Critics take aim at 'street bible' for gangsters

Don Diva: Magazine aimed at prisoners captures inner-city audience

October 31, 2005
National Post
By Catherine Elsworth (The Daily Telegraph)

LOS ANGELES - An American magazine about gangster life that was originally aimed at prisoners is selling so well that it is to go on sale in major stores.

To the alarm of those working in crime prevention, Don Diva, which calls itself "the original street bible," has become required reading in many inner cities.

It features interviews with convicts, and includes tips on where to hide drugs and buy the best diamond-studded gold teeth and money-counting machines.

Critics say the glossy quarterly -- which carries the warning, "Parental Advisory: Gangsta Content" -- glamorizes and promotes violent gangland lifestyles. Its supporters say the coverage reflects the reality, and consequences, of crime: perpetrators end up in prison or dead.

"I do get a lot of complaints from people, but nearly always they have never read the publication," said Tiffany Childs, 34, founder and editor. "When they write, I bombard them with issues and, nine times out of 10, they will see the value in the genre.

"There are people out there for whom this really does have a positive impact."

Launched six years ago, Don Diva now sells 165,000 copies, and Mrs. Childs said each issue reached an estimated one million readers.

Initially, nearly all its subscribers were in prison. Today only 10% of its readers are inmates, and the magazine will soon be on sale at large retail outlets such as Tower Records and Borders.

Mrs. Childs was inspired to launch the magazine by the prison experiences of her husband, Kevin, a Harlem gang leader who served 10 years for dealing cocaine.

A recent cover showed a 12-year-old toting a gun to illustrate a story on children and firearms violence.

"It was a very scandalous cover," she said. "But if I saw it, I'd want to know what it was about. We go for shock value."

The magazine, which has also featured tips on how to avoid money-laundering charges and buy car tires that can withstand bullets, carries updates on changes to the laws in its legal news section.

Susan Marchionna, of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in San Francisco, said: "It certainly looks like glorification of the lifestyle it says it's about."

She said the editor's claims that the magazine told cautionary tales "seems sort of weak from this vantage point."

Don Diva had a trial launch in Britain last year. Only three issues were published, but Mrs. Childs said the experiment was a success and she hoped to follow this up.

"This isn't just a U.S. thing," she said.

"There are urban communities all over the world that can relate to the issues we're talking about."