And that is the essence of the message in my book because it didn’t exist for me …

It’s my method of giving back and changing the direction of some kids, hoping in my eyes that some gang leader, like I was, that is 12 or 13 years old and his vision is to lead a gang, that they can be changed.


What do the Dirty Tricks look like today?

All the Trickster guys are retired. There is probably one guy, let’s say, out of the 20 to 30 guys that we were doing stuff with, maybe one guy might be dabbling in dope. Maybe. But no other criminal activity because I am the head of the organization and the head is not working any more. It’s as simple as that. No, I can’t help you. If you have a financial problem, I can’t help you. If you have a social problem. Can’t help you. If you have a criminal problem, can’t help you. It’s as simple as that. So my gang, former gang members, most of them, 90 per cent of them have transitioned into legitimacy and have been working now for 20 to 25 years at those legitimate businesses or whatever they’re doing.


How would you describe the state of gang crime in Canada today versus your heyday, if I can call it that?

The gangs are more xenophobic. They are less multiracial. We had the largest multiracial gang in Canada when we were growing up. Primarily because of the neighbourhood that we came from was the most racially diverse neighbourhood on the planet. And I find that the gangs now have segregated themselves into small communities. And I am trying to … figure out why police are more effective in some areas and less in others. The methodology of committing crime has changed. The evolution of crime, we can say. So crime went technical. The big crime is in fraudulent thefts via the computer and the Internet versus breaking into a bank, circumventing their alarm system, stealing a transport truck, the stuff we used to do. Now you don’t do that. You use the computer to do that. The other thing is the retail sales of drugs. The different pharmaceuticals now are a big plague in America.


How are police handling gangs today versus in your day?

The police pulling into Alexandra Park in 1971 got zero information from the guys that were there. That allowed us criminals who were there at the time to proliferate and keep continuing to do our crime. I find it’s the same now in some pockets of Toronto where police say they are ineffective in going into those communities to talk to people because residents don’t respect them enough … today, they’re putting some resources into Alexandra Park in their bicycle patrols. With those bicycle patrols, they are more vulnerable, they are out there shaking people’s hands, talking to the people and that is the key.


What are you going to do with the years you have left?

For me to be effective in the gang-exit strategy as a motivational speaker, I have to put myself in the programs in order to help the kids. So I’ve been running a ceramic pottery program in Alexandra Park for three years now, at my own expense, my method again of giving back ... I play good blues-harmonica, so that gives me an out. I teach boxing. I’ve been training this guy now for well over a year just on his quest to turn pro. And I do the ceramic pottery classes. That’s what I do. That’s it. [In my book] what I am saying is this is how it happened to me and I hope it doesn’t happen to you in the same way. That is the message in my book. One of transformation and rehabilitation. Truly that is the story.




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