plot Realistic Criminal Organization: Loyalty, Incentives, Environment, and Betrayal?

Hello,
I have a question relevant to my story. A key part of the plot is that my protagonist is going to get recruited into a criminal organization and work for them for a few months, somewhat tolerating the lifestyle, until he witnesses atrocities that are so reprehensible that he decides to undermine the organization and to leave it.

I don't know much about the mafia or organized crime in general, but I was wondering what these sorts of organizations might really do to maintain loyalty. I suspect there's got to be something other than just fear and money that keeps people from leaving them and/or informing on them to the police. This is a critical plot point of my series and there is supposed to be a moral dilemma between the protagonist, the organization, and some of his "friends" that he made while working for the corrupt organization. The organization is really up-to-no-good, but they were able to foster an environment that gives the illusion that they aren't completely bad. For instance, they don't do that bullshit where you shoot your partners-in-crime in the back so that you get their share of the loot. Maybe they have some code of conduct, maybe they force everyone to wear a gps tracker (or to have a gps tracker in their work-vehicle), maybe they don't overtly force you to do jobs that you refuse to do, but they try to persuade you or promise you something if you accept the job. I really want this organization to have that "this doesn't seem all that bad" feel to it but the organization is really terrible. Maybe the higher-ups brainwash the subordinates into accepting the way things are, maybe they make grand promises that they actually deliver on, maybe they offer paths to higher education or help you pay off your student debts? I want this organization to seem like a place you could almost trust, but I want it to be plausible and realistic.

When my protagonist wants to leave the organization, I want it to be a difficult decision; when my protagonist decides to take down the organization, I want it to be extremely difficult. Like, maybe the organization has secret connections with local law-enforcement and they have dirty cops that help the organization to cover its tracks and/or to help the organization detect informants and they have ways of dealing with former employees. Even though this organization is supposed to be "nice," I want them to have some serious countermeasures for dealing with disgruntled employees who may want to undermine them, but it shouldn't be too comical.

I would greatly appreciate suggestions and ideas on this subject.
Sincerely,
-Rick
 
You have no flexibility when you are told to do something by a higher up. None. When the capo calls a meeting, you come. You could be at your kids baseball game or in the middle of sex, you drop what you are doing and come. Being even a minute late is considered disrespectful and... well... you don't want to be perceived as being disrespectful.
Interesting. I am kind of proud of how punctual I am sometimes; I don't have a lot going on in my life and I never leave at the last possible minute to get somewhere (except the post office, for some reason, but I'm a pretty quick driver). Borrowing from my own experience and applying it to the story, my character (as useless as he is) might actually be respected over time because he is one of the most consistently punctual people in the organization. Maybe my protagonist chooses to stick around for as long as he does because the higher-ups entrust him with more exciting responsibilities and/or appear to value him above some of the other members that might actually be smarter or more skilled; which also lends to an opportunity for his peers to be jealous and they might try to make my character look bad at some point.

Man, I've really needed to talk with other people and to bounce around ideas. A bunch of new ideas are coming to me.
 
Another scenario is the inner city problem of disadvantaged young men looking for money and status. Poor schools, no family structure and other social issues leave them with few options. The gang becomes their family, and they become addicted to the adrenaline rush of participating in illegal activities.

At the upper end is internet crime. Data mining/hacking, scams, data manipulation, you name it. These are the folks who are embedded with shady big businesses.

What you need to do is figure out your main character(s) so you can focus your research. My completely unsolicited idea for you is an inner city kid who gets out of the projects and makes good. He has street smarts and thinks that he knows what to avoid, but finds a whole new aspect of criminality he never expected to encounter. A la "The Firm" he discovers much too late that he is in over his head. Your own research can parallel that of your protagonist.

I stepped away for a few days, and thought a bit. I am writing fiction, so I have leeway; but I don't want to defy the laws of nature and logic anymore than is absolutely necessary to give the type of experience I am trying to offer. With that said, you make an interesting point about upper crime, hacking, etc. I really want this hypothetical criminal organization to be one that conceivably smart people (with loose morals) would choose to work for. Now, for the sake of the story, I want it to have a division that is not afraid to physically get its hands dirty. But I also really want it to be a modern and rather savvy organization. So I like that suggestion.

My protagonist is someone who was in the process of going to college, so he's kind of educated, but not super-accomplished. He's also in his early twenties, but he's lived a protected life. So he has a lot of insecurities and is embarrassed by how unimpressive he is. Having been afraid to take risks all his life, my protagonist is getting tired of being ignored and being taken for granted. When my protagonist realizes that he is always getting ripped-off by being reasonable and following the rules, he makes a moral compromise and steals a family heirloom that was promised to him but was sold to someone who doesn't value it highly. However, by breaking the law this one time, it puts him in a bizarre position in which he is either forced to turn himself in and lose the thing he risked everything for, or to keep breaking the law in many more ways to keep what he legally cannot have (despite the fact it should rightfully be his). In the long run, the protagonist is going to realize that a life of crime wasn't worth it and he'll have to use all his wits and strength to stay alive and to redeem himself.

At the end of the series, the heirloom is taken from him and he acknowledges that he should have never stolen it; but also recognizes that if he hadn't, he wouldn't have become a hero that ended up saving several lives while fighting against a corrupt organization that few were bold enough to oppose. One of the morals of the story is that some good can come from tragedy; and that sometimes tragedy is necessary to bring out the best in us.

Out of curiosity, how do criminal organizations recruit people? On one hand, they would want to hire people who aren't afraid to kill or steal, but you also need them to follow your rules while they are actually breaking the law. It's a really strange concept to me. How do they recruit more people? Do you have to find them or do they find you? In my story, my protagonist reluctantly joins one out of desperation, but I was wondering what kind of initiations or assurances they would require before trusting you with any information and/or tasks. From the perspective of a criminal organization, is someone who doesn't have much to lose desirable or undesirable? My protagonist has no friends, no close family, and is essentially homeless with no wife or kids. I ask because I think my protagonist is such an odd-duck that I'd have a hard time finding a specific case in which someone like him would ever get recruited by a criminal organization.

Thanks again for all the feedback. I really enjoy bouncing ideas off of other people.
 
Forget everything you've seen on TV or in the movies. REAL crime gangs like the Jewish Mafia, the Albanian and Russian Mafia, Yakuza, Los Zetos, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) are the things that nightmares are made of. They maintain control through wholesale torture and slaughter in manners so horrific that movies would never dare to show. On a rumor, the Russian Mafia will slaughter all the men of a certain age in a suspect village by publicly viscerating them and letting packs of dogs eat the entrails of the still living victims. MS-13 will douse people in gasoline and set them on fire during a church service to keep the rest of a town in check. And Yakuza likes slicing off body parts (hands and scrotums are always popular) of those suspected of "cooperating" with authorities. And the wife of one "Nobel Peace Prize winner" popularized "necklacing", where a rubber tire was filled with gasoline and forced down over a victim's chest and lit on fire. If you can fear it, gangs will do it to keep their members in check, especially murdering your family and friends for things YOU do.
 
And the wife of one "Nobel Peace Prize winner" popularized "necklacing", where a rubber tire was filled with gasoline and forced down over a victim's chest and lit on fire.
I don't know if the ANC was a Mafia organisation...but ... some of there murders where very horrifying. There is some brutal stuff on the dark web about the Mexican cartels....I don't know If we should talk about this. A friend of mine described a video he had seen, and the description gave me nightmares.
 
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Forget everything you've seen on TV or in the movies. REAL crime gangs like the Jewish Mafia, the Albanian and Russian Mafia, Yakuza, Los Zetos, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) are the things that nightmares are made of. They maintain control through wholesale torture and slaughter in manners so horrific that movies would never dare to show. On a rumor, the Russian Mafia will slaughter all the men of a certain age in a suspect village by publicly viscerating them and letting packs of dogs eat the entrails of the still living victims. MS-13 will douse people in gasoline and set them on fire during a church service to keep the rest of a town in check. And Yakuza likes slicing off body parts (hands and scrotums are always popular) of those suspected of "cooperating" with authorities. And the wife of one "Nobel Peace Prize winner" popularized "necklacing", where a rubber tire was filled with gasoline and forced down over a victim's chest and lit on fire. If you can fear it, gangs will do it to keep their members in check, especially murdering your family and friends for things YOU do.

Ok, thanks for responding. What you just described would definitely be the type of thing that would horrify my protagonist and drive him to leave the organization he works for.
A big part of my story is that my protagonist does leave the organization he worked for. The fact he doesn't have any friends or close family means that the organization can only threaten to torture/kill him. As long as my protagonist can outrun and hide from the organization, they can't touch him. They also don't know his real name because he was using an alias at the time they recruited him (and my protagonist never trusted the organization enough to share his real name).
I was going to have a few incidents occur where my protagonist feels some guilt for the actions of the organization. For example, the organization knows what my protagonist's car looks like. Since they are so desperate to catch him, they end up killing an innocent person who drove the same car as my protagonist (they didn't feel like properly investigating whether the car actually belonged to the person they were trying to kill). When my protagonist finds out on the news that an innocent person driving the same car as his, he feels partially responsible. Just because the organization can't hurt the protagonist, doesn't mean that innocent people won't die in their pursuit of him. My protagonist will feel compelled to try to takedown the organization, but he realizes he can't do it alone, but also if he tries to reach out to anyone, he puts more innocent lives in danger.
 
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