Last month, a federal judge sentenced Terry “Lil’ Wood” Sillers, a general in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), to ten years in prison. It was a break offered by prosecutors after Sillers helped get members of his old gang sentenced to nearly 1,000 total years behind bars.
The rules for members of prison gangs are clear, and “no snitching” is at the top of the list. To be called a rat in the criminal underworld is the gravest of insults and can promptly lead to bloodshed. “Blood in, blood out,” ” Omertà,” and “Death before dishonor” are the credos, along with “Snitches get stitches,” as they say in the penitentiary. So what would cause a lifelong hardcore gang leader to snitch and turn on his own gang?
We see these types of stories in the media all the time, and the question is usually left open. Why did the con betray his brothers, his comrades in arms, his family? Many explanations, none of them satisfactory, are offered up: He was tired of the life, he didn’t like the way things were going with the gang, he wanted to do the right thing. In reality, most times it’s about simple revenge. If you feel someone wronged you in some way and you get yourself in a situation that you can’t get out of with the law, the easiest escape is to turn informant.
That’s exactly what happened with Lil’ Wood.
I met the short but stocky convict at Federal Correctional Institution Forrest City Low in Arkansas shortly after arriving there in January 2011. He was one of the Texas shot-callers on the compound, and I got to know him because several Texas cons lived in the six-man cell I was assigned to. As soon as I met the go-hard white boy, I could tell he had done a lot of time. When you’ve been in prison for a while, it’s easy to mark others who have traveled the same path. Lil’ Wood was covered in jailhouse tattoos and had the arrogance and bravado typical of a prison gang member who is used to having his way. After his first appearance in my living space, I asked his homeboy about him.
“He’s a general in the ABT. He speaks for the Texas dudes,” my bunkie, B-Rad, told me. “He did a lot of time in the Texas system and was an original member of the gang. He joined them in the early 1980s and has been going hard ever since. That’s how we do it in Texas.”
I had my doubts. If Lil’ Wood was a general in the ABT, what was he doing in a low-security prison in Arkansas? It just didn’t make sense. I had been at higher-level institutions, and from what I had seen, most current and active gang members—especially ranking ones—weren’t even allowed to walk the main lines. And they were often kept in lockdown units or held in the hole.
But Lil’ Wood kept coming around. He was a little standoffish at first, and then we got along OK in time. As I got to know other white boys on the compound, I heard more stories about Lil’ Wood. “I don’t fuck with that dude,” said a diesel white boy from Texas who went by the name of Big G. “I was in FCI Beaumont when he got ran off the yard. Lil’ Wood came into Beaumont talking all that gang shit and showing his tattoos and flexing his rank and had all the young Texas guys out on the yard meeting for church and paying dues and basically doing whatever the fuck he told them to do. But guys got sick of him, and a bunch of younger ABT dudes decided to beat him down, check him in, and run him off the yard. And that’s what they did.”
Being disgraced and betrayed by his own gang—by men half his age who hadn’t been through the battles that Lil’ Wood had—left him seething.
He carried a chip on his shoulder and wasn’t afraid to jump, which in prison parlance meant he was ready to fight at a moment’s notice. He was also known to carry a shank. Guys who feel that they have something to prove in prison are the worst, because when their backs are against the wall, they are capable of absolutely anything. I had no doubt Lil’ Wood would have stabbed someone.
I talked to him but also kept him at arm’s length. This was not someone you wanted to let get close. I watched how Lil’ Wood softly extorted his homeboys, coming in our six-man and just going through their lockers and taking what he wanted, always saying he was going to pay them back but never following up. That was just how he got down.
There was this con on my unit called Johnny Savage Lil’ Wood used to hang around. I don’t know what they were up to, but both of them had that dope-fiend kind of way to them.
Still, Lil’ Wood did look out for his fellow white dudes. That was his claim to fame: a white-boy prison gangster who wasn’t afraid to get busy. His homeboy B-Rad told me, “In Marianna Upper, the white boys didn’t have a TV when Lil’ Wood got there, and he went right in and just took a TV and said, ‘This is the white boys’ TV now.’ They called him out to the yard about it, but nothing came of it, and the white boys in Marianna Upper got their TV to this day.” That’s what is expected of a member of the ABT, since their number one priority in prison is to look out for their racial brethren.
But what I noticed about Lil’ Wood foretold his future betrayal of the Brotherhood. He was bitter and angry—felt like he was cheated on, denied his right to something.
And he actually did want out of the life. He even talked to me about doing a book and telling his story, something that’s unheard of for an active gang member, especially a general giving orders and conducting business. So there were some cracks in the facade—the hard prison gangster front was eroding. As Lil’ Wood got older, it was probably hard for him to keep living up to the image and reputation he had established for himself.
And then he was released. He gave me an email and told me to keep in touch, that he wanted to tell his story and maybe get some money for it and go legit. I emailed him a couple of times and never heard back, but B-Rad used to call him and tell me he was doing OK.
Then we heard about the infamous motorcycle chase in June 2011. When we saw the news broadcasts at the prison, it was crazy—everyone was buzzing about it. Lil’ Wood, who had only been out a couple months and in fact was still in the halfway house, had gone off the deep end. An outlaw to the core, he led police on a high-speed chase—on his Harley, of course. The chase was videotaped and Lil’ Wood quickly became a YouTube sensation as his flight from the cops gathered more than a million views.
I thought it was a shame that Lil’ Wood had gotten back up to his old tricks. I mean, he was a general who had done his time, so what was he doing getting his hands dirty again? But he apparently found it tough going out in the real world. After the chase, the feds revoked his probation and started preparing a new case against him. By May 2012, he was facing federal charges of conspiracy to participate in racketeering, as well as charges for drug trafficking, attempted murder, and murder. All that would likely mean a life sentence in the feds.
That was when Lil’ Wood did the unthinkable. After he was indicted, he made the decision to snitch. At FCI Forrest City, his homeboys couldn’t believe it.
“I can’t believe Lil’ Wood is going out like that,” B-Rad told me. “He talked all that death before dishonor shit, and now he’s a rat.” In fact, Lil’ Wood might go down as the greatest (or most notorious) informant in ABT history. The information he provided led to the sprawling racketeering indictment against the gang’s hierarchy in late 2012. Lil’ Wood gave it all up, going back 25 years to name names in unsolved murder cases from inside the Texas Department of Corrections and on the street.
His testimony has contributed to the convictions of 73 of his former comrades, ABT gang members who would surely like nothing more than to kill Lil’ Wood now. The ABT’s motto is “God forgives, brothers don’t.” So Lil’ Wood will be living as a marked man with a price on his head. If the gang ever gets their hands on him, it will be lights out.
At the age of 50, Lil’ Wood’s career as a gangster is over. He showed contrition at his sentencing and told the judge about how he grew disillusioned with the actions of the gang he helped put on the map. Lil’ Wood would have us believe the ABT has changed dramatically and that he just can’t stomach it anymore. But it’s not quite that simple. The truth of the matter is that he was trying to get back at the gang he felt didn’t give him his due respect—a clear case of self-preservation through retribution.
* This piece originally appeared on VICE.
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