Prison is a cauldron of hate. A mixing pot of volatile tempers and personalities that can incite violence in a nanosecond. The territorial, drug and monetary beefs from the streets bleed over into the prison yards as racism intensifies and the hate it spews forth explodes in the form of prison gang warfare.
In prison a convict’s skin color defines him. It is his flag or calling card. An affiliation to belong or to be part of a group. And with our nation’s prisons bursting at the seams with a 30% over capacity rating violence has surged. Earlier this year, Harley Lappin, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, told congressional subcommittees, “We are managing more dangerous and aggressive offenders, including more gang-affiliated inmates, and we are encountering increases in inmate assaults on other inmates and on staff.”
In prison different races of gangs clash to control their immediate surroundings. Be it drugs coming into the prison, gambling, or extortion rackets violence in the common denominator. And it’s not just white or Spanish against black. In the belly of the beast it gets a little more complex. Welcome to the world of prison gangs.
“Hate is always a common analogy,” says a tattooed skinhead and Texas Mafia member who did time in the vicious Texas State system in the 80’s. He explains how “there’s very few similarities between the states and the feds.” Claiming that there’s way more gangs in the state. He continues, “In Texas in the 80’s there was over 300 body bags a year. Hate wasn’t even really acknowledged. It was more about the color you wore, the ink on your body, or your patch.”
He names the white gangs that operate behind bars, “The Aryan Brotherhood or the Brand as they’re called in the feds. The Dirty White Boys or DWB’s for short. The Aryan Circle (AC’s), White Knights, and Texas Mafia (TM’s)” He explains how there’s “a bleed over of all those gangs in the feds now,” but that the “originals are dinosaurs.” And most likely locked down 23 hours a day at ADX Florence, the BOP’s supermax penitentiary that houses the likes of the Unabomber.
But even with the restricted mail and phone monitoring these dinosaurs are still calling the shots from their prison cells as a case out of USP Leavenworth involving the AB’s in the mid 90’s illustrated. Back then the feds started a program where they had some of the AB’s on ice. They were on 24 hour lockdown and the only way they were let out of the program was if they debriefed with the feds and told the BOP of their gang affiliations.
As dudes filtered back into the system the AB’s started putting hits out on their own members. Anybody who debriefed was marked. “Weeding out their own trash,” says the Texas Mafia member. “Cleansing their ranks.”
And in prison race on race killings are common. The Texas Department of Corrections has a video tape of a murder that happened in 1984 that they still use to this day for guard training purposes. AB Virgil Barfield killed Calvin Massey an affiliated TM. A straight white on white killing. The AB butchered the affiliated TM stabbing him 78 times, then cut his head off, stood up and smiled at the camera that was recording the murder. “Shit like that goes on all the time, ” says the Texas Mafia member. “It has nothing to do with color, but with affiliation.”
Most of the white gangs are racist skinheads who favor Nazi imagery and their affiliations vary. The Hammerskins are an offshoot of the AB’s but they are more extreme in their political and social beliefs. They consider Hitler a hero to the white race and say things like “all niggers should die.” And refer to blacks as sub-humans. The Brand, another AB shoot off, is a more federal prison thing. They are represented by a clover leaf tattoo. The DWB’s are ranked by state and sport a tattoo of their home state. They also have a splinter group, Bruden Waffen “88” that wearts a fist double lightning bolt tattoo. They are the DWB’s elite hit squad.
All of these groups are highly into the Nazi swastika and lightning bolt thing with the spider webs and white pride tattooed on the backs of their arms. They look at Hitler like a demigod. Like, “Yeah, he was doing the right thing.” They are equal opportunity haters, lumping “Jews, niggers, spies, and race-mixers” in the same category. If it’s not white it’s not right with them.
Mostly though they just exploit their own people, other whites. And a lot of them are dope fiends. But they will kill in a minute if provoked. “Most of these dudes got so much fucking time, they got 175 years. There is no deterrent when somebody has over a century worth of time.” Says the TM member. And he concludes with, “These are racist gangs but they hate their own race just as much, just another culture of it.”
A lot of black gangs are embedded into American popular culture. The two most famous, the Crips and the Bloods were immortalized in the Sean Penn film, “Colors” and have been name dropped by rappers like Snoop Dog and Tupac. These gangs have moved past the race barrier as you can now find Crips and Bloods of any color, race or creed. And these gangs represent in prison also but it’s more broken into geographical regions. Like the Texas blacks hate the New Orleans blacks or the DC dudes hate the Virginia ones. Any group can find a reason to be prejudice. Be it color, ethnicity, or where you’re from.
The major black gangs in prisons today are a spillover from the ones on the streets. There’s the aforementioned Crips and Bloods, the Gangster Disciples- who are led by Chicago native Larry Hoover, who calls the shots from the ADX supermax in Florence, the Vicelords- another Chicago spawned gang, and the Black Gorilla Family. As seen in movies like “Blood in and Blood out” gang life starts on the streets and permeates the prisons. Where incarcerated leaders call the shots from their prison cells determining who lives and who dies.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s in the California State system a race war waged. The Black Panther affiliated George Jackson and his cohorts would attack random whites on the tiers and in the yards just because of their white skin and blue eyes in retaliation for white oppression of blacks. Edward Bunker, a white convict author wrote of the whites hate of George Jackson and his ilk in his memoir, “Education of a Felon.” Just as George Jackson wrote about his crusade against the establishment in “Soledad Brother.”
Many black dominated religious groups like the Five percenters, the Nation of Islam, and Muslims also promote black solidarity with themes like “the blue-eyed, white devils” or by referring to all establishment or government related persons “as those cracker.” The Five percenters even claim that white people are a genetic experiment gone wrong by ancient African scientists.
But the white-black hate that surfaces in prison has a long and disturbing history in our country. Beaconing back to the days of the KKK, the ultimate hate group and the endless atrocities and lynching of slavery. With black males dominating the prison population it could be said that prison is just another form of slavery for the black man in this country.
In total there’s seven different Mexican or Chicano gangs and just like the movie “American Me” that told the story of the Mexican Mafia they started from the inside out. But there’s a big California/Texas thing going on with the vatos. It’s like one California vatos says, “It could kick off whenever. But the Cali/TX thing doesn’t mean you hate them. It’s just an area thing.”
The Mexican gangs can be broken down like this. There’s the Cali Mexican Mafia and the Texas Mexican Mafia who don’t mess with each other. Then there’s the Surenos (meaning southern) and Nortenos (meaning northern) as in southern and northern California gangs that unite in federal prison but in the state might be at war with each other. Then there’s the Texas Syndicate which is a prison based gang that stretches back to the 70’s and the Texas State System and the Texas Aztecas. And finally there’s the Pizas and the Neros who are Mexican Nationals and not Chicanos like the above groups. The Pizas is just a loose collection of all Mexicans from Mexico and the Neros are Mexico City based Mexicans.
The vato from California says of the Texas/Cali split, “It could be war or it could not be war. It’s an on and off going thing.” But basically he explains, “There’s 3 groups in the feds- Cali, Texas, and the Pizas.” He says how the number 13, which is tattooed onto a lot of the vatos necks is a California thing. The homies got their own thing.” Also prevalent are a lot of teardrops which represent murders or hits.
And besides the Chicano gangs other Spanish nationalities represent in prison too. The biggest among them being the Latin Kings who are mostly New York and Chicago based and are comprised mainly of Puerto Ricans. Their leader, Luis Felipe aka King Blood, is locked down for life at ADX Florence.
The most prominent Asian gangs are mostly Chinese and basically New York based. Some of the more high profile ones are the Flying Dragons, the White Tigers, and the Green Dragons whose whole crew is in prison. Another notorious Asian gang is the Vietnamese BTK, as in Born to Kill. A lot of their members are in prison too.
All these Asian gangs prey on their own communities in the real world fighting territorial or monetary beefs but in prison usually all the Asian guys come together despite their differences. Its like one Green Dragon member says, “Each prison has no more then 10 Asian guys. So whatever beef existed in the streets is squashed.” He continues, “Our culture is different. If there’s a beef we solve it. And unless a guy is an asshole or a rat then everybody is a friend.”
He explains how the Asian gangs like to “keep it close” and how “most gangs have politics but still the bosses do business within the Asian community.” He mentions some other Asian gangs also, “24k is a Korean gang, Fu Ching- a Fukinese Chinese gang, Go Shadows- a Chinese group, KP (Korean Power) and Goblins- both Korean gangs. All of these gangs are New York based,” he says. “And they all have members in prison. But the numbers are small so we all come together in prison.”
As the different races of gangs vary so does the hate that they promote. From the KKK to the Mafia to the biker gangs like the Hells Angels and Pagans, American society is flush with gangs that hate another group for one reason or another. Be it monetary, territorial, ethnic, color, religious reasons, or a long standing blood feud like the Hatfields and McCoys. Hate promotes more hate and violence inspires more violence. From slavery to Hitler to the Columbine killings it’s all the same.
Maybe it’s like Nobel Peace prize winner and Crip founder Tookie Wilson surmised in the recent made for TV movie “Redemption.” He said that when you got hate in your heart it’s easy to hate someone similar to yourself. One who walks like you, talks like you, looks like you. Maybe it’s the self-hate coming out.
But on the other side of the coin maybe it’s the differences between the races. The differences between the haves and have nots. The differences between the prisoners and their keepers. The differences between the establishment and the minorities that incubates hate and makes it fester. In prison it might be all of the above. And in prison hate can equal death. Death to one and death to all.
Skinheads on the Downlow- A report from prison
You heard of homo-thugs but what about homo-skins? In the pen where dudes are doing life plus they do exist. In some prisons it’s accepted, expected even. You got your boys, your crew and your bitch. And you know a racist skinhead ain’t fucking with no black or Spanish gump. That would be considered race-mixing and in the world of white is right, that’s a big no-no. So what’s a skinhead whose trying to get a little extra curricular activity in prison to do? He either finds a white queer or turns a little skinny white dude out. Preferably one with long hair and a slight build.
In the pen a lot of white dudes belong to one skinhead gang or another. They could be in the Aryan Brotherhood or its offshoots The Brand or Hammerskins. They could be in the Dirty White Boys to the Aryan Circle or the White Knights. Or they just might keep to themselves and just be affiliated with these groups. But whatever the case they probably got that white pride or peckerwood tattoo because you know on the inside that white dudes refer to each other as “wood” or “peckerwood” the same way that black dudes call each other “nigga.”
But what would a skinhead faggot go by? Turning to our prison correspondent Gorilla Convict found out. “There are gumps in the system who will only fuck around with hard white dudes like AB’s or something,” says Gorilla Convict’s man on the inside. “These white gumps got ‘featherwood’ tattoos with swastikas and lightning bolts. They consider themselves the creme of the faggot crop.” He continues, “The Nazi imagery is very prevalent.”
But what about the go hard racist and skinhead AB’s or Hammerskins? Gorilla Convict asks. Do they mess around on the downlow? “A lot of them fuck around with gumps,” our man answers. “Most of them that do are the ones that got forever and a day. That shit happens everywhere. It seems a lot of the west coast dudes out of the California State systems are more prone to do it behind closed doors,” he continues. “But it’s not all out in the open like a lot of the blacks or Hispanics. But still it’s happening.”
Just like in the movie American History X that showed Edward Norton playing a skinhead who gets thrust into the criminal justice system after committing a hate crime and then gets sodomized and raped by his own peer group, a gang of skinheads, life in prison can be brutal, vicious, and not even make much sense.
But the ‘featherwoods’ in the pen, who were either already gay or got turned out by a lifer on the inside stand by their man. And the white gang member with football numbers, who walk tall on the compound and get much respect might be doing the nasty in their cell at night. Skinhead on the downlow capiece.