6x8 Portrait is a research project that will explore the impact of mass incarceration on families in the New York City metropolitan area in a way that aims to trigger a national conversation on the topic. 

Tobias Brown, Part 1: Growing up in Chicago, Blackstone, and the Criminal-Justice System.

Tobias Brown, Part 1: Growing up in Chicago, Blackstone, and the Criminal-Justice System.


Tobias Brown grew up as the son of a pastor on the South Side of Chicago in the 1980s and early 1990s. When he was twelve years old, he got involved with the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation, a Chicago-based street gang that is known for its leaders’ conspiring to commit terrorist acts in the U.S. on behalf of the Libyan government in the late 1980s. 

As a teenager, Tobias was sentenced to prison for a violent assault related to his involvement with the Blackstones. While in prison, he came to the Christian faith and successfully severed ties with the gang. After his release, Tobias earned his B.A. at Moody Bible Institute and his masters in theology and Christian doctrine from the University of Wales, Spurgeons College, in London. He now serves as the associate pastor at a nondenominational church on the Upper West Side, Trinity Grace Church. 

On getting involved with a gang in Chicago

“I was twelve years old, and I was walking down the street with a group of friends in the projects just around the corner from my neighborhood. There was a group of guys who were shooting dice, and me and my friends, we went over there and started watching them. And one of the guys looked at me and he asked me, ‘Who you be with?’ I didn’t understand the question. Then he looked at me and said, ‘You’re a Blackstone.’ From that moment, I was pulled into the [gang] lifestyle. I was taken up under this guy’s wing and followed him wherever he went. I was kind of like his protégé. That happened when I was twelve years old, and I was involved with [gangs] until I was eighteen years old.” 

On his first taste with the criminal-justice system

Tobias’s parents introduced him to the criminal-justice system, calling the police on him several times when he was a teenager. He recalls his first encounter in jail.  

“The first time that happened was when I brought a gun to church, and it accidentally fell out of my pocket. My dad thought that one of the best examples that he could give to me was to call the cops, and that’s what he did. They processed me and kept me in a cell for a few hours. That was the first time I ever found myself locked away in the holding pen. It was cold. It was sterile. That was my first taste of the criminal-justice system.”

Tobias Brown, Part 2: Conviction, Prison, Faith

Tobias Brown, Part 2: Conviction, Prison, Faith