The series' story arcs are self-contained and focus on different characters, but these central characters inhabit the same world, grew up in fictional Center City, frequent the same bar, and share a common history of two generations of crime. With his partner Ivan, Tommy Patterson ran the city's most proficient crew of pickpockets and taught the trade to his eight-year-old son, Leo. When Tommy was arrested and imprisoned for the murder of Teeg Lawless, Ivan took care of Leo and explained to him how following certain rules can keep a criminal "out in the world," out of both prison and the morgue.
Around the same time, Teeg Lawless' two sons were arrested. While his fifteen-year-old brother Ricky was sent to a juvenile work camp, Tracy Lawless was given the option of going to prison or enlisting in the armed forces. Tracy joined the U.S. Army, abandoning Ricky but honing his skills as a soldier.