Tracie and Malcolm lived in a rough section of New York, and Malcolm was in possession of an unlicensed weapon he intended to protect his home with. When the police found out, their mother covered for him and ended up going to jail. Malcolm became deeply ashamed afterwards and the two lost their home and the sufficient income to continue going to school for any longer. He and Tracie would go to separate schools on the opposite sides of town.
Planning to bail their mother out of jail, Tracie and Malcolm steal a bag of drug money from a drug deal gone wrong between a gang of Armenians and the local street gang the Brotherhood. The latter gang begins hunting them. The two buy a better set of clothes and a phone, planning on meeting with a lawyer as well.
The two are ambushed by Brotherhood members in a parking garage, but are saved by John Reese and Erica Lennox, the former undercover in the NYPD and the latter working in the DEA. Lennox attempts to sympathize with Tracie, giving her a planted phone to throw the cops off of a lead pointing to elusive Brotherhood leader Dominic. The gang closes in on them, and Malcolm disappears to make a deal with Brotherhood member Link, leaving Tracie in dismay.
Reese eventually arranges with a social worker for the two to have a new home and to get a lawyer. Dominic, meanwhile, plans to have the Brotherhood spring the kids' mother from prison to induce a sense of gratitude within the kids and possible loyalty towards the gang, feeling they could be useful.