A young Black teenager and three of his friends are in the process of breaking into a local market to steal food and money. Sonny is subdued by police and soon finds himself, at the age of thirteen, serving a lenient sentence of three months. While incarcerated, Sonny meets Willie, the leader of a local gang called the Lords and is initiated into the gang. Years later, an older Sonny, who is now heavily involved in gang activities, is part of the rivalry between The Lords and a fellow gang, the Tomahawks, also known as the Hawks. Sonny is deeply entrenched in the lifestyle of a Lord, which includes frequent brawls with the Hawks. During one of these fights, one of Sonny's friends, a Lord named Li'l Boy, is fatally wounded by a stiletto. Sonny and the rest of the gang arrive at Li'l Boy's wake. As they are leaving, the other gang members notice Sonny, who is attempting to purchase a bouquet of flowers from a nearby shop. However, he is unable to afford it. Sonny then robs a white man, who is carrying a telegram with change of $100 in it. With the money, Sonny purchases the flowers and places them on Li'l Boy's casket. For his crime, Sonny is arrested and later brutalized by police during interrogation. He is sentenced to between one and three years in prison. While incarcerated, Sonny unexpectedly reunites with Willie, who teaches Sonny about the harsh realities of prison life. Sonny's father visits him in prison, letting Sonny know that he is still being supported by his family.
The brutality of the guards and the harshness of prison life quickly become evident to Sonny. In one instance, Willie is beaten, nearly to death, by the guards as Sonny watches. Willie tells Sonny that he can no longer endure such treatment. That night, Willie is forcibly dragged from his cell by the guards. They toss him over the railing, causing him to fall to his death. Sonny, who is deeply affected by his time in prison, serves out the remainder of his time and returns to his family. While trying to reestablish connections with his former gang members, Sonny learns that the drug trade has claimed the lives of many of his former friends. With a renewed purpose in life, Sonny fights the drug trade under a new alias, Mwlina Lmiri Abubadika. The film ends in the 1970s, long before Abubadika's controversial involvement in New York City politics.
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