The Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) formed at a time when the California Department of Corrections (CDC) was a hot bed of gang activity. There was a black power movement going on, the prison reform movement going on and the drug game and street culture were at the beginnings of what it would turn into over the next several decades. That being said the history of the is fairly complex and confusing to many with various reports published on websites with so called experts claiming to state the facts of the group. But in reality the BGF is as diverse as they come for a prison or criminal gang. Many have flown under their banner, but the organization is not as rigid as many would make it out to be.
The biggest fallacy surrounding the gang is that George L. Jackson, the famous prison author who penned Soledad Brother and was later gunned down during an escape attempt, was the founding member. George L. Jackson was never a member, nor did he ever utter the words Black Guerrilla Family, contrary to popular belief. The BGF was taken from a line in his book, Soledad Brother, in which he talks about the guys who introduced him to Black Power and said that, “those guys…they were some real Black Guerrillas.”
This is important because for many years the CDC considered any books, magazines or even a letter that mentioned George Jackson’s name as contraband. The CDC was able to get away with that due to George Jackson allegedly being the founder of the BGF which is considered gang or security threat group inside the CDC. It was all founded on misinformation and this policy has been overturned by the court system in California in recent years due to the historical lack of evidence showing that during Jackson’s lifetime there was no evidence of the existence of the BGF.
The BGF is always cited as one of the Big 4 California prison gangs but keep in mind that whereas groups like the Aryan Brotherhood and and Mexican Mafia pretty much operate with one brain, the BGF isn’t like that as it stands today. Not to say they aren’t highly organized, but for various reasons, some internal and external, there is some fragmentation in the organization. To get the real deal on the BGF we got with a guy in the know that wishes for his identity to remain a secret. But we will call him Right side, and Right side got with Gorilla Convict to give us the 411 on the legendary gang and what their status is today.
The state of BGF today. Well a former Crip gang member who spent 17 years in the CDC stated that in all of his 17 years he’d only met 2 members of BGF. He described them as old and bitter individuals. One has to keep in mind the history of when BGF formed. When they formed they were considered a big threat to the CDC due to their politics. Much of the BGF hardliners were rounded up and sent to the SHU for extensive lengths of time. This pulling of BGF members off the mainline was also done as a power play to strengthen the other groups that were making a play for power at the time. As many battle tested BGF were being pulled off the yard, hard core killer members of other groups were allowed to stay on the yards. As recently as this year some BGF members who have been in the SHU for 25-30 years have been stepped down to the mainline. So the state of BGF in the CDC is somewhat dismal as compared to former generations. The same can’t be said for the BGF in the federal system or in Maryland.
The Maryland branch of the BGF seems to be in the news a lot, when did they form and why?
The BGF formed in Maryland about 1996. An individual by the name of Ray Olivas from Maryland did time in the CDC and was reported to have became BGF. After paroling and going back to Maryland he is said to have wrote the hierarchy in California for permission to start a BGF chapter in Baltimore and was granted permission. By this period in the 90’s BGF had experienced a split, in that one faction wanted to remain true to the militant and political ideology that the founders established and another faction wanted to remain true to the gangsterism that the group started to evolve into, so in 1979 there was a split. Ray Olivas brought both factions to Baltimore. I can’t elaborate any further on this and it’s aftermath at this time.
The Black is a book that was written by Eric Brown. Law enforcement has dubbed the book to be an attempt to legitimize BGF. The book was aimed at inmates as well as individuals on the street , with the intent of them using it as a guide towards improving themselves. It was given high praise by some pretty esteemed people in Maryland.
Is the BGF spreading onto the streets of Maryland from the prisons and why do you think this is so?
Yes, the BGF is spreading from the prison system in Maryland to the street in a pretty rapid manner. The reason this is so is that this is the natural progression of things when individuals are released from prison. Now you may well ask why isn’t this the case of BGF spreading heavily to the streets in California? Originally to be a BGF in Cali one of the requirements was to have a life sentence. However, as some individuals were eventually released to the streets it was difficult to find the same level of individuals as in the prison system, so membership on the streets didn’t blossom as it was a quality over quantity thing in Cali. Now getting back to Baltimore, there are factions of BGF that are more into gangsterism than any type of political or black militancy so therefore its a quantity over a quality thing. There are factions of BGF in Baltimore that are aligned more into the original political and militant ideology, just like a split occurred in Cali, there has been a split in Baltimore but can’t elaborate further on that at this time.
Describe the split in BGF and what it means?
When looking at BGF one must remember that there are 2 concepts or one can say 2 branches within the group there is. BEN( black entrepreneurial network) Cambone. People who identify as BEN are generally the gangster types and will allegedly be involved in crimes such as drug dealing etc. Those that identify with Cambone are the individuals who adhere to the original militant teachings of BGF and will often be identified by African names . Now at one time the 2 concepts existed together, but over time people began to focus on BEN and lose sight of Cambone and eventually breaking off into separate branches. This is a part of the split that I wrote about earlier. This concept of BEN and Cambone is in Cali as well as Maryland. There have been moves to unite the 2 but you know how things like that goes.
What role do I think BGF members played in the recent Baltimore riot?
This is an interesting question. I saw an article online and it talked about in Bmore the Bloods, Crips and BGF were forming a truce and it had a picture alleged members of the 3 groups in a show of solidarity. It’s difficult to say how much of a role they truly had in the riots. Law enforcement put out bogus reports like they did when those cops were shot in NY that BGF was calling for cops to be killed. The thing is one has to remember there is a faction of BGF(BEN) that is criminal and there only interest is in self profit, so it’s unlikely that they would really be overly concerned about rioting unless there were some self serving purpose. Then there is the other faction of BGF (Cambone) that holds true to the original militant principles. Now this faction would be more prone to being involved in the rioting, but to my knowledge there hasn’t been any official organized participation by BGF in the riots. Now that’s not to say that individual members didn’t take place in rioting on there own.
What are your thoughts on the big Baltimore City jail and the shot caller turning snitch?
My thoughts on the Tavon White and BGF case, well it sheds light on the extent the power of BGF in the Maryland system goes. To me it also shows how law enforcement can suppress a group when they choose to. It’s surprising and interesting to see such a high ranking member plead guilty and talk the way he did about the crimes he was accused of.
Who are the Maryland BGF legends?
Some of the notable alleged members of BGF include Nathan Barksdale. He is the same individual depicted in the HBO series The Wire. He is currently listed by law enforcement as an active member. He denies this and is of the position that he was BGF while in prison but no longer. Marlow Bates Sr and Marlow Bates Jr, Bates Jr was the one in the news a few years ago in one of those major BGF indictments. Bates Sr is one of the individuals who made up the character Marlow Stansfield in the HBO series The Wire. Rainbow Williams is another high profile alleged member.
What do you think their status in federal prison is?
I’ve been told that in federal prison BGF is a force to be reckoned with. I recall a conversation with a guy, who is a recently slain rapper, that had just been released from the feds. When talking about BGF he told me, ” Ain’t nobody messing with them.”
In California the interaction between BGF and the bloods, crips has varied of the years. In the early days BGF was initially the shot callers over these groups on the yards of the CDC. As more and more of the BGF hardliners were taking off the yards this paradigm shifted and the relationships became more antagonistic. As the BGF became more in gangsterism and less about politics they didn’t hold the same respect amongst the black street gangs and became rivals over prison business. The BGF did influence these groups by leading many factions of them into a more political and militant way of thinking. For example the DAMU Bloods, Damu is Swahili for blood, a direct BGF influence, Crips expressing that crip stands for California Revolutionary In Progress and direct BGF influence, there are several other factions of these groups that have adopted the use of Swahili and developed political literature as direct result of contact with BGF. Over the years BGF have recruited members of bloods and crips into their ranks. This recruitment has been up and down because remember BGF was initially quality over quantity and member of these gang members were often to undisciplined to be taken into the fold.
In Baltimore the relationship on the street between BGF and Bloods can be viewed as antagonistic. The reason being is that in B-more gang banging is about drugs, so the 2 groups are competing over positions in the drug game. There aren’t a lot of Crips on the streets of B-more. In the Maryland prison system BGF is at the top of the food chain. So here relationship with bloods n crips on the inside is often times one of co-existing. Of course there have been schisms at times, there have also been alliances at times, but overall with BGF being at the top of the heap there aren’t a lot of problems with one another.
I have not been able to verify this on paper, but I’ve heard on more than one occasion that in order for a Black to be housed in the SHU they have to be labeled BGF. I remember watching one of those NBC Lockup shows and they were interviewing this guy in the SHU and he was complaining that he was labeled BGF when he was a Crip, so it could be some truth to that.
How about with the Mexican Mafia or Aryan Brotherhood?
As far as BGF’s interaction with the AB and Eme they have had long bloody antagonistic relationships, this is true in California and throughout the federal system as well. But as you probably already know prison politic like regular politics can make for some strange bed fellows. I say this to say that even though the groups are generally enemies they have at times collaborated , most recently during the California hunger strike and the end to all racial hostilities movement. In this case you had shot callers from all 3 groups working together. There was also the case in which Doc Holiday testified on behalf of the AB against the DC Blacks. Let me say this wasn’t a move that was accepted by BGF as a hole, and because of this it is said that Doc isn’t welcomed in certain institutions and may run into some problems should he ever be sent to them, and there are some real hostile feelings towards him by some in BGF especially amongst the old guard.
Who are some of the BGF legends from California?
1.William “Doc” Holiday his likeness was portrayed in the movie American Me as the blackguy called Doc who was about to have the showdown with the character Santana played by James Amos. He was an earlier bgf hardliner but when the split occurred in bgf he went the gangster route. A lot of the Baltimore BGF ally themselves with him and his cadre
2. Khtari Gaulden: He was a BGF leader who wrote the bgf constitution that is still pretty much used to this day
3. Elrader Browning Sr: Currently in federal prison he along with Doc Holiday are said to be primarly responsible for spreading BGF to the federal system
4. Warren Fela Jordon
5. Hugo “Yogi” Purnell: Now some say he was bgf others will say he was an associate whatever the statuts he was a hardliner who stayed true to the original militant teachers and was against the gangsterism that later crept into the organization. During the area of the split an attempt was made of his life reportedly on the orders of Fela, a hit squad of 3 individuals attacked Yogi in his cell all 3 were taken to the hospital afterwards
6. Shuga “Mudd” Gram: One of the San Quentin 6 who was commuted from death row currently residing in Maryland
What movies has the BGF been depicted in?
Movies that have depicted BGF, well there was the movie “Blood in Blood Out: Bound By Honor” in this movie the were called the BGA. There was “American Me”, and in this move there was a scene which depicted the character William Doc Holiday who is an alleged BGF shot caller.