MEXICAN MAFIA: The Gang of Gangs - The Life of Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza 9781936986415

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MEXICAN MAFIA: The Gang of Gangs

The Life of Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza

From Altar Boy to Hit Man

Copyright © 2017 by Ramon Mendoza (Published by Police and Fire Publishing)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Publisher contact information:

Police and Fire Publishing 104-A Franklin Avenue Suite 332 Spartanburg, SC 29307 e-mail: [email protected]

(412) 298-7055



Notice to the Reader: Concepts, principles, techniques, and opinions presented in this manual are provided as possible considerations. The application, use, or adoption of any concepts, principles, techniques, or opinions contained in this manual are the risk of the individual or organization who makes that decision. The authors or their heirs or beneficiaries shall not be held liable or responsible for any application, use, or adoption of any part of this manual.


To my beloved mother, who prayed without ceasing for her wayward son. Mom’s request was simple: Bring her happiness in her twilight years. My sincerest gratitude is extended to those stalwarts who tenaciously believed this once coldblooded killer would become a productive and law-abiding citizen.

TABLE OF CONTENTS PART ONE: THE BEGINNING YEARS Chapter 1. Chapter 2. Chapter 3. Chapter 4. Chapter 5.

Gang Life Mexican Mafia Early History The Shoe War Ramon Angel The Last Summer

1 9 19 25 39

PART TWO: STATE RAISED Chapter 6. Chapter 7. Chapter 8. Chapter 9.

Journey Through C.Y.A. Preston and Tracy Barrio Fever 187 P.C.

48 53 59 65

PART THREE: WALKING THE BIG YARDS Chapter Chapter Chapter Chapter

10. 11. 12. 13.

Fish on the Line Made at San Quentin Cheyenne Cadena Back at The “Q”

75 82 96 103

PART FOUR: ON BROADWAY Chapter 14. Coming Home Chapter 15. Joe Morgan Chapter 16. Occupation: Hit Man

117 124 131

PART FIVE: KERN COUNTY Chapter 17. Preparing a Defense Chapter 18. You'll Never Be Happy Chapter 19. Purging the Ranks

140 147 151

PART SIX: 1977 - THE YEAR OF MADNESS Chapter 20. Get Going Project Chapter 21. Officer’s Discretion Chapter 22. Back on the Libre

157 164 169

PART SEVEN: DOUBLE AGENT Chapter 23. Chapter 24. Chapter 25. Chapter 26.

Like a Son The Prison Gang Task Force EME Business Their Beloved Women

180 195 207 216

PART EIGHT: COMING UP FRONT Chapter 27. Armed and Dangerous Chapter 28. Taking the Stand

222 229

PART NINE: STARTING OVER Chapter 29. Chapter 30. Chapter 31. Chapter 32.

A New Beginning Dinosaurs: A Breed Apart Atlantic Square: Deja Vu 1983-1993 A Decade

238 241 247 251

EPILOGUE: Closing the Books EME Murders - Til Death Do Us Part Mexican Mafia “Camales” EME Photo Gallery

259 260 263 274


In 1975 I executed two members of a rival prison gang in Bakersfield, California. Three years later, following my capture in Los Angeles, I was sentenced to concurrent terms of five-years-to-life and was surreptitiously transferred to the Correctional Institution at Tehachapi.

A much welcomed respite from the Big Yards of San Quentin and Folsom prisons, the heavily fortified protective housing unit became my refuge until my release in 1982.1 found myself a world apart from the "gladiator schools" of the California Department of Corrections. The life of constant turmoil, preying on fellow convicts and living the daily survival in the concrete jungles was a chapter in my life that was miraculously closed. In a nineteen-year span, I succeeded in wasting seventeen of those behind bars. For the most part, this book was written in a sparsely-lit maximum security cell. The solitude of my lengthy incarceration afforded me the quiet time to reflect upon a past painfully wrought with violent flashbacks. Like a reoccurring nightmare, I reassemble segments of a dark journey I once elected to undertake.

Once a Catholic altar boy, the process of climbing the criminal "corporate ladder" officially begins when I join an L.A. street gang. In prison I took a death oath which bonded me to the Mexican Mafia - the "gang of gangs" - for life. I evolved into a loyal hit man and as a member of the "inner circle" I became one of the EME "shot callers.” Everyone possesses the God-given gift of free volition. With the decisions we make in life, there are consequences for those choices. With the luxury of hindsight I have turned my life around. Today I can humbly thank my Lord for the opportunity to share with you "mi vida loca" - my crazy life - in the hope that you will understand where people like me can go astray. It is my fervent desire to tell my story in the hope that it will stimulate vital insight into the criminal mind for crime fighters embroiled in the ongoing crime-prevention struggle as well as for those who feel compelled to walk that gangster walk and experience this dubious lifestyle.

The events in this book are accurate and the reality of my experiences can stand on its own merits. Indeed, I resisted the temptation of embellishing portions for the sake of dramatization. For legal purposes, some of the names - very few - were deliberately changed to protect the guilty. It is not my intent to generate sympathy, nor exoneration for anyone's criminal conduct, including mine. What I do request is that you keep an open mind to one stark fact: No one is bom a criminal.


Chapter 1. Gang Life

The Golden State Freeway was like an enormous octopus extending its winding tentacles into every direction. As we approached the heart of the city the heavy cover of toxic matter hovered around us engulfing the valley better known as Greater Los Angeles. My reputation as a loyal soldado and member of the Mexican Mafia's inner circle was widespread. Having done time in most of California's heaviest prisons I was well known by the convict population. In the barrios of Los Angeles, Mundo from V.N.E. (aka: Varrio Nuevo Estrada) was a very recognizable moniker. I generated fear, admiration, respect and awe from my neighborhood peers. On the flip side were my hated detractors. This fan club included rival crime groups, the organized crime intelligence community and, of course, the family members of my victims. That nefarious world seemed light years and a lifetime away as I squirmed in the back seat of the car en route to the courthouse. My prison blues had been shed at the Tehachapi high-security protective housing unit for a pair of black slacks and a powder blue long-sleeved silk shirt which effectively covered my tattoed arms. Complete in street clothes and my cordovan Florsheims, I was to be the State's key witness in a murder-for-hire trial and the full significance of coming up front and rolling against my former confederates had not fully sunk in.

La Ciudad de Nuestra Reina de Los Angeles (the City of Our Queen of the Angels) is L.A.'s original Spanish handle. If one stood atop the Hollywood Hills on a clear day overlooking the city you could easily appreciate why the founding fathers were inspired to christen her with such a magnificent name. The panoramic sight could really take your breath away. But today it was simply smoggy Los Angeles. It was late-September, 1979. As we neared the Main Street off ramp I enjoyed a great view of the baby blue-colored ball park on the hill widely known as Chavez Ravine. Constructed in 1962, Dodger Stadium brought back many fond memories from my younger days. I reminisced of a happier past, like the city's love affair with the newly arrived Dodgers in 1958. Their franchise move from Brooklyn had shocked the baseball world. Pulling up stakes from their eastern roots to migrate west was a mortal sin to Brooklyn fans. It was in 1959 that I became an eternally hope-to-die Dodger Blue aficionado.

To my left stood city hall, the towering landmark from which all else seemed to emanate, challenging the smog for air rights. I felt the nostalgic excitement churning in the pit of my stomach as I savored the familiar hometown sights. It was always good to be in L.A. I snapped out of my reverie as the car decreased its speed. We took the freeway off ramp to be swallowed into the bowels of commuting Angelenos. The driver, a special agent from the Department of Corrections, raised his walkie-talkie and barked out instructions to the chase car. They had tenaciously shadowed us for the entire 200-mile drive from the Tehachapi Correctional Center. Suddenly they passed us and forged ahead. Without my testimony there was no case. The elaborate security precautions, mapped out with the precision of a sensitive military operation, made the chances of running into an assassin's bullet extremely remote. Nevertheless, I was acutely aware of my potential danger. I checked out every pedestrian with suspicion while trying to appear cool and calm. After all, it wasn’t long ago I feared nothing and no one. I entertained no second thoughts nor felt any compunction about what I had to do. The psychological hurdle of turning against Joe Morgan and my former criminal associates had already been overcome. No longer was I the bad ass who walked the San Quentin yard with total contempt and disdain for the general convict population. There was no regard for human life in those days, not even my own, which had made


me doubly dangerous. Somehow, I succeeded in forsaking my inevitable rendezvous with death and turned my life around. To insure I never returned to that world, I became a police operative, also known on the streets as a snitch, hated by the barrio underworld and my former associates. Word about my informant status circulated swiftly. In criminal circles I was the lowest form of slime - a “rat” - preparing to squeal like a greased pig. Although I possessed the intestinal fortitude to carry out this mission, I was experiencing a slight case of the dreaded butterflies. It was now a different type of courage I had to summon. The prospect of confronting the Mexican Mafia's number one man in open court was more than just a case of a contrite citizen performing a civic duty. I thought about a favorite Mexican Mafia proverb concerning the topic of our victims' fates: it was nothing personal - strictly business, we were fond of saying. That was precisely how I would look at it. The Criminal Courts Building was on Temple Street between Broadway and Hill. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the gated entrance as we sped into the underground parking complex. Tires squealed and we came to a sudden stop. I was immediately surrounded by armed plainclothesmen. A uniformed security guard hastily waved us into a building. The alert look on his face made it apparent that he was fully briefed as to who I was. The occupants of the chase car had already left their vehicle and were surveying the immediate vicinity. We parked alongside their car. I was quickly ushered into a well guarded corridor where more armed undercover agents appeared. Two of them held automatic shotguns pointed upward and everyone appeared to be strategically positioned. The procession continued to the elevator and up to the sixteenth floor. Someone had surely choreographed this scene, I mused. My escorting cortege consisted of federal, state and county agents. Our next stop was the D.A.'s office. There I noticed the name emblazoned on a large door in silver lettering:

ORGANIZED CRIME AND NARCOTICS DIVISION Andy Mucino, one of the investigators who rode shotgun on the ride from Tehachapi, rapped on the door and led me into the office. We were greeted by a short stocky man wearing a striped suit. He extended his arm as he walked towards us from behind his desk. Hello Ramon. I'm Dennis Choate. How was your trip?"

I looked to see if he was joking. He wasn't.

"Fine, I guess, considering the special circumstances.” I was referring to the handcuffs I had worn for the entire three-hour drive. It was awkward shaking hands while manacled. By his frown I could see he was sympathetic. "Andy, could you please remove Ramon's cuffs?"

The investigator removed the stainless steel bracelets. While I slowly flexed the stiffness out of my wrists, Choate produced a manila folder from a file cabinet and motioned to a large brown upholstered chair. "Have a seat, Ramon. Would you like some coffee?"

"Sure. Thanks. I'll take it black with no sugar, please." He nodded and carefully poured two cups and handed me mine.

"This is only the preliminary hearing, Ramon. Do I call you Ramon or can I call you Mundo?"


'It doesn't matter, whatever you prefer.”

"Alright, then I'll call you Mundo and you can call me Dennis. As I was saying, at the preliminary hearing, everything you testify to will be covered again at the trial. The trial may not take place for another year or so. Today I'd like to cover a few areas we will likely get into at the prelim and again at the trial.”

"O.K. No problem." "Mundo. If you don't mind, I'd like to get some background information about yourself. I want to know how you got involved in gang activity in general and then, specifically, how you became a member of the Mexican Mafia. I also need to know what role each defendant played in the contract murder of Bob Mrazek. Hell, you know what I need to hear." Like many other law enforcement and prison officials before him, Dennis was surprised at my demeanor. I do not speak in one-syllable words and am very articulate. I always got a kick out of their reactions.

"Do you want to hear about this case first or do you want to know how my gang involvement began?" Dennis studied me intently. He said he wanted to hear how my personal madness started.

The Church of Our Lady of Resurrection was near 8th and Lorena. It served the predominately Chicano community in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. It was also the site of my First Holy Communion nearly thirty years prior to this interview. The graffiti-strewn walls of the surrounding business establishments boldly displayed the "placasos" (nicknames and gang affiliation) of the controlling street gang in that region. I always referred to it as the newspaper of the streets because it accurately advertised the neighborhood players, their age and clique, status, author and other vital information understood only by the trained eye.

A good example was: “BUCKY x V N E T's.” This homeboy (Bucky) was proudly announcing to all passersby that you had now entered the territory of the Varrio Nuevo Estrada Courts gang. He was a member of the Tiny's clique whose members were my age. It had not been crossed out or written upon which meant he remained a member in good standing.


As I drove up Lorena Street, the nostalgia knotted my stomach with a familiar excitement. Simulating a typical drive through the barrio, as in the old days, there was a six-pack of Budweiser on the floorboard. Turning down Hunter Street you were greeted by colorful murals that adorned the rows of walls of the Estrada Courts housing projects. Along the sidewalk I noticed three younger homeboys clad in standard street attire - white t-shirts and baggy khaki pants. They were in their very early teens. Arms swinging like pendulums as they strolled in that defiant manner, they reminded me of myself some twenty years ago - tattooed arms, similar cholo attire, a sinister glare, same rebellious and antagonistic spirit, and the arrogant attitude. Each was mad dogging me as they directed a challenging gaze my way, their chins pointed upward. It was a demanding look that conveyed so much. I was a suspicious-looking outsider who attracted their attention because I was driving slowly. A slow-moving vehicle displayed ominous possibilities to the seasoned street person. It could be a prelude to a drive-by shooting with the rivals casing out their intended target, or, maybe an undercover cop conducting surveillance. Neither was a welcomed sight and such trespassers were quickly spotted and viewed with extreme suspicion and contempt. To dispel any uncertainties, I too raised my chin in that familiar neighborhood Indian-like greeting. I also elevated a can of Bud in a toasting gesture. Their coiled bodies noticeably relaxed as they nodded back in unison, acknowledging me. We communicated to each other that all was cool and everyone went along with their line of business. I pulled over and opened a can as I soaked in the familiar terrain.

After downing half of the first can, I gazed up at one of the murals. There were two large brown hands holding up the block letters V N E. Above the gang initials it read: In Memory of a Home Boy. It was a memorial to a slain homeboy who had died in the line of barrio duty. Holding up the neighborhood flag was a source of fierce pride for a street gang member. Our soldiers died young - from street combat, shootouts, drug overdoses, and other methods. Each had surrendered his life for the 'hood.


The neighborhood history traces the roots of VNE - Varrio Nuevo Estrada - to the 1940’s, during the World War II period. The geographical area surrounding the Estrada Courts Housing Projects was not exclusive to its street gang notoriety but is steeped in fierce community pride. Bus drivers, cops, real estate agents, preachers, sports stars, bankers and former gangsters shared a common bond to the Projects. The neighborhood was home to Roosevelt High School three-sport super star Willie Davis, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers immediately after graduating from high school in 1958. He was a two-time World Series champion and affectionately nicknamed “3 Dog” for his uniform number and blazing speed on the bases. Mike Garrett was a star running back at Roosevelt who went on to play at USC, was a Heisman trophy winner and a Super Bowl Champion with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Willie Davis and Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley (1970)

Mike Garrett -USC (1965)

I often talk about how the Boyle Heights Estrada Courts Projects was notorious for producing three types of career individuals: cops, preachers and gang members. In those rare occasions that bring me back to Los Angeles, I am inevitably drawn to the neighborhood where an invisible magnet pulls me back to my gangster beginnings. I was more than just a survivor of that world. I was the product of a dysfunctional attitude, which found more honor in killing for the neighborhood than giving up one’s life for it. Rejected by mainstream society, I evolved into a gladiator and predator.

David from White Fence was an older gangster - a veterano. Five years my senior, he was held in high esteem in his neighborhood. David Mungia and his family were especially close to me and our mothers had been close friends. On a sunny California summer afternoon in 1963 I was across the street painting Don Simon's house. I was a decent kid in those days. Suddenly, I remember seeing David as he literally came crashing through his back door. Like a wild injured boar he scampered frantically and hurdled over the chain link fence that bordered our houses. From atop the ladder I saw the streaming tears cascading down his panicked face as he pounded on our front door. My mom quickly let him in to use the telephone. His mother Celia had suffered a massive heart attack and was already dead when the paramedics arrived. To this day I can still feel David's anguish.

Five years later, I sought to renew my childhood friendship with him. The decades-old rivalry between Varrio Nuevo and White Fence was the furthest thing from my mind that afternoon. The fact I was alone and unarmed should have been sufficient evidence of my peaceful intentions. Instead, fate intervened when I entered the Euclid Teen Center. I wore the typical East L.A. cholo attire. My khaki pants were one size too large around the waist, with starched creases and flared at the bottom; an unbuttoned brown and white patterned Pendleton long-sleeved shirt, a brand new Towncraft t-shirt underneath (no Fruit-Of-The5

Loom for me); my dark cordovan Stacy Adams shoes were immaculate and painstakingly spit-shined. From the upper floor the familiar clamor of a neighborhood party was evident. Oldies-but-goodies music blared loudly. The White Fence dudes and their chavalas - their ladies - were indulging in a "members only" weekend Budweiser bash. Upon entering the teen center, I was confronted by a group of chavalones - about five younger White Fence members in their early teens. They were stone drunk, talking crazy, and were obviously in no mood for civil conversation, especially from one of their most hated rivals. As I quickly assessed my predicament, I silently cursed myself for making such a dumb move. It was one thing to meet socially with a member of a rival gang in a neutral location. But to wade into hostile territory on a weekend party night and not expose oneself to hostilities was just unrealistic not to mention quite ignorant. Choosing my words carefully and displaying no fear, I matter-of-factly explained my presence. I was seeking out one of their homeboys - my old friend David. Two of them were quickly in my face and the overwhelming stench of alcohol was on their breaths as they began the interrogation. From my peripheral view, I detected the presence of another person entering the room. Cowboy from White Fence appeared and assumed the role of spokesman. He demanded to know what neighborhood I represented. Unwavering, I announced I was from Varrio Nuevo. From upstairs the familiar lyrics from “In The Still Of The Night” could be heard as a sudden hush descended among my soon-to-be assailants, like the proverbial silent lull before the storm. They checked me out coldly and Cowboy slowly turned his back to me. I detected a slight nod in the direction of his homies. Then the rout was on. Hit from all directions, I was punched, dropped, kicked, stomped upon, whacked with a two-by-four, and I heard and felt beer bottles breaking over my head. The intermingling taste of beer and blood was nearly as bitter as the helpless feeling of despair. I tried in vain to shield my body against the onslaught by curling up in a fetal position but the assault was furious and unrelenting. In the midst of the whirlwind of confusion, the only concern I had - even more than dying - was how this was going to be one fucked up way to go. I had surely let the neighborhood down, I recall thinking bitterly. It was apparent I was destined to become but another passing stat in the following day’s obituary column.

Then, like magic, I heard the voice of an angel. She was screaming almost in my ear and pleading on my behalf as my assailants strove to finish me off. "Leave him alone! He knows David!" She pleaded. She literally saved my ass. The beating stopped and almost at once they began to express their drunken apologies. The frenzy-filled and unmerciful mob which had moments ago been seriously intent on meting out their justice to an unwelcomed intruder was miraculously transformed into sorrowful intoxicated creatures of repentance. "Sorry homes,” I heard one of them stammering.

Another by the name of Bobby Loco extended his hand. I knew better than to antagonize them again by refusing their peaceful gestures but I couldn't bring myself to shake any of their hands and instead covered my bleeding head wounds. "That's alright, man. Don't worry about it.” Stumbling toward the entrance, I made it outside to my car. I had survived. As I made my escape, I had to will myself to stay within the legal speed limit. I did not need a cop to pull me over and see the blood. That would only interfere and delay my plans for immediate retribution. Someone would pay dearly this


night, I vowed to myself! As I drove toward the neighborhood I felt a fiery rage coupled with uncontrollable excitement. I was anticipating my first major street gang confrontation. Not only had they humiliated me personally, but more grievous was the disrespect directed at the ‘hood. An attack by our longtime mortal enemy (the VNE-White Fence rivalry went back to the late-1940s) was an infraction that required swift and sweet retaliation.

"Respond with violence;” "Retaliate immediately;” "Whatever you do in life, do it right.” These excerpts of sagacious advice previously passed on to me from my stepfather and a former street gang buddy replayed itself in my mind as I weaved through the evening traffic en route to the Projects. I was nineteen years into my existence and flirting with death. I was also venting my rage against everybody who had ever gotten in my face in my lifetime. Arriving at the Projects, I spotted the homeboys kicking back on the grass at the Circle, a favorite gathering spot. It was our weekend custom to socialize by downing some Bud, exchange banter, rehash old war stories, and concoct new criminal schemes. I had their immediate attention when I swerved into the parking lot in front of the rental office. I wasn't a pretty sight and they must have seen the devil himself in my frenzy-filled eyes. No one asked questions. Little Robert volunteered to collect whatever weapons were needed.

Big Art Ramos, a homeboy whose handgun collection was always available for our excursions, was out partying. I was not in a waiting mood. We reverted to our only immediate recourse. Stashed beneath the artificial grass in the Circle were five pipes with taped handles and a machete.

It was in May of 1969 that I fought the ultimate battle in defense of the neighborhood's honor. One by one we piled into my '53 Chevy. There was Black Peter Medina, Little Robert Rios, his brother Sammy, Bobby from the Tiny's and Ralph from the PeeWee's. Eager to avenge the neighborhood's honor they shouted drunken encouragements and promises of retribution as I drove off to the teen center. I was ready to prove my macho for the barrio. Six of us were crammed inside my Chevy as I drove with reckless abandon from the Projects up Whittier Boulevard. The blood was still streaming down my face from the ass-kicking I had received at the hands of our adversaries. My avenging homeboys and I were praying silently that our rivals would still be partying at the Euclid Teen Center. It was already dark when we arrived at the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Euclid Avenue. The headlights were extinguished as I drove slowly into a side street. From the limited selection of weapons available this night, I had instantly chosen to brandish the machete. I groped on the floorboard until I reassuringly felt the taped handle. Although no activity could be detected - no more music was playing we were certain many of them remained in the building from the identity of the familiar cars parked outside the center. Also, the lights were still on inside.

I do not remember bringing my car to a braking halt. I yelled, "Go!" and was the first to exit the vehicle. I headed toward the entrance and the door was ajar. I kicked it open and came face to face with one of my nemeses. Fuzzy from White Fence was heavy-set and wore a black-and-white long-sleeved Pendleton shirt. He also wore a universal expression that precedes your worst nightmare. The predator met the prey as our eyes met for an instant. His eyes widened as he reached for a beer bottle in a feeble attempt to defend himself. I swung head high and the machete shattered the bottle, which successfully deflected the blow that may have otherwise detatched his head from the rest of him. Fuzzy cowered against the wall pleading for mercy as I


approached him. Because of the crowded confines at the bottom of the staircase landing area, I was unable to properly finish him off. I did not want to risk hitting one of my homeboys with a slicing backswing as they rushed past me. Instead, I proceeded to stab Fuzzy in the chest and stomach as he screamed in protest. From the second floor I could hear the rumble of the fierce struggle that was underway. I decided to leave my wounded victim and raced upstairs to join the bigger battle. "Que viva Vamo Nuevo!" I yelled.

We were outnumbered by at least two to one but when the guys from White Fence saw me emerge with the machete, they ran for the stairwell. An eyewitness later testified in court that she saw a tall "white guy" swinging a machete wildly. She pointed me out at the preliminary hearing. Possessed by demons, I became temporarily insane that night and was totally unconcerned for my personal safety. But the rage and hostility I felt inside had suddenly transformed into a combination of controlled anger and an unusually vivid awareness of my immediate hostile surroundings. I felt complete disregard for life or limb as well as disdain for the consequences of my violent actions. I was making my bones for the barrio.

As our antagonists scurried for cover via a rear stairway, I caught up with one who was wielding a pipe and battling with my homeboy Ralph. I swung the machete and caught him flush on the forehead. His body slumped to the ground like a heavy sack. I remember swinging until I felt he was no longer a threat to us. While he was down I slashed at his prone body again...and again...and again. The L.A. medical examiner later testified that his head had been nearly detached from his body. He would never again be a threat to anyone. Robert "Bobby Loco" Lopez expired at the scene.

As I retreated toward the staircase I felt compelled to look back. I shot a parting glance toward the crumpled body and became transfixed. His body was twitching involuntarily on the second floor. Time stood still, frozen momentarily, and the sight of my victim going through his death throes held me spellbound. It is an indelible snapshot, which will forever be etched in my mind. To this day, the morbid recollection is not a pleasant one to dwell upon. There was a victory party that night at Tutie's home in Pico Rivera. We were congratulated by the homeboys for holding up the neighborhood flag and swiftly retaliating against our adversaries. That was in 1969 and my head was as big as a watermelon as I had proven myself for the hood.


Chapter 2. Mexican Mafia Early History

Twelve years earlier another group of gang members were meeting in northern California. They formed a much deadlier group. In the beginning it was just a branch of street gangs from Los Angeles who were incarcerated together at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy. D.V.I. was then considered the last stop for California's most incorrigible and violent inmates, or wards, as they were dubbed by the California Youth Authority. In those days the street gangs would perpetuate their barrio conflicts from the neighborhoods on the outside to the CYA institutions and other jail facilities. Vengeance was swiftly meted out to gang members who had wronged a rival on the outside and, as in the free world the stronger would prevail over the weaker foe. The main difference was that once inside there was literally nowhere to run and, as the famous Motown song continued, “Nowhere to hide.” The California Youth Authority inmate community included street gang toughs from the MexicanAmerican barrios of Los Angeles. The majority of these gangsters hailed from the eastside. These incorrigible teenagers strongly identified with their fellow imprisoned gang confederates, or "homeboys,” as they affectionately called each other. The term “homeboy” was used well before any rap song was ever invented. In their quest to learn about themselves culturally, inmates serving extended sentences became intimately acquainted with their ancestors. The Chicano gang member specifically claimed his roots back to the warlike Indian tribes of centuries gone by.

The ancient Toltec and Aztec Indians were among the favorites and the Yaquis and Apaches of the notso-distant past are likewise a source of pride and inspiration for these contemporary street warriors. Like their popular role models, the street gang member is extremely clannish, preferring to settle most disputes with violence. It is from these closely-knit and proud cultures, from which the present day Mexicano was borne, that we hear the ever frequent use of sobriquets such as "Geronimo," "Mangas Colorado," "Cuchillo," "Crazy Horse," "Chato" and countless others.


During the 1920's, as thousands of Mexican families streamed into the United States to fill the need for railroad and farm labor, there were about 100,000 Mexicans living in California. By 1930, this number had nearly quadrupled with approximately three-fourths of them residing in the southern part of the state. Among these early immigrants was a wave of Mexican-American families from El Paso, Texas, who began to settle in Los Angeles. Riding the crest of the great Mexican migratory waves to California beginning in the early twentieth century, these people were known as Pachucos. Like their Indian ancestors they were clannish and did not readily conform to American society. They had their own manner of behavior, dress, walk and talk that made them distinctive. They were also called Zootsuiters by the American press because of the baggy Zootsuit pants the men wore.

Eventually, they influenced the local youth as they became fascinated by the uniqueness of the Pachuco. What was especially attractive to them was, not only were they a breed apart from the general Mexican population but they offered a distinctiveness to those that agreed with the rebellious spirit that existed in the local barrios. This was during a period of time in which Mexicans experienced a high degree of racial discrimination and social alienation. As the Mexican population grew in the Los Angeles area, barrios sprouted everywhere. Neighborhoods adopted names such as Dog Town, Mateo Street, White Fence, among others, and geographical boundaries delineated and separated each mini-nation. In defense of their territorial turfs, inevitable feuds ensued between neighborhoods and the men would fight to protect and maintain the sanctity of their barrio. Victorious homeboys basked in the glory of having prevailed in street combat. The more aggressive gang members went about the serious business of establishing violent reputations. Along with the reps came the celebrity status. A completely abnormal social value system was established.

People passed away and time marched forward but the barrios and their territorial boundaries remained while new gangs sprouted in previously unclaimed sections of East Los Angeles and throughout the city. The barrios became increasingly more regimented as the "vatos locos " - the crazy dudes - formed deadlier gangs to defend their home turfs.

LOS A NG ELES STREET GANGS Historical Beginnings 1900

Dog Town {DT23) l8thStreet


Hawaiian Gardens (HG) 1920*5 Clanton Street {C24} ....... 1922 White Fence (WF) (Also known as Cerco Blanco) 2930*5 Hoyo Maravtlla (HM).......... ............ ............................................... XB3G*5 The Avenues (Ave 5} (Also known as LasAvenidas)....... ....... .... 2940*5 Big Hazard (BH)(Also known as Hazard Grande)....................... 2942 Varrio Nuevo Estrada (VHE)....................................................... early 2940*5 San Fer {SF23).... ....................................... ............... ........ . 1943 Compton Varrio Tres (CV3)......................................................... 1950*5 Flcrencia (F23). ................. . early igEc’s x8r Street ................. ......... ................ ......... ........................... . early igSo's


In addition to the deranged values, these gangs possessed the characteristics of a close-knit family. The unity and intense pride instilled within them a fervent sense of community, companionship, protectiveness and even love. The hardcore members were even willing to die for each other. Throughout the city traditional rivalries handed down from one generation to another pitted Varrio Nuevo against White Fence, Wilmas versus San Pedro, Norwalk against Canta Ranas, Clover versus The Avenues, San Fernando and Pacoima, Hoyo Maravilla versus White Fence, etc.

The Indian nicknames of the 18th and 19th centuries were once again heard, this time in the barrios, and generated the same fear and respect they once commanded amongst the old tribes. There was Indio from Hoyo Mara, for example, Crow from Big Hazard, Caballo from Varrio Nuevo, Geronimo from Primera Flats, and Topo from Hoyo Soto, as well as the more contemporary handles such as Sailor Boy from Varrio Nuevo, Shotgun from Hoyo Soto, Robot from Big Hazard and Kilroy from White Fence. The year was 1957. At the Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy, California, Louis "Huero Buff Flores introduced an idea that would unite the street gangs once and for all. Huero Flores proposed a prison supergang, one in which the leaders of the street gangs represented inside could join hands as allies and "Carnales" - brothers - a more appealing alternative to perpetuating their bloody gang warfare into the prison system. Cognizant of the many egos he had to contend with, Flores suggested a purely democratic system in which everyone was equal and no single member could give orders to another.

BIRTHPLACE OF THE MEXICAN MAFIA (1957 ) Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI)



Gladiator School

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Founder: “Huero BufT from Hawaiian Gardens

Their common goal would be to organize the barrios, at least to the point that they would not tangle while incarcerated, control the heroin trafficking within the institution, and, upon release to the free world, organize a deadly cartel for the purpose of continuing in the narcotics business and other lucrative criminal activities. The idea was extremely attractive then and there were plenty of aspiring gangsters who shared Flores' dream. Flores' brainstorm was received enthusiastically thus giving birth to the gang of gangs - La Mafia Mexicana. In obvious imitation of their Italian namesake, the name Mexican Mafia was chosen with calculation for the purpose of generating fear among the inmate population and to proudly


proclaim their superiority. They were an amalgamation of Los Angeles' mightiest street gangs rolled up into one supreme gang. This unholy alliance allowed otherwise feuding gangs to bury their hatchets and combine their street talents and savvy for mutual criminal pursuits within the institution. Initially, from 1957 to 1959, there were approximately two dozen Mexican Mafia members at D.V.I. and they wasted no time in establishing their reputation of terror. They began robbing inmates of their possessions - prison ducats, canteen goods, and drugs - while making examples of those who would dare oppose their demands. It was just a game to them at that time and they were enjoying themselves. As Louis “Huero” Flores later related to me, "It was a kid's trip then, just a branch of our homeboys from East L.A. If I felt like killing somebody, I would. If I didn't, I wouldn't. We were just having fun then. The power we enjoyed was intoxicating.”

In the beginning years, Mexican Mafia membership increased and new ideas were introduced, egos would oftentimes clash and disagreements would inevitably arise. Identifying strongly with their Mexican heritage, they felt a cultural disconnect with the term Mafia and several Carnales voiced their objections. Instead of being original and unique, went the complaint, the word Mafia appeared more synonymous with the Italians. Many of the original members wanted to change the name entirely. In order to placate these members, Rudy "Cheyenne" Cadena, one of the most influential Mexican Mafia members after Flores' transfer to San Quentin in 1958, offered a solution. He suggested the term EME be incorporated along with Mafia, thereby allowing the members to identify themselves as being either from the "Mafia Mexicana,” "EME Mexicana,” or both. This proved to be acceptable by all the Carnales and the introduction of the term EME was added to their vocabulary.

The term EME thus accomplished two things: First, it created a satisfactory compromise eliminating the bickering regarding name identification. Secondly, EME became a term that was thereafter utilized as a code name which prison guards were initially unfamiliar with. EME (pronounced "EH-meh") is the Spanish phonetic pronunciation of the 13th letter "m" and, having the desired Hispanic flavor, was subsequently coined exclusively by members of the Mexican Mafia throughout the California prison system. EME was used interchangeably with the term Mafia or by itself. Example: Mundo is from the EME. In the prison and street underbelly, with the passage of time, La EME would soon evolve into a household name.

In 1961, Cheyenne was transferred to San Quentin. Officials at D.V.I., alarmed at the uncontrollable escalation of violence there, decided to relocate their most incorrigible inmates to San Quentin. The idea was to deter and discourage their violent activities by intermingling them with hardened adult convicts. The attempt backfired. San Quentin immediately experienced what was then an unprecedented wave of assaults and murders. These occurred, not coincidentally, shortly after the arrival of the D.V.I. misfits. The San Quentin Big Yard soon became a reunion site for most of these D.V.I. "graduates.” Intent on carving their special niche and establishing themselves within the prison population, charter EME Carnales introduced themselves to the yard in dramatic fashion. The first documented and validated Mexican Mafia prison murder occurred in the prison’s vocational area on December 12, 1961, when inmate Abel Nevarez was stabbed to death with a prison made shank by EME member Alfredo “Cuate” Jimenez. Nevarez, who sustained 18 stab wounds to his arms and chest, was killed because he was infringing on the Mexican Mafia’s San Quentin drug trade and taking away their profits. The murder served two purposes - effectively eliminating a drug competitor, and it also established their reputation as an entity to be feared.


Abel Nevarez Evidence Photographs

Seven days later, on December 19, inmate Thomas Devers was stabbed to death inside the prison gym by Mexican Mafia member Mike “Acha” Ison. Acha (Spanish for the word hatchet) was also dubbed “Killer Mike” because of the coldblooded manner in which he executed his victims. Making an intended target feel at ease, Acha would smooth talk his prey while escorting him to a blind spot - a location in the prison where guards could not observe - and there the victim would meet his demise. Devers was stabbed six times before he collapsed in the weight lifting room. Staff members responded to the incident but could not stop the bleeding. Devers was pronounced dead at 3:05 p.m. Acha was apprehended five minutes later near the main domino tables by Officer L.C. Scott. Acha had a large quantity of blood on his right pocket short sleeve jacket. Acha pleaded not guilty to all charges but was found guilty by the disciplinary committee. He was assessed only 29 days of isolation and the case was referred to the district attorney’s office.

Thomas Devers Evidence Photographs The third fatal stabbing occurred four days later, on December 23, when inmate Robert “Bobby Loco” Lopez was stabbed to death by Jesus “Liro” Pedroza, a young gang member from the Primera Flats gang in East Los Angeles. The EME’s arrogance and ruthlessness on display in these incidents, the notion that they would represent and defend fellow Mexican-American inmates was quickly being dispelled.


Conflicting inmate reports given to gang Sargeant William Hankins named Michael “Acha” Ison as the Lopez killer. According to Hankins’ sources, the EME had moved in on one of the biggest narcotics dealers and gambling bookies in San Quentin whose chief enforcer was Lopez. When initially approached by EME, this dealer laughed in their faces and echoed the thoughts of prison officers when he told them “Aren’t you the punks from DVI? This is the big leagues.”

Evidence Photographs of the Robert Lopez Murder Robert "Bobby Loco" Lopez (same exact true name and nickname of my street gang victim in 1969) staggered aimlessly across the upper yard. He then spun around slowly and crumpled onto the asphalt. Bobby Loco stared into the clear blue sky as his life's blood oozed from his convulsing body.

In the chronological sequence of events of the Mexican Mafia’s early timeline, their complete disdain for authority was manifested on June 26, 1963. Officer Connie Prock was stabbed to death at DVI by Doroteo “Sleepy” Betancourt and David “Moose” Bazure. Demonstrating to the inmate population the caliber of individual they coveted and sought for recruitment into their deadly cartel, the duo were convicted and given life sentences and became EME members shortly after being transferred to San Quentin. As of the writing of this updated edition (2017), “Sleepy” Betancourt, who was already serving a life sentence for the 1963 DVI slaying of Officer Connie Prock, has been behind bars for over 53 consecutive years. This gives him the distinction of being the longest tenured prison gang member in penal history.



In the early- 1960's, a volatile period in the California prison system, EME's membership swelled to well over thirty hardcore members who were willing and eager to kill for the gang at the drop of a hat. Still, they were no more than a large gang of prison terrorists. That is, until the idea of implementing a more organized and permanent system was conceived. Led by "Huero" Flores and "Cheyenne" Cadena, they introduced a system for the Mexican Mafia that would forever change their future. Among the pioneers who shared in this new structure were Alejandro "Hondo" Lechuga, Mike "Acha" Ison, Gabriel "Little Sluggo" Castaneda, Benjamin "Topo" Peters, Joe "Colorado" Ariaz, Ernest “Kilroy” Roybal, Conrad “Big D” Garcia, and Ricardo "Richie" Ruiz. Richie had been Cheyenne's crime partner on the streets. They were instrumental in what is the present day Mexican Mafia. EME, the more acceptable condensed code name for the gang, adopted "Huero" Flores' and "Cheyenne's" system in which every member would be required to be sponsored by at least one other member. Each soldado was to take a death oath. They were pledging their allegiance to the organization for life and the only way out of the organization was to be executed. The basic rules were spelled out: The EME and a Carnal always came first, even before one's own family.

A member was never to attack nor threaten another brother and if a personal conflict arose between two members they were required to avoid each other. In the event that a hit assignment or any other task was entrusted jointly to two members who didn't see eye to eye, they were admonished to never, under penalty of death, allow their personal differences to interfere with their assignment or with EME business. Existence of the Mexican Mafia was never to be acknowledged to the authorities. EME would recruit only those possessing qualities such as fearlessness, aggressiveness and ruthlessness. The emphasis would always be on quality as opposed to quantity. EME would not tolerate doubt or hesitation and one was never to show fear or weakness. Members were required to risk and even sacrifice their own lives, if necessary, to assist another Carnal or to perform a "suicide" hit. It was agreed upon that violation of just about any rule would be punishable by swift and certain death.



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There was a definite appeal for EME members, hardened by life sentences and having done several years in the C.Y.A. and state prison system, to dedicate their lives to making a determined career out of crime. It was the “special forces” of the gang underworld. In the EME’s early history, initiation not only required sponsorship by at least one member within the prison system, but a unanimous vote was also necessary to confirm one’s membership. One “thumbs down” (dissenting) vote translated into no membership. An EME soldado had to be ready and willing to kill for the organization and if there ever arose an occasion that a new member's aggressiveness was in doubt, he would be required to undergo a test to prove his worthiness. This would usually entail that he carry out a hit for the EME to demonstrate his ongoing loyalty and courage.

Although joining the Mexican Mafia represented a much more profound and binding commitment than the allegiance to their street gang confederates, they maintained close ties with their "homeboys.” In the barrio, upon learning of one of theirs becoming a Mafioso, homeboys interpreted leaving the 'hood for the EME as a graduation to the big time rather than an abandonment of the street gang. Indeed, EME members would explain to their fellow homeboys that they were still supportive of the barrio but had a much deeper obligation to the Mexican Mafia. Once a made member, the EME became the first priority. As representatives of their respective gangs, they become role models for the youngsters to emulate. The neighborhoods became a fertile source from which to "raise" future aspiring soldados and amicable ties were maintained and encouraged by the EME.

On November 15, 1963, Tony Chacon from the Lopez Maravilla gang was stabbed to death in the San Quentin Adjustment Center by EME's "Richie" Ruiz, Michael “Acha” Ison and Jesus “Liro” Pedroza. The Maravilla gang, by far the largest gang in East L.A., was also the largest, numerically, inside the prison system. At that time their imprisoned members were about equal in size to the EME's membership. But EME was much more ruthless. Not only had they recruited the cream of the crop, this included the most vicious members from the Maravilla gang. After the Chacon hit, bad feelings developed between the EME and Maravilla.


Since every EME member is a leader in his street gang, his membership usually guarantees the support of his homeboys. Such was not the case with Maravilla. Having been accustomed over the years, prior to EME's formation, to the respect from the prison population, they saw their leadership role supplanted almost overnight by the emergence of the EME - the supergang - and stubbornly refused to show deference to them. Chacon had been one of those disgruntled Maravilla malcontents and he made the mistake of badmouthing the EME. It was literally a fatal mistake as well as his last. As EME enjoyed control of San Quentin's yard, fatal incidents arose. On August 8, 1964, Leotis “Charles” White, a Black convict, was stabbed to death by early Mexican Mafia member Alejandro “Hondo”Lechuga. In the same incident, White’s accomplice, William Stokes, was also stabbed and seriously wounded. Throughout the investigation, information received indicated White had previously stabbed Hondo in an incident on October 8, 1961, while the two were housed at Soledad State Prison. According to confidential sources, Hondo and White had a disagreement over the ownership rights to an inmate. Reunited at San Quentin, White yelled obscenities at EME inmates from his cell and singled out Hondo by name.

Hondo insisted on personally making an example of his vocal antagonist. He also saw this as another opportunity for the EME to demonstrate its prowess in hand-to-hand prison combat. When the cell gates were racked open for release to the exercise yard, Hondo confronted White on the tier and proceeded to brutally and systematically stab him to death. Another "cell soldier,” a derisive prison label for a loud mouth who talked a good fight from the confines of his cell, had bit the dust. Stokes, who survived, was collateral damage who was at the wrong place. By this time EME had begun to flex its muscles and controlled San Quentin's narcotics trafficking as well as gambling, loansharking and other black market activities inside the prison walls. Even accommodating prison guards were utilized to smuggle in narcotics, pornography and other items of comfort that were not readily available or were illegal to possess. EME's influence rapidly spread to other prison yards. At Folsom, "Acha" assumed the leadership role and became known as one of EME's most feared enforcers. "Pelon" Moreno became "Acha's" right-hand man and was considered pound for pound the deadliest man in the California prison system. The Mexican Mafia's reputation for sparse rhetoric followed them wherever they went.


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Joseph "Pegleg Joe" Morgan was a longtime Folsom resident who was highly respected by his criminal peers. He admired the reckless and ruthless style of the EME and maintained a close relationship with "Acha" and other EME members. In the latter '60's, he joined the EME and was affectionately dubbed "Cocoliso" by his Carnales, who often incorporated ancient Aztec handles and utilized them as code names for EME members. Joe would eventually assume the defacto role of Godfather of the organization.

At D.V.I., on May 15, 1966, Manuel "Mad Korean" Everva, an EME soldier, recruited the assistance of an associate in what was thought to be a foolproof escape plan. Manuel had been in contact with people on the outside who had offered to help him escape from the courthouse in San Joaquin County. In order for a D.V.I. inmate to appear in court in San Joaquin County, a serious criminal offense within the institution would need to occur. This offense would not only have to be serious in nature but, more importantly, serious enough for the prison staff to seek outside criminal prosecution. Murder would fit the bill. Reginald "Reggie Green Eyes" Gutierrez became his candidate. Manuel and his accomplice, Ralph "Chicas" Chacon, from Delano, confronted him on the Adjustment Center exercise yard and stabbed him fourteen times. They were subsequently charged with murder and referred to the district attorney's office for criminal prosecution. Manuel had indeed succeeded in assuring himself of a certain ride to the courthouse for his planned rendezvous. But when his outside contacts failed to materialize at the courthouse, Manuel and "Chicas" were rewarded with life sentences.


Chapter 3. The Shoe War

Manuel "Manny" Saucedo was from the Temple Street gang in Los Angeles. Like countless other San Quentin residents, he disapproved of EME's bullying tactics on the yard. Manny committed his blunder when he vocalized his displeasure to the wrong convict. The EME had "ears" throughout the prison system and this information quickly traveled to the ears of one Steve "Calote" Amador. After receiving this news, he and Luis "Bala" Talamantes agreed to take on the assignment. Other EME soldados, with nothing better to do and eager to get a piece of Manny, decided to join in on the fun. Pedro "Bogus Pete" Nunez, "Riko" Diaz, Richard "Mosca" Solis and Carlos "Carlitos" Ortega were hanging out on the lower yard next to the baseball bleachers when Manny walked past them. Taken by surprise, he was grabbed from the collar and pulled into the lion’s den. Manny was exposed from every conceivable angle and was stabbed repeatedly. In this particular instance, this overkill - EME's way of expressing its distaste for an adversary - probably saved Manny's life. His assailants were unable to set him up properly because they became more concerned with not hitting one of their own in the crowded confines rather than performing the job properly. In spite of their extreme caution, Carlitos emerged with a stab wound. A large vein in his upper arm had been severed and small geysers of blood spurted onto the asphalt. Bleeding profusely, he was led to a blind spot in an area known as "the alley.” There, Calote applied a tourniquet with his t-shirt in an attempt to stem the blood flow. In the excitement, Carlitos had been hit by “Bogus Pete.”

"Riko" Diaz appeared, having escaped from the original crime scene where Manny lie bleeding, and examined Carlitos' wound. Shaking his head in feigned horror he eyed Carlitos' wrist watch. "Brother," he said with a serious expression, "it sure looks like you're not gonna make it. Since you're gonna die, you might as well leave me your watch.” Despite his weakened condition, Carlitos managed a surprising burst of energy as he forced his body upright. "Go fuck yourself!" He spat angrily. Riko, Calote and the others could no longer maintain their serious demeanor. They roared with laughter while Carlitos shook his head in disapproval. He was a fellow brother, immobilized and bleeding profusely, possibly dying, and Riko had the nerve to entertain the insensitive notion of salvaging a lousy watch.

Such was the way of life with the Mexican Mafia. In the face of adversity, in the midst of their madness they managed to joke and have fun. After what seemed like an eternity to Carlitos, the hospital gurney finally arrived and he was wheeled away by the green clad prison medics. A few days later in the hospital recovery room, Carlitos had regained most of his strength along with his sense of humor. He peeked into the intensive care section where Manny was plugged into a life support apparatus. Next to Manny's hospital bed a prison guard hovered protectively. "Geez, Manny. What happened to you? Are you gonna be o.k., brother?"

Carlitos pretended to be concerned as the guard watched with caution and some amusement. Manny clenched his teeth and his eyes communicated sheer hatred. He was well aware that Carlitos had been one of the assailants. He simply nodded slowly. "Hey Manny. If there's anything I can do for you, anything,” he emphasized, "just let me know, o.k.?" Again Manny nodded. This performance was for the benefit of the guard who was studying them attentively. True to the convict code, neither Carlitos nor Manny would display or reveal their true feelings in the presence of the Man.


The events that led up to the "Shoe War" were an accumulation of incidents where EME members preyed indiscriminately on other Chicano inmates. EME had previously preferred to oppress predominately convicts of white or Black ancestry.

Weakness, in the extreme sense, was not an admirable characteristic of the macho convict. EME's exploitation of Chicano convicts who lacked fortitude was generally tolerated by the Chicano convict population. But the line had to be drawn at some point.

EME's appetites grew and they broadened their pressure to the "mainline" Chicanos as well. This included many who had been closely associated with them. I have always maintained that the EME was an equal opportunity exploiter and anyone with other illusions was in for a rude education. 'Many of the Mexican-American convicts who were bullied by the EME hailed from Northern California communities. In sharp contrast to their more regimented and streetwise counterparts from Los Angeles, they were very unorganized and lacked the aggressiveness and street savvy that was necessary to survive in the prison jungles. The Nortenos or "Los del Norte" - those from the north - were generally considered square or lame and thus inferior to the L.A. city slickers who exploited them. The northerners were constantly harassed by EME and forced to surrender their prison luxuries and items of comfort such as wrist watches, rings, shoes and anything that could either be enjoyed by EME or sold on the prison black market.

EME's biggest miscalculation was their abuse and alienation of street gang members from the Los Angeles and southern California areas. The tension between EME and Maravilla had already produced a severance of friendly ties and potential allies became quiet but resentful opponents. In the mid 1960's, none of the inmate population, not even Maravilla, dared to force a violent confrontation with EME. Instead, there existed a silent alliance amongst Chicano factions who deplored EME's oppressiveness. EME's insatiable greed and drive for total control at the expense of their fellow Chicano convicts generated resistance in the form of a new prison gang, "La Nuestra Familia" - Our Family. It was at the California Training Facility in Soledad that the Nuestra Familia was secretly formed by Gonzalo "Chalo" Hernandez from Bakersfield, Freddy Gonzales from San Diego, Bruce "Huero" Morgan and John "Little John" Lopez, both from Los Angeles. Created in the mid-1960’s to respond and counter EME's continued pressure tactics against Chicanos, the founders of the NF were themselves eventually transferred to San Quentin where they took advantage of the situation there to recruit new members.

They also succeeded in aligning themselves with sympathetic forces who sought the umbrella of the NF's protection. The Nuestra Familia was for the most part comprised of Chicano inmates from rural communities such as Fresno, San Jose, Oxnard, Stockton, Modesto, Merced and Salinas. As the anti-EME sentiment grew, the NF quietly made plans for a confrontation with the more aggressive EME. Meanwhile, almost oblivious to the growing threat emerging in their midst, EME disdainfully and arrogantly continued to carry out their hits without mercy against anyone who dared to offer opposition or cross them in any way.


James "Sonny" Pena made such a mistake. Sonny was a popular member of El Hoyo Maravilla - an East L.A. gang. Sonny had a reliable heroin contact on the outside. He received a frequent supply via various prison smuggling routes including a weekly routine with a female visitor from his neighborhood. But Sonny made a pact with the devil. His arrangement with the Mexican Mafia required that he surrender a percentage of his take to them. On one occasion Sonny failed to report. No explanation or excuse would suffice for his failure to fulfill his commitment. Unsympathetic to Sonny's lame explanation for his inability to deliver, his story fell on deaf ears and EME decided that he should pay with his life. He would be made an example to Maravilla and anybody who conducted business with EME and reneged. If you fucked up, you suffered the ultimate consequence. On February 4, 1968, Sonny was stabbed to death on the upper yard by Robert "Robot" Salas, then a relatively newer member of the organization who was eager to make his bones. Sonny's murder infuriated his Maravilla homeboys who vowed amongst themselves to avenge his death. Urged by members of the NF, northerners and other sympathetic Chicano convicts, a meeting was held on the lower yard to discuss the volatile situation.

Evidence Photographs of the Sonny Pena Murder At that time there remained about a dozen EME members on the main population who, although always on the point for telltale signs of dissension or hostile intentions, welcomed an armed confrontation with the disgruntled population. But the heat of the moment passed and passions subsided as the Mexican Mafia's opponents elected to wait. For the EME, numerical inferiority was never an obstacle to lose any sleep over. In the eleven years that the Mexican Mafia had been in existence up to that point, there were never more than fifteen members in the main population of any prison. Their numbers would fluctuate with those confined in lock-up areas such as the Adjustment Centers and segregation units always exceeding those EME members on the general population. The straw that broke the camel's back resulted from a dispute over a pair of shoes. Carlitos had noticed a nice looking pair on the floor of a fifth tier cell and while the occupants slept, he managed to retrieve them and hastened away. To his disappointment he discovered that they were not his size and offered them to Robot. Robot was later confronted by the shoe's owner, Hector Padilla, a Nuestra Familia


associate from San Jose, who accused Robot of ripping him off. After a brief exchange, Robot accosted Hector on the fifth tier of the East Block and began stabbing him. Hector's cell partner was Manuel "Menito" Romero from the Hoyo Maravilla gang. He attempted to pull Robot off Hector and was also stabbed. Hector and Menito both survived but the first shots had been fired.

Unlike the Sonny Pena hit, Robot was spotted by a guard and locked up in B-Section. After his confinement, there remained but a handful of actual EME members on the mainline and their adversaries decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

September the 16th is traditionally observed in prison by the Mexican-American convicts to commemorate Mexico's independence. Symbolically declaring their own freedom, the Nuestra Familia launched a series of planned attacks against the remaining EME members and their staunchest sympathizers - some who would later join the EME for their role in the infamous "Shoe War.” (The Shoe War - The History of Nortenos vs. Sureflos - Mendoza - Police World Publishing 2015) The Nuestra Familia convicts who spearheaded the attacks were, ironically, themselves from Southern California. Juan Valdez and Bruce "Huero" Morgan were from Los Angeles, Robert "Babo" Sosa was from Santa Barbara, "Chalo" Hernandez hailed from Bakersfield and Black Jesse Valenzuela was from Oxnard. Mexican Mafia members Ruben "Frog" Valdez and Luis "Bala" Talamantes were slightly injured when they were met on the yard and in the East Block by an NF force. Unarmed and caught by surprise, Frog managed to take the shank away from Black Jesse and stab him with his own weapon. In A-Section, Juan Valdez (NF) and EME's Ramon "Ponchi" Amado, engaged in a “head up” duel - a one-on-one confrontation. Each suffered numerous stab wounds and separated by guards. Ponchi managed to walk with the escorting officers to the hospital but Juan, weakened from blood loss, had to be transported in a hospital gurney. As the gurney was being rolled into the hospital, other inmates who had been locked inside watched the wounded enter. Raul "Dopey" Montez, then an EME associate,


recognized Juan who was securely strapped into the gurney. Dopey shoved past the hospital attendants and punched a bleeding and helpless adversary in the face overturning the gurney in the process. Dopey was subdued by guards and Juan was whisked away to the care of medical personnel. Meanwhile, in D-Section, another group of convicts had been locked in from the action by alert guards. Many of the curious congregated by the thick door at the front of the unit. There they attempted to catch sight of the skirmishes as gunshots exploded and reverberated throughout the prison and guards' whistles pierced the air. The tension was thick and convicts refused to expose their backs to anyone for fear of being hit by mistake. One inmate observer who had been locked in was an EME associate named Archie "Cricket" Gallego, from the Diamond gang in Los Angeles. He bitterly commented that the NF were cowards and had waited for most of the EME members to get locked up before attacking. Unbeknownst to Cricket, just a few feet from him stood three NF soldados who, like him, had been unable to participate in the main action. Overhearing his remarks, Cricket was pounced upon by Tomas "Poyo" Montoya from San Jose and Marty from Oakland, who pinned his arms back and held him upright. Robert "Babo" Sosa then proceeded to stab him repeatedly in the upper body. Cricket became the lone fatal casualty of the Shoe War.

These attacks not only succeeded in temporarily ridding the yard of the oppressive EME but gave the prison's control to the Nuestra Familia and its associates. NF propaganda could now boast that they had run the EME off the mainline. Infuriated EME members, the vast majority having already been in lock­ up units throughout the prison for assortments of disciplinary infractions and thus restricted from participating in the battle, vowed to retaliate for what they considered losing face. The Nuestra Familia thus emerged as the second largest prison gang in the California prison system and became a large thorn in the side of the Mexican Mafia. The NF became adept and successful at perpetuating the anti-EME sentiment and as a result managed to keep known EME members in San Quentin from walking the mainline. They shrewdly leaked information to prison guards and "dropped kites" - secret notes - to inform the prison staff that they should not allow EME members out for fear of a war. Meanwhile, EME soldiers seethed in places such as the Adjustment Center and B-Section. There they plotted and waited impatiently for the inevitable day in which they would be able to dispense their familiar and unique brand of justice. Despite these security measures, sporadic stabbings and beatings took place in San Quentin's lock-up units and in other prison areas as enraged EME members retaliated against the NF.

In November-1968, EME's terror was felt at the Central Facility in Soledad. Jimmy Trembley was stabbed repeatedly by Gabriel "Little Sluggo" Castaneda and two associates. After he had been filled with holes, Trembley's body was placed on his bunk and covered and a set of headphones were placed around his head to give the impression that he was asleep listening to music.

At San Quentin, Huero Morgan and Marcus "Tarzan" Castaneda, both NF members, were stabbed by EME's Nicolas "Tomate" Tamayo and Larry "Huesos" Gallegos in guerilla-style attacks. These EME soldados were called “sleepers” because they successfully managed to elude detection from both the prison staff and NF people.

Chalo Hernandez and Black Jesse Valenzuela were two NF members who participated in the Shoe War. Each was sentenced to a few days in Isolation for a minor disciplinary infraction. While serving their time in “the hole,” they were attacked en route to the exercise yard by Bala Talamantes and Manuel "Tati" Torres. They escaped fatal injury when a gun rail guard spotted the altercation and began firing at them, breaking up the attack.


Dennis turned off the cassette and glanced from his empty coffee cup to mine. Want a refill? H Normally not much of a coffee drinker, I was on a roll. Rehashing the “war stories” had a way of stimulating the adrenaline. Add decent coffee to the mix and you have a wired canary. The java I could not handle was the state-issue coffee served in the joint. Now there was a concoction that was strong enough to curl your toes. Dennis was interested in the street gang phenomenon, particularly in the Los Angeles area. The district attorney's office had a special branch - the Hardcore Unit - which handled the most serious street gang prosecutions. Led by James Bascue and colleagues Peter Berman and Pete Hazelle, they were effectively undermining the criminal structure of the gang underworld, according to Dennis, by diligently pursuing the hardcore leaders.

"The street gang members' roots can be traced a long way back.” I explained. "In every instance the family unit plays a vital role and has to bear its share of blame and responsibility for the direction their kids are heading. I'm sure my family accepts their share of blame. But, the final responsibility is definitely ours.” "Well, I'm curious about you, Mundo.” Dennis asked. "You don't talk nor act like the typical barrio person. What was your family like and how did an obviously intelligent person like yourself become involved in a street gang?" "Well, that's another trip, Dennis.” Indeed, it was a story in itself.


Chapter 4. Ramon Angel

Jesus "Chumare" Herrera served in the Mexican army under General Francisco "Pancho" Villa. He was my great uncle and he fought for his beloved Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900's. He also had a serious problem with my grandfather. Of course, it had to do with Mexican politics. The uproar was created primarily because of the ongoing political differences in the post-revolution period, which remained a touchy subject in the old country. The Mendoza-Herrera families had contrasting backgrounds and their differences were deeply ingrained in the hearts of two men. Daniel Mendoza was my grandfather and was descended from a distinguished line of Mexican public servants with Daniel himself having served as a federal customs official, mayor of a small town in the state of Chihuahua and in the Mexican Treasury Department. He was also a staunch supporter of the administration of Mexico’s reformist President Venustiano Carranza.

Uncle Chumare (center)


In 1925, he married Maria Concepcion Herrera, the beautiful daughter of a peasant farmer and younger sister to Chumare. Chumare vehemently opposed the marriage of his baby sister to a hated member of the Diaz regime.

To Chumare, Daniel represented the arrogance of an administration that was too soft in combat. He even accused Daniel of deceiving the Mexican populace in the early 1900's and tricking them out of their land. This was the very same gang of dogs, he erroneously reminded his younger sister, whom Villa and General Emiliano Zapata, the renowned General del Sur, had decisively routed and toppled from power when they defeated the hated federales.

Daniel, on the other hand, regarded Chumare as an illiterate and primitive rebel suffering from shell shock. He accused Chumare of engaging his bloodlust by perpetuating a conflict that had long since terminated and was now being taught in history classes. To him, Chumare was an outlaw and the Villistas were nothing more than a band of sanctioned outlaws and bandidos. Daniel was quick to point


out in those never ending family debates that Villa's inhumane atrocities committed against prisoners of war in his custody and villagers who supported Diaz were comparable to the human sacrifices and mass executions carried out by their maniacal Aztec ancestors. Despite the intense bitterness that existed between them, saner heads and the love between my grandparents prevailed. The two were somehow persuaded to shake hands at the wedding with the influential help of a few well-timed tears from the petite bride-to-be. That was the clincher. Later, at the wedding reception, with family members in attendance from as far south as Guadalajara, relatives from both sides literally tugged at them. They were forced to meet half way when neither offered to take the initiative. The wedding party could not imagine beholding the improbable sight of these two stubborn stalwarts finally coming together.

Daring not to look at each other directly, they grudgingly shook each other's hand while members of both sides of the family hollered drunken encouragement. Amazed and amused at the historic encounter, which was the topic of many pre-nuptial wagers, the crowd roared in unison with thunderous laughter of approval. The two immediately tensed and hastily disengaged their hands as though each had touched a hot coal. The following year Daniel and Maria gave birth to a baby boy and they decided to move to the United States. In the summer of 1927, they arrived in Arkansas City, Kansas. As Mexico recovered from the trauma of its recent revolution, grandfather sought to escape the tumult that continued to cripple his homeland. He decided to temporarily forsake his beloved Mexico in the hope of securing a better life for his family in the Land of Opportunity.

On June 14, 1928, the patriotic citizens of the U.S. commemorated Flag Day by proudly displaying the stars and stripes from their homes, business establishments and government buildings. On this day Daniel and Maria celebrated the birth of a baby girl. Christened Otilia (Tillie in English), she became their consentida - their favorite one - and Daniel wrapped her in a wool blanket and carried her over to the Santa Fe Railroad terminal where he proudly showed off his new arrival to his coworkers. On a cold and balmy winter evening in 1940, Daniel announced at the dinner table what Maria had been longing to hear since they had relocated from Mexico. Overwrought with homesickness, disillusioned and unaccustomed to the racial discrimination that existed against non-Anglo-Americans, Daniel threw in the towel. He vowed that his precious girl would not be exposed to bigots and prejudiced people and would instead leave his railroad job and return to his home state of Chihuahua, Mexico. They had saved enough money to purchase a cotton farm in a small town about 100 miles north of Chihuahua City, the state capitol. Daniel, Maria and their two children settled in a peaceful community just a six-hour drive from the El Paso-Juarez border. They were thrilled to be amongst their own people, to hear the Spanish language spoken predominately, to smell the familiar aromas of frijoles, tortillas, chorizo and all that made them forget their American nightmare. They were now permanently in touch with their culture and family and nothing else mattered. Otilia was nineteen when she presented Daniel and Maria with their first grandchild. Concepcion was the product of her teenage love affair with Raul Gamboa, her childhood sweetheart. They shared the vision of someday becoming wealthy and building a mansion in El Paso, Texas. In pursuit of their dream, Raul persuaded her to accompany him to the pot of gold that awaited them across the nearby border.


Daniel and Maria, already upset at the fact that Concepcion had been bom out of wedlock, bitterly opposed their decision to take the baby with them. Under the present circumstances, Daniel announced, Concepcion would not be allowed to go with them. But, he reasoned, once they settled down and could satisfactorily demonstrate that they could support their child they could come for her - but not until then. Raul and Otilia agreed to those terms and vowed to return as soon as possible. That day never arrived.

Life in El Paso was not what they envisioned and the struggle to survive in the depressed state of Texas prompted a change of plans. They journeyed to California and decided to give it a go in Los Angeles. L.A. in the late 1940's was a Mexican's dream as barrios sprouted throughout the city and the desired Latino flavor was evident everywhere. Although the racial prejudice existed like never before, especially with the emergence of the Zootsuiters, Raul and Otilia experienced very little. Both were fair skinned and were often mistaken for Anglos. That is, until they opened their mouths and spewed the broken English they had managed to pick up in Texas. Their adventure received a rude and sobering interruption when Otilia discovered she was pregnant. Resisting Raul's pleas to have an abortion, she prayed for a boy. Concluding that an unwelcomed and unwanted addition to their plight would be too cumbersome for Raul's wandering spirit, he chose to continue his journey alone and abandoned his loyal companion for parts unknown. Otilia continued on with her life and worked as a restaurant waitress during her pregnancy.

Ramon Angel Mendoza was my birth name. I was bom a bastard on October 18, 1949, at the L.A. County General Hospital. San Ramon was mother’s favorite saint. This accounted for my first name. Several months prior to my arrival she met Angel Gallegos, my future stepfather, who promised to accept her child as his own and, thus, my middle name. Since she was not legally married to Angel, and not wanting to brand me with Raul’s surname either, 1 inherited her last name. Mother clung tenaciously to her gift from God by branding me a Mendoza and swore she would not lose me as she had lost her little Connie. During that time we lived in an overcrowded downtown tenement near Boyle Heights, on the outskirts of the Skid Row section of Los Angeles. The dilapidated apartment building was heavily populated by low income Chicanos, Russians, Greek and Mexican Nationals. Each family waited for their turn at the door of opportunity to open and usher them out of the barrio. The dark and hopeless stench-filled slums became a temporary detention center in contrast to the bright, graffiti-free suburbs that awaited those who were patient enough to pursue the American Dream. Eventually we climbed out of the deep ghetto to a relatively poor but cleaner section of town and in 1952 settled in East Los Angeles. In the early 1950's the Korean conflict in Asia revived the war fever and in the Chicano barrios throughout the Southwestern United States many saw this as an opportunity to escape the depressive conditions of poverty and racial discrimination. It also allowed them to demonstrate they could fight just as fierce in the rugged terrain of Korea as in the dark alleys of East L.A. and El Paso.

It was ironic that they would be fighting for a democracy they had not had the pleasure of experiencing until called to support the war effort. During the Second World War, for example, Mexican-Americans made up one-tenth of Los Angeles' population and in ten lists printed in Local newspapers and chosen at random, about one-fifth of the names on the casualty lists and the same proportion on the list of awards were the names of men of Mexican ancestry. The reason: those who enlisted often chose the most dangerous branches of the service such as the Marines, paratroopers and Rangers. These same men returned from Korea, as they had from previous wars, to their hometowns only to encounter the same miserable living conditions they had temporarily forgotten and left behind.


The familiar world of street gangs, drugs, hustlers, poor housing, lack of jobs and discrimination welcomed them home and were evidence that nothing had changed. The oldies-but-goodies and blues era reflected the somber mood of the Chicano. Groups such as the Platters, the Chantels, the Emeralds; singers such as Rosie and the Originals, B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland were among hundreds of musical figures whose love ballads and songs of loneliness and broken hearts captured the sentimental hearts and appealed to the romantic nature of Chicano teenagers providing another form of escape from their despondent reality.

I was Ramoncito - Little Ramon - at home and the center of my mother's attention. I was also her consentido and her obsession with me kindled my stepfather's resentment. He was very macho and extremely jealous of his fair-skinned wife who herself was the object of many appreciative eyes. She turned heads wherever she went. Although she was from the old country and would be loyal to one man at a time, Angel would not let her out of his sight. His insecurity and blind jealousy inevitably found its way to me, who represented a living and constant reminder of the first man in his woman's life. The intimate and innocent hugs and kisses that my mom continuously lavished upon me as an infant served to arouse his wrath. Maybe he in some way felt that she was symbolically making love to my long gone natural father. Angel's jealous reaction left a profound and distinct impression on me. As far back as I could remember, I would avoid and often recoil in dreaded fear from my mother's open display of affection, her cariiios, in fear of arousing his wrath. Along with his ire were the inevitable spankings and corporal punishment that he would administer for some obscure infraction I had committed.

Confusion reigned in my younger days. Dad would kick my ass and mother would console me afterward. It was the classic good-guy, bad-guy treatment. In time, when the beatings became commonplace, I remember doing things that I knew would lead to being beaten or severely disciplined. I began to feel that I really deserved to be punished, expected it and played out my role in perpetuating my own abuse. It seems my personal motto was: “If you’re gonna whip me, I’ll give you a good reason to whip me.” Strange I know. It has been said that we are molded in those first few formative years of life. If this is the case then I can only wonder at the number of negative thought patterns developed in me by the time I was seven. For example, I became adept at lying out of sheer necessity and the need to survive. At eight I began to steal candy from overcrowded supermarkets. The excitement it generated was like that of a daredevil performing a challenging feat. I was really scared to death at the prospect of getting caught and incurring certain punishment from my dad but the euphoria of escape in the face of the impending consequences compelled me to go through with it. I walked into the Safeway market in East L.A. and proceeded to slowly and carefully work my way to the candy section. While pretending to be scanning the shelves for another product I deftly palmed and pocketed a Three Musketeers candy bar and anxiously headed towards the front door. There I was met by the store manager, who stood with his arms folded across his chest. "Just one minute, my little friend.” I was petrified. I knew I was caught and my face reddened with embarrassment. Gazing up at the expressionless face of the man who had stopped me at the exit, I desired at that moment to cease to exist. He ordered me to empty my pockets. I obliged producing an old chewed up comb, a slingshot and the school report card I had proudly intended to show to mother that afternoon. I displayed these to the manager who was unmoved and definitely unconvinced. His eyes remained riveted to the bulge in my front pants pocket. He instructed me to remove everything from my pockets. I attempted to avoid the accusing scrutiny of his eyes as I produced the Three Musketeers from my pocket and surrendered the stolen property. I was already thinking ahead and dreading my father's reaction once he learned about this incident. There was a hint of an amused smile playing at the comers of the manager's mouth as he examined my report card. He was attempting to remain somber in a vain attempt to impress upon me the


seriousness of my predicament. Unsure of my fate, I waited, agonizing with each passing second. He copied my name on a note pad and scribbled something on it. Then he warned if he ever caught me stealing again he would notify my parents. I couldn't believe it. Just like that I was dismissed. I hurriedly recovered my report card and my rubbery legs managed to carry me out of the store. I can still recall the manager's parting admonishment as his stem look followed me out the door. "Keep getting good grades,” he encouraged. Gone was the graphic vision of my father's belt cutting through the air and resounding wickedly across my back and buttocks. I had escaped his wrath and I vowed to never again steal candy. Angel Jauregui Gallegos was my stepfather. He was a common laborer who worked most of his adult life as a laborer at several produce and fruit companies in the downtown Los Angeles area. He came from a very wealthy family in Durango, Mexico. There he attended a private school with actor Ricardo Montalban. He also attended a university near Durango and received a degree in Agriculture. But Angel possessed a wild spirit and enjoyed the fast life of drinking and partying. When he threw one wild party too many and practically destroyed one of the family houses, he fell into disfavor with his parents. Although he was the favorite child of the Gallegos clan, he was incorrigible and beyond their control. They banished him from their home and told him he could return only when he became a responsible hombre on his own.

Never in their wildest dreams did they intend nor believe Angel would never return to his hometown. Had they been able to see the future and his bitter reaction, they undoubtedly would have reconsidered their decision. Hurt and feeling betrayed he seethed at the thought of being humiliated and disowned by his own flesh and blood. My stepfather left Mexico, never forgiving them and never seeing his family again. He met my mother in a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles while she was already two months pregnant he was twenty-three, she was twenty-one - and they fell in love. My sister Marie was bom two years after me and little did she know what she was getting into. But then she hadn't any choice in the matter. Marie and I didn't have much time developing a healthy sibling rivalry because we became too preoccupied dodging our father's belt. Marie and I came from the school of hard knocks, as she was proud to say on many occasions, and that enabled us to establish a special bond, one that would surely last through the ages. We had survived and weathered his abuse as children, at least physically. As adults we are able to reminisce and even laugh at the times we would avoid his wrath by hiding together while he lashed out at our mother. When he would go on the warpath and begin to beat her we would instinctively, almost as if on cue, scurry for cover and protection from his ire. We would even jockey for position away from the action, totally helpless and incapable of assisting our embattled matriarch.

Sobbing and crying, our biggest fear was that he would badly harm our adorable mother. Accustomed to the violent nature of my stepfather's fury, I felt intense hurt at the sight of my fragile mother cowering defenseless from his attacks. I remember agonizing with every whelp from my mom as if I were the one being pummeled. I also felt despair, humiliation and helplessness at being so pitifully inferior in strength and unable to defend her. Her attempts were feeble. She deflected his blows and protected her head and face. But it was not enough to repel his overwhelming strength.

There was something unfair and vulgar in my confused infant mind about seeing my dad beat up my mother one minute and I marveled at how easily they would make up afterward. It was almost as if nothing had happened. One incident that brought a perverse sense of satisfaction and elation to me was when Bea, a good friend of my mom's, invited her to her home for a social evening. My dad assured them he could handle us kids and encouraged them to have a good time.


When she returned that evening, mother was in a joyful mood as it was rare that my dad would let her go anywhere alone. Once Bea's car had backed out of the driveway he greeted my mom with a tirade of curses and accusations of infidelity. Shocked and visibly hurt, she began to cry and when he persisted relentlessly, she exploded like never before. She rushed into the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and sliced him on the upper shoulder causing him to bleed profusely. I had never before seen my mother that upset and I could only figure that the outrage and humility at being unjustly accused caused her to go beyond her breaking point. When things were too turbulent at home I would seek temporary refuge in the haven of my godparents' home. My godparents were the Mexican version of Ozzie and Harriet. They loved me dearly and affectionately called me Ramoncito. When my nino left for work in the early morning he would routinely kiss my nina goodbye and this sweet ritual was repeated upon his return in the evening. I often relived these special moments in my mind and wondered with bitterness why my parents never displayed such affection towards each other. My godparents not only baptized me as an infant but were like second parents as well. More comforting was the fact that there was no violent turmoil in their home. I loved them dearly. I remember creating a look of disappointment on my nina's pretty face when I mistakenly called one of her expensive yellow canaries a sparrow. She wagged her finger in front of my nose as she rebuked me. "Don't you ever call my beautiful canary a dam sparrow.” Then she broke into her familiar smile to show that she was not really angry but playfully admonishing me for insulting her feathered friend. Despite the constant turmoil at home there were many good moments as well. When I was four, I would accompany my dad to his favorite bars. There he would show off his chubby cheeked kid to his drinking buddies. I had fun dancing to the music of the jukeboxes to the encouragement and delight of the intoxicated patrons. They would reward my fancy footwork with loose change and sometimes dollar bills. The most memorable childhood highlights without a doubt was my dad taking me to Dodger games. The electricity in the crowd was always contagious and the roar of sellout crowds at the coliseum sounded as if mighty ocean waves were battering the ballpark. The rush was an unforgettable experience. I grew up with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett's vivid descriptions of several Sandy Koufax no-hitters, Don Drysdale's blazing fastballs and the euphoric glory of world championship conquests in 1959, '63 and '65. At home we had an old black-and-white television and I tried not to miss a Dodgers televised game. After 1959, my adolescent years revolved around the baseball season and progress of the Los Angeles Dodgers. By this time Angel Jr. and Paula had been bom. They became my dad's favorites and this preference was never questioned nor resented by Marie and I especially since we also went out of our way to protect the babies of the family. We moved from house to house in East Los Angeles and although our dad did not earn enough to handle a family of four kids plus a wife, he managed to keep a roof over our heads and provide the necessities of life.

As in the old country, the Roman Catholic Church wielded a great amount of influence in the Chicano community. Although most of it was Mexican-Indian superstition interwoven with Christian dogma, this brand of Catholicism was traditionally passed from one generation to another. For centuries Mexican people, for the most part deeply religious, relied on their faith to support them through conquests, revolutions, oppression and the daily trials and tribulations associated with grinding poverty. There was no choice involved in the matter of religion. You were bom a Catholic and by virtue of familial tradition, inherited the church. In 1960,1 joined a church-sponsored club, Los Tarcicios. Becoming an altar boy was a prerequisite for membership, which included activities such as playing on the baseball or soccer team, going on field trips and participating in fundraising events on behalf of the Church.


I observed all the holy days and the Vatican spawned edicts that made one a bonafide Catholic. But, even at that early age, I realized that my participation did not stem from any deeply rooted spiritual conviction. It is a certified matter of church record that I was the recipient of the Catholic Church’s First Sacrament. Although I had no choice in the matter, I was baptized at Our Lady of Resurrection. It was years later that I was made aware of this event. I learned that I became extremely agitated at being unable to escape having my tiny head sprinkled with water. According to eyewitnesses, I let out a howl of outraged protest, which went unheeded by the participants present. I was raised in typical Mexican fashion: cowering under the thumb of a strict father, traditionally Catholic, a steady diet of frijoles and tortillas intermingled with Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers. At the age of eight I made my First Holy Communion and, after much catechism and rigid preparations administered by strict nuns, was groomed for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I missed that ceremony when my mother became bedridden with pneumonia.

Our Lady of Resurrection - Boyle Heights - East Los Angeles 1957 The Sunday services were always special. I attended Our Lady of Victory in East Los Angeles. It was always a marvel to behold the elegant robes and vestment worn by the priests. The beautifully sculptured statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, various saints, and glass stained windows depicting the Stations of the Cross created remarkable backdrops. The Latin chants consisted of the priest's liturgy accompanied by the well-timed responses from the altar boys, all of which captivated the worshippers as the priest majestically and often dramatically went through his weekly ritual.


On one of those Sundays I knelt at the foot of the altar pretending to be deeply engrossed in prayer. I was really attempting with some difficulty to keep from laughing at the altar boy opposite me who was contorting his face and mockingly emulating the priest's movements in such a manner that was only visible from my vantage point. I even pinched myself and bit my lower lip as I desperately tried to ignore him. Suddenly I was aware of a silence. The priest had terminated his dialogue and his coughs and grunts were an obvious attempt to gain my attention. Recognizing my negligence, I grasped the silver chimes and rang them three times while silently cursing myself for missing the signal. Father Romero forgave me for the mishap and in fact had been like a father to me in the two-year period I served as an altar boy. He was also the sponsor of Los Tarcicios. It was no secret amongst the club members that I was Father Romero's favorite although he was careful not to neglect the other boys. My biggest thrill was when I won the first place prize for having accumulated the most points in a year. I had qualified along with the other nine members that comprised the top ten, for an expense paid trip to Disneyland courtesy of the parish. Father Romero personally drove us in his old blue van to the land of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I rode on the Matterhorn, crash cars, the Mad Tea Party, and other fantasy rides. We were awestruck and had the time of our lives. At night our trip was highlighted with a display of multi-colored flares and rockets illuminating the sky in a breathtaking fireworks show. The Disneyland castle would appear in the background as something out of a fairytale. It was an unforgettable experience that remains forever etched in my memory. About a month later, after eking out a victory in a baseball game versus a bitter rival, we learned that Father Romero was being transferred to another parish on the other side of town. We were very disappointed at the news of his impending departure and I was especially crushed. I had become very attached to Father Romero. He had been my friend, teacher, father and companion all rolled up in one. Now he was going away and out of my life. I kept these feelings to myself because I felt God was punishing me for taking advantage of His Church. Unbeknownst to Father Romero, I had been stealing money from the house of worship. While delivering the donation baskets to the priests' room at the end of the service, I began palming bills. Then one of my accomplices found a spare key to the priests' dressing room. I graduated to pilfering the wooden offering containers on a frequent basis and taking whatever appealed to our larceny-filled hearts. On many occasions we even helped ourselves to drinking the wine, which was used during the services.

One day, long after Father Romero had departed, my revenue producing escapades came to an abrupt halt. As a normal practice the church distributed envelopes in which worshippers could enclose their donations. On the envelopes were designated spaces for them to fill in their names, addresses and the amount enclosed. No longer content with a few dollars for an occasional snack or two, I began searching the envelopes until I found those marked with ten dollars or more. On the way home from church I discarded the empty envelopes while I contemplated which toy I wanted. Maybe I would get lucky and find a Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax in my next pack of baseball cards. Later that evening after taking a bath, I overheard my mother pleading with my father begging him not to hit me. Conceding to her pleas for mercy, he yanked me by the ear and led me to my bedroom demanding an explanation. In his hand was an empty church donation envelope I forgot to discard. Neither could I account for the money that he produced from my pants pockets. In the face of such damning evidence I dared not even attempt to respond for I knew that no explanation would suffice. Instead I began to mouth a feeble attempt at apologizing. He reared back and stung my mouth with a sharp slap. Even my mother had those enraged sparks flying from her eyes as she screamed at me and threatened to give me a piece of her hand as well. They had both barrels blazing and I wanted to shrink and hide at that moment.


My dad decided to personally surrender his evil stepson to Pastor Gunst. It would be left to the pastor to then take it up with the Man upstairs for forgiveness. Maybe an exorcism would be in order, my dad railed. I cried and begged him not to take me before the pastor. I would have preferred a thorough and sound beating from my dad rather than the dreaded humiliation of facing Father Gunst and admitting my transgressions. Mercifully, my parents relented after agreeing that such a disclosure would cause the family great embarrassment. They forced me to give up my role as an altar boy as well as membership in the club. In effect, my parents performed their own version of excommunication and I didn’t set foot in a church until many years later. In the early 1960's automation produced layoffs and my dad was one of the victims. Extended periods of unemployment made him cranky and almost unbearable at home. He aggravated things on the domestic front by drinking heavily, playing the horses and gambling. He would often accuse me of eating his children’s portion. Such remarks, usually uttered in a drunken rage, only served to make matters worse and would set my mother off. Their altercations became the rule in the house and the exception was an occasional evening of peace and quiet, which we believed to be the lull before the storm. Things got so bad that my mom would often instruct me to hide in the bathroom where she smuggled me a plate of food in order to avoid a confrontation or incur the wrath from my dad. Frightened, I would hastily consume the meal after locking the door and running the bath water. Marie was next on his shit list and she too was warned to abstain from consuming the food that was needed to feed his younger ones.

Although the indiscriminate beatings became commonplace I still maintained a love in my heart for the man I called my dad. Instead of regarding him as a child abuser, I preferred to consider him a stem disciplinarian. In spite of everything he was still my father and would always be. I feared him for sure but I also respected and loved him as well, in precisely that order. In 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers swept four straight games from the Yankees to capture baseball's most coveted trophy. The heralded Bronx Bombers from Gotham City meekly succumbed to the Big Blue Machine's awesome pitching staff. Led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Dodgers became the World Series Champions and I was in Blue Heaven. It was about a month later, at Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High that I was working on a lamp in my Arts and Crafts class when the intercom box cackled with a sudden announcement. The principal was commanding our undivided attention. Mr. Villagran ordered me to stop sanding and listen up. I complied and everyone waited impatiently for what was no doubt just another fire drill. We dreaded them because it was time consuming and everyone was required to march in formation until the all-clear signal was given.

On that unforgettable day in November we were instead delivered the shocking news that was heard around the world. Mr. Lovejoy, the school principal, announced in a somber voice that President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated on the streets of Dallas.

As a Catholic, Irishman, Democrat and charismatic person, Kennedy had been extremely popular in the Mexican-American communities throughout the Southwest. He was especially admired in the barrios of East Los Angeles where the poor considered him their gift from God. In the midst of the shocking revelation, I recalled the day that JFK was elected president. He had eked out a highly charged and narrow victory over Richard Nixon. My father, who was politically ignorant, indulged in what was for him an uncharacteristically wild celebration that night. JFK represented hope to a distraught household


and indeed to a distraught nation. I too felt an unexplainable kinship with this remarkable man. Together with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, my venerable baseball heroes, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had become one of my most cherished childhood idols and a man I would not be able to forget in my lifetime. The mood at school was lowered with the flag, which remained at half-mast for several days. Tears streamed unashamedly down the faces of the teachers. I felt stunned and outrage intermingled with sorrow and helplessness as I stood by my workbench with my head bowed. There I joined the world in a moment of silence and prayer. I recalled JFK's energy when he beseeched, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” I think we all died a little on that fateful day.

Los Angeles has by far the dubious distinction of fielding more street gangs than any city in the nation, including the metropolises of New York and Chicago. It owns the dubious distinction of being called the gang capitol of the United States. There are well over a thousand street gangs in the L.A.-Orange County region of southern California. Over sixty percent of these are of Latino composition and origin. The massive influx of aliens, legal and illegal, has spawned several gangs of Mexican nationals as well as other Latinos from the war tom countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other points south of the border. In the early 1960's there were very few neighborhoods in East Los Angeles that could be considered unclaimed or neutral turf. The Chicano barrios, for decades confined within the Eastside and Los Angeles city limits, has today spread in heavy concentrations to surrounding suburbs as well. Every barrio has its home turf, a claimed neighborhood or "set" with geographical boundaries, which is jealously and tenaciously defended by its gang members. The actual hardcore gang population in a given neighborhood represents but a miniscule percentage of the community they live in. They nevertheless are successful in maintaining a constant pitch of fear within their barrios by posing a constant threat of violence, which is enforced almost on a daily basis. This intimidation factor deters most law-abiding citizens from cooperating with the authorities. In my early teens I was considered a "tapado," a square or lame, because I was naive about the mentality of the street underworld. As a result, the gang members in my neighborhood paid little or no attention to me. In

school I was consistently among the brightest students in my classes. Like most adolescents my age I hadn't any defined goals at that time other than attaining the best possible grades in Math and English, my two favorite subjects. I also possessed a craving urge to become someone special - possibly an entertainer - or even accomplishing a unique feat such ala Koufax when he struck out eighteen Giants.

Although I was exposed every day as a youth to street gang members, as were thousands of other Chicano kids, I don't perceive this as being the overriding factor in shaping my criminal destiny. I do know that I needed to belong and my family situation did not fulfill that need. "Just who in the hell did those cholos think they were?" Cholo was the modem name given to the Pachucos, or gang members, in the neighborhood. They intimidated everyone including teachers, students, police - everyone. About the only one who did not seem to be afraid of them, nor of anyone for that matter, was Mr. Redzo, the boys' vice principal at Stevenson and we all respected this no nonsense behemoth. No one cared to incur his wrath and at sixfoot-eight he was an intimidating figure. He could end fistfights with a single command and I once saw Redzo break up a gang brawl by wielding his long massive arms like a pair of clubs. The combatants had fallen like bowling pins.


The Beatles were going strong at that time and I owned a pair of Beatle boots to complement my collarless blue Beatle suit. But the dress style that piqued my curiosity was the khaki pants worn by the cholos together with their spit-shined French toes. The Sir Guy or Pendleton shirts were usually draped over their arms. I later learned that draping them over their arms was a common way of concealing weapons. Many of them sported tattoos on their hands or inner biceps with their nicknames and gang initials forever engraved on their bodies with Indian ink. This identified them with their barrio and distinguished the cholo from society in general.

Graduating from Jr. High School - June 1964 Gang members commanded a high degree of respect and fear from the square students and this made them feel special and powerful. At times I even envied them. I was a conforming and conscientious student but outside of my elite circle of "brains,” I felt unrecognized. These delinquent juveniles dressed like clowns and walked like lame ducks, were looked upon with disdain by both the school faculty and student body. They were hardly anybody's idea of positive role models. The cholos could usually be found loitering in the hallway or outside the library ogling the female students with lust while staring at the rest of us with open contempt. One would almost expect them to refer to us as "pathetic earthlings!" They certainly were not from this planet.

I often eavesdropped on their war stories as they related graphic accounts of violent gang confrontations between rivals in a neighborhood alley, park, local theatre, or wherever opposing factions happened to cross paths. Their tales described in glamorized detail the latest stabbing or shooting incident that had occurred. Although such activity seemed so unreal to the general student population they were in fact common occurrences outside the hallowed grounds of Stevenson Junior High. I thanked God for Mr. Redzo.

I remember the day that Art Hernandez, a member of our B-9 football team, verbally stood his ground against Isidro "Black Bean" Ruiz. Black Bean was a dark, frail, arrogant cholo who appeared woefully inferior to Art's muscular frame. Wearing a Pendleton long-sleeve shirt on a hot sunny day and a pair of oversized khaki pants, it was the classic case of a Chihuahua versus a German Shepard. Those of us who observed this confrontation between the two adversaries were shocked Art would dare antagonize the smaller gang-banger. It was no secret that he not only belonged to the notorious King Kobras gang but was known to carry a pushbutton knife.


I had personally checked it out once in the boys' lavatory. He was showing it off that day to a group of cholos. It was a shiny stiletto and he had picked it up in Tijuana, I overheard him boast. They didn't hear me enter and someone finally saw me and whispered a warning to Black Bean who quickly hid it underneath his shirt. When they glared at me with suspicion I pretended to be oblivious to them and gave my full attention to the urinal in front of me.

When the jawing ended they tentatively agreed to settle their dispute at a later date. Although Art had challenged Black Bean's macho by standing up to him, the cholo merely smiled and promised to "talk" to him later. His emphasis on the word talk made it pretty obvious to me that he was not interested in continuing an extended dialogue with Art. Several days later I remained after school to watch a football game between the B-9 and A-9. The A-9 had a crafty quarterback named Sidney Sue who was very proficient at evading our pass rushers. It was a frustrating sight to watch him maneuver in the backfield. He would run around until he either spotted an open receiver downfield or found an opening where he often managed to run clear and untouched into the end zone. On this day Art Hernandez was the wide receiver for our team and had already made a spectacular catch resulting in a touchdown. It was a close game and we clung to a precarious two-point lead in spite of Sidney Sue. Everyone was excited and I could not remember the last time we had packed it in like this. Standing along the sidelines for a better vantage point, I spotted Black Bean in the crowd across the field. He was directly in front of me with a group of his homeboys. Each had shirts draped across their arms and looking tough. They pretended to be interested in the game. Black Bean then separated from the others and weaved his way through the crowd while I followed their progress with curiosity. Something was about to happen and as I glanced around at the crowd I found it hard to believe that no one else noticed what was happening.

My attention returned to the game momentarily and my eyes continued to dart back and forth as I attempted to keep track of Black Bean and watch the game simultaneously. Art sprinted out to receive a long pass and Ronnie Zubia, our talented southpaw quarterback, scrambled in the backfield dodging the A-9 rushers. It appeared that Art had outdistanced the defenders and we held our collective breaths. The pigskin spiraled overhead in a perfect arc towards the end zone. But instead of the game clinching touchdown, Art instead broke his stride and began running a zig-zag pattern off the field of play. It was as if he were trying to elude a wasp.

I lost track of Black Bean momentarily as the football fell harmlessly to the ground. The incomplete pass generated a groan from the B-9 rooters as we expressed our displeasure at this zany development. No one could comprehend Art's sudden erratic behavior. Suddenly the students across from me were scurrying for cover and some hit the ground in the mad confusion. Art was running frantically toward the stairs that led out of the school. Then I saw Black Bean emerge from the crowd in pursuit of our wide receiver. In amazement I noticed a shiny steel object in Black Bean's grip pointing in Art's direction. When I heard a succession of loud pops it finally dawned upon me that Black Bean was firing real bullets at Art. We watched in helpless shock at what seemed like a scene from a crime movie and I silently rooted for the good guy. It was now apparent why poor Art had made such a hasty detour. He was literally running for his life. To our relief he managed to escape although I never saw him again. I think Art broke every school speed record on that day.


I wasn't much of an athlete but I was an above average long distance runner. My brief claim to fame as a track demon occurred when Jimmy Macias, a member of the school relay team, challenged me to race around the track. Although I had never seen him run I heard he was hell on wheels as a sprinter. I would have normally refused his challenge but because it was issued in the presence of the girls gym class I was compelled to accept. The ladies urged us on and judging from the cheers, consensus seemed to be in my favor. Four hundred and forty yards was the distance involved and with shrieks of encouragement ringing in our ears we were off and running. I could not recall ever running this well and the prospect of losing in the presence of a hundred plus screaming females, as well as the crowd of boys that had gathered, was too frightening to let happen. When we arrived at the first turn I chanced a peek over my shoulder and saw that Jimmy was trying to pass me. I maintained the slightest edge and was keenly aware he was matching me stride for stride. The final hundred yards was a straightaway and I sprinted like a man possessed lunging forward at the finish line a split second ahead of Jimmy. The thrill of victory was intoxicating. I savored the screaming approval of the sweeter gender and celebrated my temporary claim to fame. Later I was told that I had outrun the track team's anchorman! Despite repeated challenges for a rematch I never dared to race Jimmy again. No way, Jose.

There was another occasion in which I competed in a race but the circumstances were a little different. Brenda Thomas was a very attractive and immensely popular Black girl who excelled in athletics. She was also a good friend who shared many of my classes, including English. We helped each other with complex problems such as conspiring to distract Mrs. Martin while someone cheated on an exam. During the Physical Education period, an imaginary line divided the athletic field. The boys were assigned half and the girls the other half. Upon completion of our supervised exercises we were allowed to engage in long- range dialogue with our opposites so long as no one crossed the line. On this particular day I had already completed mine and was running a slow lap around the track when a familiar voice called out from the bleachers.

"Hi Ray. Wanna race?" It was Brenda. I ignored her challenge and waved to her. But she sprung from her seat and caught up to me. From her side of the line she repeated her invitation with a mischievous grin. "We can start right here,” she persisted, pointing to a starting line, "You on your side and me on my side and we'll go to the finish line."

My attempts to dismiss her challenge as a joke proved futile. Brenda would not let me off the hook. She teased and cajoled and soon had a large contingent of girls spewing challenges and declaring their superiority over us males. "Why me,” I thought. Finally I gave in to their pressure after they succeeded in stirring up the guys who hollered back at them. Our anticipated contest was receiving a great deal of hype and fanfare, much to my discomfort. I could not escape. What a bummer it would be to lose to this female Amazon. My stomach was in knots and I shuddered at the prospect of being outrun by a girl.

"On your mark, get set, go!" We were off.


Brenda had her hair fixed in a bubble which was tied high above her head therefore a photo finish would not be in my interest. Her large rear protruded from her body. I thought it rather hilarious to be aware of her hairdo and provocative behind in the midst of our confrontation. I stumbled at the beginning and Brenda jumped to a quick advantage. I gave it all I could muster to narrow her lead and realized she was no ordinary girl. At the halfway point I drew abreast of my fierce competitor and I blotted out all the shouting and cheers to concentrate on my bolt to the finish line. As we strode to the final grueling yards of real estate I crossed the finish line one giant stride ahead of her. Disregarding the imaginary line, we collapsed in each other's arms. I felt more relief than elation or satisfaction at having survived another potential humiliation. We congratulated each other while we caught our breath and the boys cheered triumphantly.


Chapter 5. The Last Summer So where did it all start? That’s a question that has been posed to me many times throughout the years. I like to pinpoint the beginning of my “climb up the criminal corporate ladder” to the 4th of July weekend of 1964. I was fourteen years. This particular summer started out pretty much like every other summer I remembered. It was hot, boring and a welcomed respite from the academic battlefield. I had graduated from Stevenson in June and the hiatus that bridged junior high and my freshman year at Garfield High was a very restless period in my life.

I had had another confrontation with my stepfather. This time the winds of change were blowing within my rebellious spirit. I cannot remember what prompted this particular confrontation, all I know is that when he raised his hand to slap me I easily deflected his blow with my arms and prevented him from making contact. Never before had I been bold enough to raise a hand against him and something magical happened on that day. When my dad recognized the futility of any further attempts to strike me, he grumbled something about me thinking I was a man now. I felt a surge of power and a sense of awakening as he made no further attempts to hit me. Sensing his retreat and surprised at how easily I discouraged him I sensed at that moment he would never again beat me. Strangely, I was also somewhat saddened because I am sure his machismo could not handle this humiliation. One thing was clear: His dominance over me, parental or otherwise, was now a thing of the past. By this time he was a hardcore alcoholic and hounded by the authorities for non-support. Although he stayed with us occasionally, he was a fiercely proud man and detested the notion of living off my mother's welfare checks. His failure to maintain gainful employment became the primary source of his lack of self-esteem and he turned to his wine-drinking friends who became frequent patrons of the Santa Anita and Hollywood Park race tracks. He had lost his desire to discipline me and my adolescent insurrection probably served to reinforce his own impotence. He had always been punishing himself and I could not help but to feel sorry for him. In spite of everything, I did love him.

The 4th of July evening sky was suddenly illuminated with sporadic displays of colorful fireworks and booming rockets. Families in the neighborhood prepared for the Independence Day holiday, which was two days away. My mother had dispatched me to the Rancho Market to purchase groceries. As I returned, I walked along La Puerta Street with a bag of foodstuff cradled in my arms and stopped to admire the intermittent explosions. In the midst of one of those exploding illuminations I noticed a small group of boys congregated in the shadows next to the brick fence which bordered Bobby's house; I nearly missed them in the dark. They were attempting to be inconspicuous and as I slowly walked by, it was apparent they were concealing something. Eddie Gonzales was five years older than I and had already done time in the Youth Authority for armed robbery. In the neighborhood he was known as Sailor Boy but I just called him Eddie. Tall and wiry, he belonged to the Varrio Nuevo gang and proudly displayed the neighborhood tattoo on his left forearm beneath that of an exotic woman's face. He liked to hang out at Bobby's house, a fellow homeboy who lived across the street from me. In their front yard they often congregated with other gang members and checked out the neighborhood people. The pungent odor of smoke was unmistakably familiar and I recalled a similar smell near my gym locker in school the previous semester. Mr. Redzo had surprised a group of kids and seized them. I later learned they had been expelled for smoking marijuana. From Bobby's yard across the street I could clearly hear the rush of air. Their almost imperceptible inhalations caught my attention and I watched with amusement and curiosity at the hunched figures sitting along the fence. "Hey chavalone, what's happening?"


"Nothing much,” I answered automatically. I was somewhat perturbed at being addressed as a chavalone, or youngster, even though they were all several years older than me. "Come on over, chavalone."

There. He said it again, but it was the way he said it that irritated me. It was uttered with a mocking emphasis on the word chavalone and I took this as a challenge. Throwing caution to the wind I crossed the street and could distinguish five crouched figures as I approached them. Eddie was the tallest of the group and he wore a rapt expression making him appear oblivious to everyone. That is, until he realized that I was standing in their midst. "Hey, youngster, want a hit?" He offered a marijuana joint. "My name is Ray." I answered stubbornly. "Oh, I'm sorry, Ray,” he apologized in mock seriousness. "Can you handle a few drags from this here lehoT "Sure,” I retorted, determined not to yield an inch. I took the marijuana stick from his hand determined to show them that I knew what I was doing. They studied me with amusement as I placed the cigarette on my lips and inhaled, a long drag followed by shorter ones. I repeated this procedure until my head felt as if it were floating away from the rest of my body. Suddenly everyone was laughing and pointing at the bag of groceries that was now lying on the sidewalk with some of the contents spilling out. I had held onto the bag with one arm while I experimented with the joint and it slid from my arms. When the humor of the situation finally registered in my fogged brain, I joined the laughter and kicked the bag over the curb and onto the street. That produced a cheer of approval from the gang and Eddie rewarded me with a fresh joint.

Smoking marijuana seemed so petty and inconsequential at that particular moment and the events that occurred shortly thereafter were like a blur. Someone drove up in a car and offered to take us cruising on the Boulevard - Whittier Boulevard. Four of us agreed to accompany him and we were off. I was in the back seat puffing on another joint and my next conscious recollection was waking up with a throbbing headache atop a hard metal bunk inside a police substation. There were two strangers engaged in a blanket tug-of-war; each claiming exclusive ownership and neither relinquishing his end. The pain in my brain increased as the dispute grew louder. There was a large green door with a thick glass window, a steel commode and a sink. Slowly it all began to come back to me. Someone had suggested that we all pitch in to buy a case of Bud and I could not have contributed more than the three dollars and change because that was all I had from the groceries I had purchased and left behind. We had been stopped on the Boulevard by the cops and the car I was riding in turned out to be stolen. We were arrested for public intoxication and joy riding. I was surely in for it now. "Shut up in there!"

My two intoxicated companions, who I now recognized as friends of Eddie, became silent when a pair of uniformed policeman opened the large steel door and entered. They scowled at us as they inspected our holding cell with a menacing sneer. I was in the juvenile section since I was under eighteen. Eddie and two of the others had been booked in the adult section. "Mendoza! Get your ass up here!" I sprang off the bunk as if shot out of a cannon. "Yes sir."

"Your parents are here for you." The taller officer was heavily built with a sullen disposition. He held the cell door open and motioned with his head. I happily obliged and heard the loud clang of steel as he slammed it shut behind us. He then glared back at the other two with a final look of warning. They got the message. Chill out, he was


conveying. As he escorted me from the housing section to the reception area he grunted distastefully at my wrinkled pants and shirt and eyed me with open suspicion. I bet this guy never smiles, I thought to myself. My mother sat on a chair wringing her hands nervously while dad's arms flailed away as he conversed with a distraught father. Mom raised her head when she saw me and broke into tears and rushed toward me. I was totally embarrassed. She inspected my face for bruises, covering me with kisses as she thanked God that I was in one piece. Meanwhile, my dad's steely glare shot pure venom at me and I did not return his stare. That incident marked the beginning of my criminal career.

I was grounded for the Fourth of July as I struggled up the driveway with the trash can. Making my way past our landlord's sons' bedroom, I heard a knock coming from their window and stopped to investigate. It was Maxie, the wildest of the three brothers, who was about my age. His dad had grounded Maxie also. Seeking to escape his predicament, he suggested running away from home. At first I felt a twinge of reluctance at his proposal but his persistent persuasions won me over as the notion of flirting with danger became appealing to me. I was fed up with the badgering of my parents. Additionally, there was the prospect of a long boring summer with nothing to do. In the end, the decision was an easy one: I took off with Maxie, our destination unknown. From joyriding in stolen cars I graduated to committing house burglaries and smoking marijuana on a regular basis. I was feeding my adventurous spirit. Like Sailor Boy, Maxie belonged to the Varrio Nuevo gang and he introduced me to many of his homeboys. Most of them were amused with me because they could immediately recognize by my manner of talk and dress that I was not a gang member, but a square from Delaware. I was not one of them. But, because I was a friend of Maxie's, they didn't seem to mind that I wore faded Levis instead of baggy khaki pants and Pendleton shirts, nor that I combed my hair to the side like a surfer. For the most part they paid little attention to me.

On October 20, two days after my fifteenth birthday, I was arrested by LAPD vice officers for grand theft auto, burglary and being incorrigible. The burglary charge was added when my mother told authorities I attempted to break into my aunt's home when I was supposed to be in school. My sweaty palms were clasped together almost prayerfully as the detective raised his police radio to announce our arrival. We were on Eastlake Avenue and I was handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car nervously anticipating my introduction to Juvenile Hall. We drove by the L.A. County General Hospital, my place of birth, and behind the drab yellow medical center stood the partially hidden institution for criminals under the age of eighteen. It resembled a military compound and I wondered with fascination at the horrors that lurked within those fifteen-foot walls that encircled the facility. We turned into a long winding street and the suspense intensified as part of me cringed inside with genuine fear. On the exterior, hardened already from countless ass whippings, I displayed no such apprehension and was prepared to accept whatever they could throw at me. It was survival time. The control officer received hundreds of intakes on a weekly basis and gave us a bored look. He gave us a short nod of recognition and pressed the button, which opened a large chain link gate. I was escorted to the intake desk and the detective tossed a clear plastic bag on the counter containing my wallet, comb, belt and other personal effects. He removed the handcuffs and I suddenly felt insecure and frightened. Like an infant being abandoned at the baby sitters I merely dropped my head as the detective requested to be let out. The door buzzed open and then slammed shut.


From another room I saw a large, bald headed, broad shouldered Black man signal to the control officer who buzzed his door. Holding it open he called out my last name without looking at me and waited patiently for me to comply. He then escorted me to the dayroom. This was the receiving dorm for new arrivals. I was instructed to remove my street clothes and was issued the county garb: khaki pants, white tshirt, and thick-soled boots. I was also given an issue of tooth powder, a comb, toothbrush and towel and hastily ushered into the housing area. Most of the wards were watching a western flick on t.v. and others were playing cards, dominoes, or simply shooting the breeze. A few glanced at me curiously as I found an empty space on a bench and tried to appear calm and cool while I warily sized up my fellow prisoners.

Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall

At nine o'clock the night man announced that the lights were going out. The dayroom floor was filled with mattresses and most of the youths were already tucked in for the night. I was still somewhat unsure of my new surroundings and I hastily arranged the two sheets and county-issued blanket and adjusted my mattress on the floor. At night there was but one counselor who was responsible for supervising several sleeping areas and I would rarely see him through the windows of the dayroom. It was later when I discovered that he would normally occupy himself by either reading a book or dozing off for a few hours. Aware of this, some of the wards remained awake and in spite of the darkness would indulge in card games, whispered conversations, or other activities. The sharp slap resounded across the dayroom just a few rows in front of me. A blond teenager about my age covered his head protectively and whimpered. A Black inmate kneeled next to him and threatened to cut out his white heart if he cried out. By this time my eyes had adjusted to the dark and were focused on the graphic scene that was unfolding. The Black reached down, lowering the blonde's briefs as he ordered him to lie on his stomach. It was then that I noticed the sharp steel object pointed menacingly at the terrified youngster. He meekly complied with his assailant's demands.


Most of the other wards, those who obviously knew the ropes, ignored the incident and continued doing their thing. Others like myself, watched in petrified horror as the Black rubbed a Vaseline substance on the blonde's buttocks and on his own penis. He gave his victim a final warning as he mounted the pitiful body of the terrified boy and proceeded to rape him. The muffled grunts and moans emanating from their direction communicated intermingled lust and pain as the brutal onslaught intensified. I cringed with every thrust and I prayed for the night man to arrive and rescue the poor kid. After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally over. I pretended to be asleep for fear of a possible attempt on me by some other pervert. Unlike the white boy, I knew in my heart I would fight like a wild man. My first night at Juvenile Hall was a memorable one. It was survival time. There is no distinct recollection of exactly when I began to comb my hair back but shortly after my arrival at Juvie I decided to change my hairstyle in emulation of the Chicano gang wards. I also adopted their tough demeanor as no one seemed to want to mess with them.

I observed many rapes at Juvie, including gang rapes. It became apparent that in just about every instance the aggressors were Black and the victim white. Racial polarization was evident and indeed encouraged and I was suddenly relieved that I was a Mexican-American. Chicanos were the most clannish of the three predominant ethnic groups. Checking myself over in the bathroom mirror I tried several scowls and finally settled on one that I decided I would wear to impress my ethnic peers. Slowly but ever so surely I began to pick up slang expressions used in Juvie and in the gang underworld. I was a fast learner. The counselors barked out their commands as our company marched in formation from the housing unit to the dining room. For a while my bearings were in complete disarray and the frightened boy that trembled inside was transformed into a determined survivor. I surveyed my new jungle cautiously, seeking desperately to maintain a semblance of knowing what was going on. But locked away at night in the lonely solitude of my room, I would peer outside at the flickering lights of Los Angeles and think about my loved ones. During these solitary moments I would allow the little guy out of his confinement to cry his heart out without worrying that anyone could see.

What had gone wrong in my life and where on earth was I headed? In the maze of despairing thoughts I bitterly condemned myself for being such a fool and wallowed in tears of self-pity. I bemoaned life's injustices. What was a bright kid - a "brain" - doing in such a dump surrounded by uneducated street gang members? Maxie was a seasoned gang member who had been accustomed to la vida loca. This was his environment, not mine.

Despite the loss of precious freedom there was also a sense of security. Juvie provided many of the things I received at home such as food, clean clothing, a roof over my head and even family. The only big difference was that my brothers wore marine-style haircuts, khaki pants, blue denim shirts and brown hightop boots. More importantly, our parents didn't beat us here. I was now a member of a society in which we were all in the same boat sharing a mutual predicament and it felt good to belong. If they could take it, so could I. Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that I was on the road to becoming a “state-raised” criminal. I was transferred to D-Company, the camp unit, and awaited transfer to a forestry camp. Although I was scared to death at the prospect of doing time, there was also an inexplicable feeling of excitement. This was a new and unknown challenge for me and I would meet it head on like the difficult algebra problems I had learned to master at Stevenson Junior High.


During this period I remembered what my stepfather had advised me during one of our rare moments of intimacy: "Son, if you're going to do something - whatever it is - do it right." He repeated this wisdom on many occasions and I recall laughing at his broken English. It was late in November that I sought out an older ward at Juvenile Hall. His name was Eddie Romero and he was known in the neighborhood as Bugsy from the King Kobras gang. Bugsy had attended Stevenson and he remembered me from school. I asked him to explain the movidas - the inmate rules. He appeared flattered. Bugsy related to me the importance of sticking with other Chicanos at all times and emphasized that socializing with Blacks or whites was considered taboo. He advised that if anybody tried to push me around I was supposed to respond immediately with violence. According to my tutor, even being the recipient of an ass-whipping would still prove that I was no coward.

I was told never to tolerate even verbal or physical taunts or challenges. Survival was the reason for observing these movidas and he admonished that it would be more difficult for me since I did not belong to a street gang. I had no established credentials or homeboys to fall back on for support. He warned I should never show weakness; by so doing I would leave myself vulnerable to either homosexual or exploitive advances. I would then become a "stoneout,” or reject, and fellow Chicano inmates would not consider me one of their own; neither would I be accepted by the general inmate society. In other words, I would become a “nobody.”

This indoctrination session lasted about a half hour and when Bugsy finished I shook his hand profusely and thanked him sincerely for spelling out the do’s and don'ts. He succeeded in leaving a very sobering impression that afternoon.

The admonitions which replayed themselves in my mind were: "Don't show weakness,” "stick with your own race,” "respond immediately with violence,” and "if you become a stoneout, no one will recognize you.” I was ghastly afraid of being a “nobody.” The following month I was transferred to Boquet Canyon Junior Camp in Saugus. It was like a bad dream from which I would never awaken. On my first day in camp I remember walking around the compound as if in a daze and feeling numb inside. I dared not show any sign of fear.

Everyone appeared indifferent and unmoved at being incarcerated there and many even seemed to be enjoying the controlled setting. Like me, they were performing and surviving, making the most of their predicament, maintaining the macho facade.

I soon became a close associate of the toughest inmate in the compound. Raymond Sanchez was dubbed Curly and, like Bugsy, was from the King Kobras street gang. Our mothers became well acquainted and would car pool together from East L.A. to visit us on the weekends. They enjoyed preparing tasty Mexican dishes and sharing them with us on visiting days.

Mother was my faithful rock and mainstay. She could see through my tough veneer and chided me about my effort to be like the others. She refused to accept the fact that her baby was slowly becoming rotten. The creation of a monster was not an overnight event but a process as she would painfully learn.


I kept a special box in my locker where I kept my mother's letters. I protected them like a treasure of sweet incense I wished to forever preserve. Often I would reread them and sometimes thought about the tears and heartache I had created. My life of madness was still in its infancy. In less than two months I managed to participate in two fistfights, both against Black inmates. It was my belief that by proving I was tough, although in my heart of hearts I knew I was not, I would gain respect from my fellow inmates. It was an incessant quest to demonstrate my macho and prove to anyone who gave a damn I was not weak.

I was a different person living in a foreign world and performing in a manner that was both alien and ridiculous. Surviving was a full time chore and I was determined to learn the ropes. I also had the best teacher in Curly, who was well respected by the general inmate population. We became the best workers, Curly and I, number one and two respectively. Long after the others were exhausted we would remain, as if in a trance, attacking the hillside with picks and shovels, our shirtless upper bodies glistening with rivers of sweat and locked in a silent contest of physical endurance; neither of us displaying even the slightest inclination of letting up. Baking in the heat of day and caught up in our battle of endurance and prowess, neither of us would stop until ordered to by the crew chief. On the weekends Curly and I would volunteer for extra duty. During the ongoing duel to demonstrate our physical stamina, we succeeded in carving out a portion of a hill for the construction of a parking lot for our visitors. One Sunday, our mothers made their weekly trek to visit us and we proudly boasted how we had literally moved the mountain aside so they could have decent parking. They were impressed.

One day I decided to join two inmates in an escape to prove that I was not chicken, but game. We were apprehended within twenty-four hours when we were stopped by Sheriffs deputies who had no idea we were escapees. It was three a.m. and my story was that we were paper boys on our way to our paper route. But they were skeptical. It was my mother's letters that gave us away. They were addressed to Camp Bouquet Canyon and we were handcuffed immediately. After being returned to camp I promised not to repeat my escape attempt and was given a second chance. Returning to the camp population, I received congratulations and back slaps from many of the inmates. I interpreted their approval of my exploits as a sign of acceptance. They hadn't seen anything yet, I thought. A few weeks later I engineered another escape. This time I took six others with me. My goal was to remain free longer than the previous time. I succeeded, kind of. We were caught within thirty-six hours. It was so cold outside that when the patrol car pulled up to question us I opened the rear door and jumped into the back seat.

This time the camp supervisor decided to expel me and I was returned to Juvenile Hall. During an interview with a counselor I requested to be sent to the California Youth Authority. Defiantly, I needled him about my preference for the food at the C.Y.A. and told him I would be less tempted to escape from their type of close security. I was intentionally indulging in behavior that warranted punitive repercussions and even requested to be housed with a more dangerous caliber of inmate. Was this the symbolic manner of perpetuating the punishment I had been accustomed to receiving as a child? Perhaps I was still exacting my personal brand of revenge against my dad - maybe both. Whatever psychological turmoil fermented in my adolescent brain, I continued to punish myself in the process.


W £ * ™

Years later I read a caseworker's evaluation report. He was of the opinion that I was asking to remain confined "for the unhealthy reason of being secure.” I was then committed to the California Youth Authority. Not only had I proven to be an accepted member of the inmate community but surpassed that goal by being labeled incorrigibly beyond control.

Once again I entertained the prospect of an unknown incarceration - this time it was the C.Y.A. - with that familiar mixture of fear and excitement. I was still having fun despite that little guy who screamed at me to give it a break. He wanted very much to kiss away his mother's tears, return to school and leave this world of madness. Unfortunately, I would make him wait several years. While anticipating my coming challenge I spoke with inmates at Juvenile Hall who had done time in the C.Y.A. I learned that the inmate movidas there were essentially similar to the rules in the county system. In April 1965,1 was transferred to the Southern Reception and Guidance Center in Norwalk where I was assigned a CYA number. It was #68913. At SRGC I became acquainted with other first timers who were similarly embarking on their maiden journeys through the state system. Some inmates would learn their lessons early on, repent from their evil lifestyle, and go on to live happily ever after. Others, such as me, chose to forsake our parents and become "state raised,” learning their lessons later in life - the hard way - those of us who survived. The repeaters, those who had already done time in a CYA facility, were loaded with yams of race riots and stabbing incidents at Paso Robles, Preston, DVI and other institutions. The first timers listened, fascinated, and we absorbed as much as possible. We learned that in the Youth Authority the inmates were much tougher and crazier than at Juvenile Hall or camp. Stories were related about bold inmates who would go as far as to stab and pipe their unit supervisors. It was via this grapevine system that reputations were established and the perpetrators of such acts became living legends.

I never considered that maybe they too were trapped in the unending cycle of continuously proving themselves worthy of acceptance by their peers and experienced the same fears and anxieties as I. This type of conduct was necessary to not only survive but to become accepted. It was starting to get good to me and I wanted to stand out and be special. Not only was I determined to be recognized and do the things that were necessary to belong, but I aspired to surpass those minimum expectations. It was now my deep desire of becoming somebody, together with my impatience at settling for being just like everybody, that spurred me on to attain new "heights" as a juvenile incorrigible.

During that period of personal turbulence I failed to consider the pain and suffering I inflicted upon my family, especially my mother. As an inconsiderate teen I was too involved in my ordeal to give any thought to the one person on earth who loved me unconditionally. The Mexican mother is a special breed. Not only does she dedicate a great portion of her life to her children, but often subjects herself to enormous loss of personal identity. Her womanhood is put on hold for the task of raising a family, sometimes almost single-handedly. With that burden placed on her shoulders she also inherits the blame when things go wrong. Who can fathom a mother's love? My mother was a Rock of Gibraltar and I had no appreciation for the sacrifices she made in her feeble pursuit of molding us into respectable citizens.


I was too preoccupied with carving my jailhouse niche and refused to heed her fervent pleas. Neither did I grasp the precious carino and sincere love lavished upon such an undeserving person as myself. Like the typical Mexican mother, mine adhered to the Father Flanagan theory of: "There's no such thing as a bad boy.” In spite of her blind loyalty, her intentions were pure. For two decades she was my unrecognized angel sent from above and like so many sons, I took her for granted. In the process of taking her for granted I never gave serious consideration to the possibility of losing her. Tragedy, such as death, would surely cause me to remember the intimate moments that only a mother and child could possibly experience. You would think such a prospect would deter me from continuing down the dark road. But in spite of my selfishness, mother persevered. Happiness for me would come later in life. It was the luxury of having a live mother to both thank and say I'm sorry to! As of this 2017 book update, my dear mother is 89 years old and still alive. Oftentimes, and out of nowhere, she will walk up to me (yes, she walks totally unassisted!), place a small kiss on my forehead and state, “You know I am proud of you, mijo.” But my change would come many years later.


PART TWO: STATE RAISED Chapter 6. Journey Through C.Y.A. In May 1965, I was transferred to the Paso Robles School for Boys in the notorious "green hornet,” the name given years prior to the California Youth Authority's transportation bus; a one-tiered vehicle modified with reinforced armor and probably purchased from one of the larger bus lines.

Most of us were first timers and everyone seemed to be enjoying the ride as everyone laughed and exchanged war stories. Some boasted about their daring street exploits such as armed robberies committed, bloody gang victories and other macho criminal accomplishments. No one dared display outward signs of weakness nor admit their stomachs were churning with genuine fear and nervousness. Everyone had on their mask - their front. The telltale sign, nevertheless - one that I would observe many times in future journeys to the unknown - became apparent once someone mentioned that our destination was within view. Efforts at remaining indifferent would suddenly become transparent.

The brave conversations ceased as everyone strained to get a better look as we approached the institution. The quietness spoke volumes. The apprehension I beheld in the eyes of those kids betrayed them immediately. It only confirmed in my mind that they too felt what I did: apprehension. Silent bonds were established in those moments as each inmate became preoccupied with thoughts of how they were going to act and what type of scowl to wear into Paso. As the bus pulled into the sallyport - the receiving dock - an electronically controlled gate slid open. We drove up to another gate and waited. The first gate then closed behind us and the second began to roll open, welcoming us to a campus-looking facility. The iron behemoth slowly rumbled through the security gates into the Paso Robles inmate reception area. Congregated on the platform of the mess hall loading dock were a group of inmates clad in white; chow hall workers casting hard glares at the arriving batch of fresh meat. Their mean looks communicated to us that we were yet unproven "fish.” Acceptance into their world was withheld until each of us demonstrated our ability to meet their standards. Arriving at a new facility meant proving yourself all over again. I was up to the challenge. We had all heard the stories about how the inmates scrutinized new arrivals for a pretty "kid.” The idea was to convert him into a punk - a forced homosexual. I already learned by then that any type of homosexual advance by another inmate, even in jest, was to be repelled immediately with violence.

Symbolism and taboos manifested itself in many ways inside a youth facility. To an outsider, or a first termer, the jailhouse unwritten rules seemed very frivilous. Nevertheless, they were religiously observed by the inmate population. Chicano inmates had an exaggerated rule that required us to respond with violence if anyone from another ethnic goup sex played them or touched their buttocks. There were other similar rules such as not letting anyone shower behind you or not bending over to pick up anything. Symbolically, this was supposed to be tantamount to giving a sexual invitation.

As humorous as this appeared on the surface there was a more deeply rooted macho significance to these rules. Matters of principle took on a more serious connotation within the confines of the incarcerated world. There was the overwhelming need to fiercely maintain the manly image. Any affront to their


manhood was grounds for throwing chingazos - fisticuffs. Their personal honor was at stake as was their barrio's image. A similar parallel came to mind with the Indians of old where a broken twig could spark a fight to the death or an all out war.

Indeed many Chicano inmates themselves found humor and kidded about the absurdity of most of their movidas. They would remark to each other, "You better not slow down because I'm right behind you,” or, "If you bend over one time it's all over.”

But a rule was a rule and everyone understood the consequences for breaking them. No one desired an ass whipping. They adhered to their own rules, their code, much more fervently and enthusiastically than to the rules of the institution. Correspondingly, the same code was observed on the outside in the barrios in direct contrast to the laws of society. At the receiving area we traded in our coveralls for state issue blue denim pants and shirt, gray socks, underwear and a pair of brand new navy shoes.

After going through an orientation unit, where we were administered academic tests and other preparatory instruction, I was assigned to Cholame Cottage. It was a red brick building with a large dormitory, recreation room, shower and bathroom stalls, supply room and counselor’s booth from where our keepers could supervise our movements.

Upon entering the unit I immediately noticed the inmates were divided according to race. The Blacks were congregated in several small groups. They played games of cards or dominoes and lifted weights. The whites were doing their thing and the Chicanos were engrossed in their animated conversations and recreational activities. As the unit counselor escorted me to my assigned locker and bunk area I received curious glances from the white and Black inmates. Because I was a Chicano, they quickly lost interest. I then saw the Chicano inmates closely scrutinizing me - sizing me up. They were looking for a familiar face, someone they recognized from a previous incarceration or a fellow gang member; more importantly, they were searching for any signs of fear or weakness. Blacks accepted almost any Black inmate as their brother and whites were less demanding of their own, but Chicano inmates carefully observed all new Carnales with a very critical eye. They had high expectations for their members and would harshly reject a fellow Chicano if he was weak, came from a non-gang environment or could not live up to the standards probably prescribed some centuries ago by their Aztec ancestors. A Chicano gang member could immediately recognize another gang member by his walk, talk, tattoos, manner in which he carried himself or a combination of these characteristics. After being shown my assigned sleeping area I was directed to the dayroom. The inmates were intermingled as I found a vacant chair and nonchalantly surveyed the dayroom with an indifferent gaze. Whereas film actors attend academy of arts and similar schools of training, ours was “on-the-job-training” and survival of the fittest. I played the role of Geronimo or Cochise, stoically inspecting the new terrain with a blank expression. I was also very cognizant of the Chicano inmates who were pretending not to notice me as they evaluated and conducted their inspection of the new arrival. I was relieved there were no direct challenging stares I had to return.


Within five to ten minutes I was approached by a muscular Chicano whose arms were covered with tattoos. He sat in the chair next to mine and asked where I was from. Instead of, “Hello, how are you?” the Spanish query ^De donde eres? (Where are you from?), is asking what gang you belong to or what city you represent. In inmate parlance, it is the equivalent to a greeting, only much more than that. This question was more of a qualifying introduction intended to elicit the necessary intel that would either gain the acceptance or rejection of the interviewer. I was prepared for this precise moment. Since I was well acquainted with Bugsy and Curly, along with other gang members I knew from junior high school on the outside, I decided to adopt the King Kobras as my gang. In the jail system, “set claiming,” misrepresenting the gang you are claiming to belong to, can get you in serious trouble. It was a calculated risk for me because I was familiar enough with Bugsy and Curly to succeed in this deception. Plus, it ensured my acceptance in the Chicano inmate underworld and bought me enough time to become integrated into their madness. He asked some general probing questions such as my commitment offense (escape), and length of sentence (indefinite) among other lines of probing questions. The idea was to ensure I was not a baby raper or sex deviate and my demeanor was also evaluated to determine I did not display signs of fear or nervousness but rather confidence and other positive traits. Satisied with my responses, he extended his arm and introduced himself while ceremoniously shaking my hand. He identified himself as Bozo from Pacoima.

Having passed the inspection, Bozo invited me over to meet the others. There was Killer from Dog Town, Bear from Happy Valley, Loco from Venice and the rest of the clique. The movidas there, I was told, were generally the same as those in Norwalk. The inmate group structure in Paso Robles was set up by the inmates themselves and every cottage had its ethnic leader. The Chicano group was much more regimented, like a street gang, and had a “Prez” and “Visa,” short for President and Vice-President.

Aside from a few fistfights - I surprisingly developed a potent left hook - and verbal clashes with my supervisors, I managed to skate through the program without incurring any serious disciplinary reports. At Paso Robles I acquired a vast amount of criminal savvy. I learned when performing a robbery, the larger the gun used, the better the chances of success. A larger caliber weapon, such as a .45 or shotgun, was a proven deterrent to resistance from a victim. I was also schooled about ideal places to burglarize and the tools of the trade used to gain entry, neutralize alarm systems and pick locks. I discovered how to effectively use stolen cars for various crimes and how to alter the license plates. I even absorbed invaluable knowledge in the art of breaking into public telephone booths and vending machines. Eager to convert these previously untried ideas into action, I embarked upon my new career with the same zeal that a businessman would probably display working his way up the corporate ladder.

The value system I adopted at camp, juvenile hall, Norwalk and Paso gave special status to those who excelled in antisocial behavior. In the process of adapting to the criminal mentality in order to survive in their jungle, I was becoming one of them as I yielded to the enormous peer pressure. I not only succeeded in acquiring the respect and acceptance of my peers, but had become a “somebody.”

At this point, my life was still salvageable. I was then about four years from that fateful day in which I would kill a rival street gang member and become a lost soul.


As I journey to that critical juncture in 1969, only God knows what would have successfully interrupted my ascent up the criminal corporate ladder. What is important to understand is that I was certainly not bom a criminal. My evolvement was indeed a process nurtured by adverse circumstances and perpetuated ultimately by one’s beautiful gift from God: Free volition. I was definitely responsible for my actions and free to choose and decide how I was to proceed in life. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong avenue. On August 10, 1965, Los Angeles was ablaze and the residents of Watts demonstrated their anger at ‘whitey.’ I was paroled from Paso Robles amidst the frenzy and confusion generated from the Watts riots. It felt as though I had been welcomed to hell.

Ernie "Neto" Renteria belonged to the 80th Street gang and he lived across the street from me in a small house behind his aunt and uncle. We met within days after my release and shared stories from our Youth Authority incarcerations while we got loaded at his home. Neto had just been paroled from Preston. His was a unique family. His oldest brother, Moose, was from the Happy Valley gang; Bobby was from Lopez Maravilla; Neto was from 80th Street and his nephew Larry was from The Avenues. Usually, family members joined the same gang but the Renterias were fiercely independent souls with their own trails to blaze. Neto’s uncle Little Tony Sandoval (Big Tony Sandoval was his dad) had just shoved off to Viet Nam and the subject at hand was our collective desire to follow in his footsteps and kick ass overseas. Representing La Raza in combat was like a dream we wanted fulfilled.

Soon drugs and booze became my constant companions as Neto and I became partners in crime. We began pulling robberies, burglaries, stealing cars and partying heavily. Hardly a day went by in which Neto and I could be found sober and we had girls all over town to help us blow our ill-acquired money. It was party time. Upon learning I had done time in the CYA, Chicano gang members accepted me into their circles. The indoctrination continued and the street lingo was easy to pick up. I continued my life of crime as I became intimately acquainted with a world I never knew.

I was finally arrested for robbery and violation of my parole. I was returned to juvenile hall and was transferred to the CYA Reception and Guidance Center in Norwalk for classification and processing. Because of my 148 I.Q. and exceptionally high test scores, I was classified for the Youth Training School in Chino.

YTS was a trade school that offered the resources which enabled an inmate to acquire specific skills. They had plumbing, welding, carpentry, shoe repair and many other trades. I selected warehouse and stockkeeping. For two months I applied myself diligently and was progressing in my chosen trade. Then the trouble began.

One weekend, I assisted two co-conspirators in stealing containers of Freeon, a liquid substance used in the refrigeration shop, and smuggled them past the lax security and into our housing units. In the privacy of our cells we soaked the liquid into clean rags and began sniffing the cool sweet-smelling intoxicant. The high was exhilarating.

Within minutes, we received word that an inmate in E-Wing had just died from sniffing the same Freeon. His lungs had frozen. Startled at the news, we flushed our rags and containers down the toilet and turned ourselves in to the authorities.


We were immediately rushed to the institution hospital and administered several tests. Fortunately, we had not consumed enough of the deadly liquid to place us in a life- threatening predicament. Sadly, our friend's death had probably saved our lives. When later asked if that incident had taught me anything, I replied, "Yeah. It taught me not to sniff Freeon anymore.”

One afternoon, while I awaited transfer to Preston, my mother paid me a visit. She brought toothpaste, crossword puzzle magazines along with other creature comforts not readily available inside. She also brought sad news. My dad was hospitalized at John Wesley Hospital and had thirty days to live.


Chapter 7. Preston and Tracy Although I possessed a demented and insatiable mean streak during my confined teenage years, the CYA counselors were undeterred. I was their "project" and they were optimistic about my reformation. The more they attempted to tap into my "potential,” the more determined I endeavored to prove them wrong. I exploited their efforts and manipulated them at every turn.


The Preston School of Industries was in Ione, California, a tiny rural town near Stockton. Preston was to the California Youth Authority what outmoded and sinister-looking San Quentin and Folsom prisons were to the California Department of Corrections. Preston’s notorious reputation as a tough and violent institution gave the inmates a feeling of uniqueness and perverse pride. We belonged to a special class of prisoner, or so we liked to think, and were determined to live up to and maintain the reputation of the institution.


When I drove up in 1966 on the Green Hornet I could clearly see the old castle standing menacingly in the background. It was so close I could hear the cries of 19th century prisoners being flogged and beaten by their barbaric keepers. Although no longer in use, the red brick castle represented a constant and ominous reminder of the Old West's emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation. I was impressed.


Twentieth-century Preston was spread out like a small community. B-Company had a neatly trimmed lawn on which the younger citizens huddled to check out the new arrivals. There were about fifty of us on this busload. Clad in our customary white coveralls, we wore our toughest faces and walked that cool gangster walk as we disembarked. The Blacks had this exaggerated swagger, their arms swinging like pendulums. The Chicanos, with feet pointed outward, raised their chins in defiance and strutted down the walkway. Like a procession of tightly wound ducks, we appeared mad at the world.




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The group of white inmates for the most part consisted of young, tender looking and obviously frightened kids who stumbled along awkwardly. In this world, they were considered dead meat. The few hardcore white inmates seemed eager to avoid them like a plague.

My first assignment at Preston was L-Company which handled the most violent and incorrigible inmates. Shortly after my arrival I recognized some familiar faces from previous incarcerations. There was Killer from Marianna, Huero from Florencia, Wino from Diamond, Kiki from White Fence and a host of gang rebels. They extended their greetings. I was quickly brought up to speed. The Mexican-American clique required that I exercise the option of joining by either fist fighting each member individually or I could choose to be jumped in by all. Conventional wisdom was to go with the latter. In my mind, the idea was to get the ritual over quickly. I was escorted to the dorm. The key to handling a "Pearl Harbor" was to concentrate on singling out one attacker. There were about fifteen to twenty members and Killer threw the first punch. I chose him as my target. The timekeeper must have been counting quarter seconds. The sixty-second initiation easily felt like more than five minutes. I managed to escape with only a bloody nose, sore ribs and several knots on my head. Preston tales, war stories probably repeated millions of times over, were committed to memory. I heard about fifty years of daring escapes from the infamous Adjustment Center. Actor Rory Calhoun was reputed to have been the first to accomplish this dubious feat. Floggings had been commonplace back then and even the counselors enjoyed bragging about their firsthand accounts of bloody race riots and killings that had taken place in the "good old days.” The Preston tales were better than any Louis L'Amour western adventure book I had ever read. These yams only served to whet our appetites for violence and recognition and we enjoyed perpetuating the atmosphere. Many of the inmates made it a point to take photographs with the castle behind them as a backdrop to impress family and friends. In order to prove my meanness, I eventually became one of the crudest oppressors in Preston. I was elected Prez, or President, of the Chicano clique in L-Company and I used this position to establish my reputation as a tough vato. Stoneouts were turned out - forced to submit to our sexual pleasures - or pressured into surrendering their possessions of value. They were also used as punching bags for any member of the clique who simply wished to vent his anger or frustrations upon.

During Fourth of July festivities I instigated a riot on the football field against Black inmates. I launched the attack by squaring off with their leader in the equipment room. We met inside the gym and duked it out head to head while everyone waited outside the cage. He tried to wrestle me to the ground and I snatched an air pump hose and wrapped it around his neck. From the equipment room I led him outside to display him to the inmate population. His eyes bulged and his mouth was gurgling as he attempted to remove the noose. As we emerged all hell broke loose. Jungle Jim, the counselor in charge of the goon squad, appeared with a tear gas rifle and fired into the melee which was going strong near the fifty yard line.

I was having fun making my victim's experience a miserable one when I felt the butt of Jungle Jim's rifle on the side of my face. As quickly as it began, the fun was over. My cheekbone remained swollen for weeks.


The degree of torment, grief and pain I inflicted upon other inmates, especially the weaker ones, became a way of measuring whether or not I was living up to my reputation as a tough guy. In less than two years since that scared kid entered Juvenile Hall, I graduated from a virtually naive and square lame to a calculated, hardened, self-styled leader among the toughest inmates in the hardest company of one of the toughest institutions in the California Youth Authority. Incredibly, all of this was accomplished before I had officially joined a street gang. The law of Preston depended on which company you were in. There were certain basic rules that everyone adhered to such as turning in at ten, eating three meals a day and enrolling in a work or school assignment. But for the most part we lived in a jungle in which only the strong survived and even the counselors seemed to enjoy this system.

Since everyone in the gang underworld had a nickname, I adopted one for myself as well. I chose my favorite uncle's moniker, "Mundo,” and had it tattooed on my arm. This handle, I vowed to myself, would be as permanent as the indelible ink embedded in my arm. It’s funny how your imagination plays tricks on you when you are institutionalized. Nagging mothers suddenly assume saintly Madonna status. They are showered with homemade cards, each line painstakingly drawn with the careful precision of a microscopic surgeon.

During my first year of incarceration I kept in constant communication with Gloria, an old school friend. I fantasized about her in jail and looked forward to receiving her letters. She represented a link to the outside world, a world that was becoming more and more distant with each passing day. In my fantasy world, I managed to transform a school acquaintance into a loyal and heartbroken sweetheart waiting patiently for her knight in shining armor to ride a white horse home to her. I even related stories about how we maintained a raging love affair on the outside and had plans of marriage upon my release.

Then I received a letter from her. It began, "Dear Ray, Just these few lines to let you know that there is nothing new out here except for the fact that I'm getting married in November..." Infuriated, I proceeded to shred all her letters, which I had tenderly and reverently accumulated and kept in a box next to those of my mother. When asked about her, I told them I had gotten burned out and cut her loose. I spent ten turbulent months at Preston and was a frequent visitor of the Adjustment Center as a result of repeated violations of rules. I didn't give a fuck and I was determined that I could never be broken. It was them against me. I was sixteen, cocky, and having fun. My favorite Spanish cry of rebellion to my keepers at Preston, and the world in general - was: Aqui maman! You all suck!

The Adjustment Center was located in a remote section of the institution in a mammoth hole. AC was a two story double-tiered dungeon with enough cells to accommodate over a hundred incorrigible lodgers. On about my tenth trip to the hole I wondered if I was approaching some sort of record. That would be a nice accomplishment, I thought proudly. We were not allowed to talk from cell to cell. Those who disobeyed were rewarded with extra days in AC. Those who were frequent visitors to the "Preston Hotel" learned the Morse Code. It enabled us to communicate with our immediate neighbor by rapping on the wall with a toothbrush.


Sign gestures - the language of the deaf - was another mode of communication between inmates whose cells were in direct view. Extra days in the hole did not deter nor intimidate me. I shunned the clandestine forms of interacting and opted instead to be vocal. For a few months I incurred the wrath of the counselors until they simply grew tired of dealing with me. My last hurrah at the Preston School of Industries was a brief stint in the Institution’s Psyche Unit. We called it the sick, lame and lazy, blind, crippled and crazy unit of Preston. O-Company housed inmates that required closer psychiatric supervision then the general population. I succeeded in maneuvering my way there for the sole purpose of paying a visit to an inmate who had insulted my "brothers" in LCompany. Joe Baca was my target.

Shortly after my arrival, I spotted Joe in the weight area. He was a big muscular dude who enjoyed pumping iron on a daily basis. He was also well aware I didn't like him or his arrogant attitude. As I entered the workout area he was doing curls in a standing position. He was also looking in my direction with a taunting smirk on his face. Seething with rage I bit my lip but did not betray my feelings. I casually walked over to an empty bench next to him and selected a twenty-five pound dumbbell. Satisfied that it would perform the desired damage, I turned to give my greetings.

I smiled at Mr. America as the weight smashed into his face. His body crumpled to the floor with a crash and he lay unconscious, his head tilted at an angle against the workout bench. I studied my work momentarily as blood oozed freely from his forehead. Maybe he figured I didn't have the nerve. Who knows? But he couldn't say he did not see it coming. Joe survived the blow and I was locked up in the Adjustment Center for twenty-nine days. That was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

In February of 1967 I was transferred to the Deuel Vocational Institution near Tracy, which housed both youth and adult prisoners and was operated by the Department of Corrections. DVI, encircled by armed gun towers overlooking rows of yellow buildings, was the last stop for California youth offenders. On my trek up the criminal "corporate ladder,” I succeeded in visiting every institution of significance the CYA had to offer. As the transportation van approached the front gate, I realized I had finally made it to the next level. Caught up in a perpetual escalation of evil doings, there was only one way to go - straight ahead. To deviate from this "course of self-destruction,” as a psychiatrist at San Quentin later warned, would mean that I was weakening. I could not show weakness in any form. The fun was just beginning.

DVI became another proving ground for me. I welcomed the challenge as I had the previous ones - with zeal and determination. There I was reunited with jailhouse associates I had known in Preston including several who would later join me as Carnales in the Mexican Mafia. As in Preston I became a frequent resident of the Adjustment Center and became overbearing in my attitude toward staff members. One night I decided to express my frustrations in dramatic fashion. I piled a stack of trash in front of my cell and set it ablaze. Choking officers attempted to extinguish the fire and I began to "gas" them, dousing them with glasses of urine mixed with cleanser. Enraged, they stormed my cell and proceeded to beat me with flashlights. Twisting and turning in their grasps, I spit in their faces and kicked wildly. I was carried to a strip cell and placed on "assault status"which meant I could not leave my cell without an escort, not even to shower, until my attitude improved.


They returned the following night to check on my condition. I screamed obscenities. I challenged and chided them by demeaning their machismo and insisting that last night had merely been a warm-up. Lt. Duncan did not appear very cordial. He sported a dark purple bruise on his forehead, a reminder of the previous night's violent encounter. He angrily ordered one of the guards to unlock my door. I squared off to begin punching. They surprised me by rushing in using a mattress as a shield. Overwhelmed, I was thrown backwards and pinned against the wall and thrown to the floor where steel-toed boots came crashing down on my head, ribs and legs. In the darkness of my cell I kicked, punched and bit the cursing shadowy figures. They were determined to teach me a lesson. Lt. Duncan maneuvered through the mass confusion and I felt his hands groping at my crotch. The painful scream resounded through the Adjustment Center hallway as Duncan squeezed my testicles tightly. Then I passed out.

Upon waking up, I realized I was completely naked on the cold floor. My body ached with excruciating pain. The night man’s flashlight beam hit me in squarely in the eyes and I was momentarily blinded. The guard had been instructed to make periodic checks and was outside peering in. "Do you feel O.K.?" "Your mother never complained about how I felt.” I came back with venom. He laughed, satisfied that I was fine, and continued his night checks. Despite the pulsating throbs below my waist I was not about to show weakness. My clothes and bedding were returned to me the following day.

From the Adjustment Center I employed my manipulative talents and initiated a letter writing campaign utilizing my mother and a sympathetic congressman. Together we succeeded in pressuring the institution into recommending me for release on parole.

At the Classification Committee I was confronted by my old buddy Lt. Duncan, Mr. Neto, the head counselor, and other staff members. This particular appearance was also the pinnacle of defiance for me. I strolled deliberately into the committee room with my blue bandana tied around my head; long before the Bloods and Crips became notorious for their blue and red colors, L.A. Chicano gang members wore the notorious “blue,” especially behind bars. I was flaunting my colors for the sake of my favorite lieutenant. Mr. Neto began by congratulating me for my outstanding and conforming behavior. He said I was a "prime example for others in the Adjustment Center to emulate" (emphasis was added). The fancy adjectives were pure bullshit and everyone in the room knew it. It was their way of incorporating positive language into the official record. It never ceased to amaze how these people could, with the stroke of a pen, depict me as one of Christ's apostles rather than castigate me for the disciplinary reports I had amassed. On the other hand, if they had it in for you, they had the power to vilify and paint you as one of the slimiest creature in existence. But today was my day. I was savoring every moment and delighting at the helpless and uncomfortable look on Duncan's face.

Fuming silently, Lt. Duncan was like a smoldering volcano on the brink of erupting. The flush on his hardened face only confirmed to me that he had been totally opposed to any favorable recommendations on my behalf but powerless to prevent it. Not only had he been outvoted, he was outranked. Word had come down from Sacramento to get me out of their hair.


I was enjoying the charade. Mr. Neto informed me the committee was not only recommending to the parole board that I be released on parole but they were releasing me to the general population as well. Duncan was shifting uncomfortably. He fiddled nervously with his pen as Mr. Neto continued. "Mr. Mendoza, what do you plan to do upon your eventual release? Do you have a job lined up? This would be my last opportunity. I looked straight at Duncan as I carefully considered my reply to Mr. Neto’s question. "Yes sir, I plan to work for a large corporation. I'm gonna work for Murder, Incorporated."

That set him off. "Look, you son-of-a-bitch. If you ever come back to DVI I'll personally make sure they throw away the key!"

With that he stormed out of the committee room and I could see the trace of a smile on Mr. Neto's face. It was no big secret that Duncan and I hated each other's guts. This was the final scene in our longstanding feud. I had enjoyed the satisfaction of firing the last salvo. Several weeks later I was released. By then I had established an evil reputation from Juvenile Hall, forestry camp, Paso Robles, to Y.T.S., Preston and finally DVI.


Chapter 8. Barrio Fever I was released on parole from D.V.I. on February 19, 1969. An escorting guard led the way to the receiving and release area where I hurriedly changed from the state-issued blues into the dress outs. My heart was thumping wildly that day but I remained cool and unconcerned on the outside for the benefit of the prison guard. I didn't want him to think that I considered it a big deal to be going home.

From a simple parole violation, I had parlayed a six-month sentence into thirty-eight volatile months behind bars. With four years of confinement under my belt at the hostile age of nineteen, I considered myself quite a man. I was a big shot and one tough son-of-a-bitch. I was also someone to be reckoned with. I was angry at the world in general and didn't know it. Carrying a small shoebox containing my photo album, letters and legal papers, I was led to the front gate. I wore a black pair of slacks, a powder blue long-sleeved shirt and a pair of black prison dress shoes, which I labeled prison guard shoes. My escort hollered up to the gun tower officer. The gate slid open and I passed into what seemed to be another time zone. The gate then clanged shut behind us. Guards and prison employees rushed past me headed in the opposite direction. The new shift was arriving from the employee parking lot through the same gate I had passed. They were going one way. I was headed the other.

I was ushered to a waiting van. Above me the morning sunlight brightened my day. I would never admit to a soul how good I felt at that moment. As I inhaled the fresh air I had to admit to myself it had a sweeter smell than inside the joint. I was out of my cage and loving the feeling of freedom. Verbalizing the happiness of that precious moment was considered an expression of weakness. So I shared my euphoria with no one, suppressed a smile and settled into the transportation vehicle.

This was the same van that transported inmates to and from the San Joaquin County Courthouse - those unfortunates who were apprehended and tried for committing a stabbing or other serious crime within the institution. I recognized most of the monikers carved into the van's gray interior. Many of them had done time with me in the Adjustment Center. I could recall by memory why they had been taken to outside court and the disposition of their cases. As I thought about them I decided I would include my name with the others. The file section of my fingernail clipper was perfect. I carefully etched "Mundo de East L.A. 1967-1969" to commemorate my stay amongst the distinguished personalities of D.V.I. In the California Youth Authority, there was an old adage among the inmates that upon parole, when leaving a CYA institution, it was considered bad luck to look back when leaving. To do so, went the admonition, was to guarantee a return trip. Like the Biblical story of Lot's wife who had been turned into a pillar of salt for looking back upon God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But I wasn't Lot's wife. I demonstrated my disdain for such foolish superstitions. Raising my arm, I defiantly held up the middle finger in a parting salute to the institution as the van sped away. Fuck you, D.V.I.! A new Greyhound depot in downtown Los Angeles had been completed during my period of incarceration. I looked outside the window as the bus pulled into its designated parking space. The brakes hissed to a stop and I somehow managed to contain my excitement. There was something about this bus ride that seemed different. Then it hit me. The windows were not barred!


After hopping off the Greyhound steps I stretched my cramped legs while stoically scrutinizing the milling crowd for a familiar face. Many of the passengers were welcomed by their loved ones. Cries of joy and tearful reuions made me cringe as I was not accustomed to such display of open affection. People were hugging and kissing all around me. It was sickening. I was the only one on the bus who had paroled from prison but these people were acting as if they had done ten years in the joint, I mused. There was just too much love and affection for my hard ass and I tried not to observe these scenes for too long. Impatiently nudging people aside I walked a bit before I heard a familiar voice from the past. It was my sister Marie calling out my name. Not my street name but my true name. In prison everyone had a placaso, a moniker or nickname. Inside, I was known as "Mundo" and it seemed very strange to be addressed as "Ray,” but it felt right and it fit the new environment. I spotted Marie frantically waving her arms from across the waiting lounge. "Hi, Meatball,” She hated that nickname.

"Ray! Ray!" Marie rushed into her big brother's arms with tears of joy streaming down her face. I felt likewise but my hard rock prison conditioning prevented me from releasing too much emotion. After all, I had an image to maintain. I had to sustain the tough facade. Real men weren't supposed to cry. I would just have to forgive her for displaying all this love and affection. She was also excused for addressing me as Ray instead of my jailhouse handle. We headed toward an escalator. Marie excitedly brought me up to date with family stuff. She drove us across downtown to the east side. As we neared my mother's house on Bonnie Beach Place, I absorbed the familiar sights on Olympic Boulevard. The Rancho Market was still there and so was the Hula Club, where my dad had taken on a handful of drunkards one night and kicked some ass. Las Carnitas restaurant graced the otherwise simple business establishments in the area with its large colorful neon sign.

The memories really hit home when we stopped for a light in front of Eastman Avenue School. Seven years of my childhood were spent in this elementary school. I had raced up and down the corridors of the now pale yellow sun-worn buildings. It was at Eastman where I met my first childhood sweetheart, Rosie Robles. I recall vividly how I would refuse to talk to her whenever I caught her talking to another boy. Confused and visibly perplexed, I also remember the hurt look on her face as she attempted unsuccessfully to get me to talk to her. That was love in its most innocent form. I was enjoying my new freedom and feeling nostalgic at the sight of my old stomping grounds. I truly loved and missed the familiar streets of East L.A. When we turned onto Bonnie Beach, I caught a quick glimpse of El Capitan. The old neighborhood pub would get pretty noisy and rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights. From a distance I saw my mother standing on the sidewalk with her arms folded across her chest, her fists clenched nervously. Angel and Polly were small dancing figures running circles around our mother. They paused every few seconds to look toward the arriving car. Pandy the family pet dog barked loudly. He too must have sensed the excitement hanging in the air. "Mijo!" Mother greeted me. Mom was the first to embrace me when I opened the car door. Angel and Polly followed closely behind. They clung to my legs demanding a kiss from their long lost older brother who had returned from far away. A tear finally forced itself through the dam. My eyes reddened. I returned the love and affection undeservedly bestowed upon me by my family.


My mom always had a way of getting to me. It seemed like lately, in the last five years or so, she was always crying on my account. I had definitely been the source of much grief in her life but at the moment it was forgotten and the tears streaming down her face were tears ofjoy. Upon entering the house I was greeted by my mom's favorite Mexican folk songs. Jose Alfredo Jimenez was singing "La Enorme Distancia" - the enormous distance - which seemed so appropriate considering I had been more than just a few miles away from my family.

I quickly rediscovered that the custom of eating native Mexican foods was still maintained at home, much to my delight. Enchiladas, chile rellenos, refried frijoles, tortillas, hot salsa, Spanish arroz, were laid out in serving bowls in the dining area. The prodigal son had returned to put smiles on the faces of his loved ones. Mom had been extremely supportive from day one. My mother gave me the money to purchase a 1954 Chevy. At $250, even then it was a steal. The mustard and white sedan was in mint condition. Behind the wheel, I was on top of the world. I acquired my first driver's license - a temporary one. I looked up Irma, a former home girl and faithful pen pal. Because I had been in jail for all but a few months since I turned fifteen, I was still a virgin and sought to make Irma my first conquest. At Hollenbeck Park she nearly surrendered herself to me but instead, confessed that she was four months pregnant. That was enough to turn me off.

Instead of seeking employment, as I promised my mom and parole officer, I began associating with members of the Varrio Nuevo Estrada Courts gang. Many of them had done time with me in the Youth Authority. "Big Huero" Tadewosian and Daniel "Speedy" Bracamonte became my constant companions. They introduced me to their homeboys and homegirls. Huero was a few years older than Speedy and I and was a member of the "Tiny's" clique. Speedy was from the "Midgets.” Every gang in Los Angeles contains separate "cliquas, ” or cliques, within the gang. In 1969, for example, the Varrio Nuevo members whose ages were over twenty-seven belonged to the Cutdowns. The Tinys ranged from twenty-two through twenty-six; the Midgets had those between sixteen and twenty-one; whereas the PeeWees - the newest clique at the time - spanned the age groups from twelve to fifteen years.

This subdividing takes place as members of a common age bracket within a neighborhood claimed by a street gang decide to emulate their older idols. Customarily, these youngsters obtain the blessings from the older fellow gang members - the "veteranos" - before selecting a name for their newly formed clique. Because I was nineteen at the time I joined I should have been a Midget. But Big Huero Tadewosian The Mad German was what I had affectionately dubbed him at D.V.I. - sponsored me for membership into the older Tinys. New street gang recruits are normally sponsored and initiated into the ‘hood after certain procedures are satisfied. After a period of acquainting me with the other homeboys from the various cliques and indoctrinating me with regard to information about our adversaries, I was escorted to a dirt alley near the housing projects between 8th and Hunter.

The four Tinys chosen to honor me with their pugilistic talents were Big Huero, Tutie, Bugs and Bucky. Before the jumping in ritual commenced I emptied my pockets of personal valuables and handed them to Little Ray from the Sharks, a clique almost extinct since their members were well over thirty, mostly married and long gone from the ‘hood. Little Ray was the chief observer. As I began to remove my


wristwatch I saw warning look on the faces of two of the Midgets in attendance. Peripherally I caught a glimpse of Tutie's cocked fist a split second before it slammed into my temple. That first solid blow nearly knocked me out. Stumbling and almost falling from the impact, I saw a bright flickering wave of light in front of my eyes. I then knew for sure I had a hard head as Tutie's blow would have decked most. I remembered the valuable pointers Big Huero had shared with me beforehand. He specifically cautioned me to remain on my feet at all costs because many new recruits became vulnerable to great bodily damage after hitting the ground. A prone body was exposed to dangerous kicks. Recovering instantly, I caught Bugs squarely on the forehead and sent him crashing into a fence. The onlookers roared in approval as the hounds descended upon me from every conceivable angle, It seemed that for every punch I landed, I absorbed ten fists and kicks in return.

Initiation Alley Between 8th and Hunter Streets

0 £

Using the fence to shield myself from behind I flailed away blindly at my attackers as blood obscured my vision. In what seemed like an eternity I could hear Little Ray repeatedly hollering "Ya estubo!" (It's finished). The onslaught mercifully ceased and one by one each Tiny shook my hand and complimented me for my aggressive resistance.

Relieved, I managed to hold my weary arms in the air like a victorious boxer after a hard earned bout. I was celebrating my newborn status as a champion amidst my new family. My brothers had baptized me with their carinos, their endearments, the Chicano way - al estilo Indio (Indian style)!

To my personal satisfaction, I noticed that Big Huero and Tutie sported cut lips, Bucky displayed a swelling bruise on his cheek and Bugs wore a perfect shiner around his left eye, a souvenir from me and evidence that some of my punches had reached home. As for myself I had many knuckle prints imbedded in my forehead and a cut above the eye. The important result for me was the fact that I was welcomed into Varrio Nuevo with open arms by my homeboys.


*** The party was on. We were congregated at the home of fellow gang member Tutie Barela.

"If anybody fucks with Varrio Nuevo," Tutie hollered with a bottle of Thunderbird held high overhead, "they're going to bite off more than they can chew!" I wasn't really in a partying mood. I had just murdered someone for the first time and couldn't quite figure out how I was supposed to feel. There was a slight sense of sorrow for my victim, whom I had left dying on the second floor of the teen center. But for some reason I was not sharing the joy being expressed around me as the homeboys celebrated.

The victory party was wild. I downed my second can of Budweiser and could only nod acknowledgement to those who congratulated me for a job well done for the ‘hood. My instant celebrity status was stifling me. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. But the celebration continued. From a bedroom doorway, Speedy was waving urgently. He was trying to get my attention. I broke away from the others and joined him and other homies. Laid out on the bed, like a seductive naked woman, was a .45-caliber machinegun. I beheld her with unrestrained lust. "Son of a bitch," I breathed. I. fondly cradled and familiarized myself with this grand weapon of mass destruction. That's when one of the homeboys commented that we would be more than ready should our adversaries attempt to hit us in retaliation for our earlier raid.

A cold chill coursed through my body. His comment hit a nerve and I stared at him blankly. I pondered what he was suggesting. Then I decided to sit the homeboys down and share with them some wise and deadly advice. "Nobody fucks with us! We don't sit and wait for any vatos to hit us, entiendes?" My craze filled eyes scanned the room. It was almost as if the mean piece in my arms had transformed me into a maniac. "If somebody gets in our face we hit and we hit hard!" I emphasized. "And if we have any doubts after that then we hit the mother fuckers again, harder, until they get the message, ^Que no?" I had a way with words. Transfixed, everyone was in agreement with me. The best defense, I spat, was a relentless offense. I held them spellbound with the calm and controlled manner in which I addressed them. It was as though another voice had taken over from within. Someone totally unfamiliar had suddenly decided to increase the tempo in my crazy life. It was about two in the morning. Our biggest concern was the fear of being spotted by an LAPD patrol cruiser. There were four of us in the car. We headed back to White Fence in the hope of surprising them again and delivering an encore performance. “Bugs” was behind the wheel, “Speedy” and “Little Robert” came along for backup, and I volunteered to be the designated shooter.

The streets were empty on this particular early morning. We parked in the residential heart of White Fence across from Fresno Park. Our windows were rolled down and the occasional sound of sparse freeway traffic provided a backdrop as we waited. Interstate Five geographically separated Varrio Nuevo from our longtime adversaries and Speedy stood point outside the car smoking a cigarette and surveying the neighborhood for a sign of the enemy.


After what seemed like an eternity - it was more like a half hour - our patience was rewarded as Speedy spotted a group walking towards us. There were about five of them. Speedy thought he recognized the loud drunken voice of one called Smokey. Unaware of our silent vigil they had obviously been out partying or possibly devising a retaliation attack against us. Our quiet attempt at appearing inconspicuous failed. One of them recognized the ambush. No doubt familiar with every tree and bush in his neighborhood, he pointed in our direction. They scattered in several directions as Speedy leaped into the back seat. Bugs had the tires squealing even before Speedy closed the door. I was in the front with the machinegun barrel resting on the floorboard. Bugs spun into a u-tum. Three of them ran towards an old stucco house and we concentrated our efforts on them. I began to fire as they scaled a chain link fence, crouching to avoid the flying bullets. They scampered frantically across the lawn as the 45 slugs tattooed and penetrated the side of the house. When they disappeared inside the residence I continued firing my uncontrollable weapon. Clasping it tightly, I held onto the machinegun with both hands as it bucked and kicked in my tense grip. The acrid smell of gunpowder was like olfactory incense and the reports of nonstop gunfire became music to my ears. I emptied the clip. I also learned something about operating a high-performance automatic weapon: bullets did not discriminate. We escaped the scene of the crime unscathed and undetected by the authorities. I never received an official account of our early morning foray. Nor did I care. Through the street grapevine, which is usually more accurate, I did learn that one of our adversaries was hit in the buttocks and couldn't sit for a few weeks. Good fortune had smiled on them that day.

Suddenly, I had acquired an insatiable appetite for bloodletting. I also received a new handle. Soon after our raid the homeboys began to call me "Machinegun Mundo" and "M.G.,” short for machinegun. Ironically, I never again handled an automatic weapon.


Chapter 9. 187 P.C.

Speedy and I were kicking back and shooting the breeze with the homeboys on Dorothy “Candy” Rios’ front yard. It was a Friday afternoon on May 28, 1969. Inside the house, Candy and the homegirls were frantically applying their makeup. Everyone was preparing for another party weekend. Peter Medina handed me a Bud and as I popped it open the buzzing sound of a helicopter grew louder and louder. It was a little too late when we finaly realized we were being raided. Brakes squealed and we were quickly surrounded by suits with black handguns. On an intercom someone made the proper introductions. They were L.A.P.D. homicide detectives. We were all under arrest. There hadn't been time to react or resist. I managed a resigned shrug and made certain my last swallow was a long one. Then, as the others had already done, I raised my arms in surrender. At the Hollenbeck Police Station I was booked on one count of section 187 of the California Penal Code, to wit: murder. I was also charged with one count of attempted murder. By the following morning everyone except Speedy and I had been released. Handcuffed together, we were escorted from the station to the police parking lot to be transported to the men's county jail. This would be my best opportunity to escape. I knew Speedy could keep up with me. After all, he had acquired his nickname for being fleet of foot.

Two detectives followed closely behind. In Spanish I whispered to Speedy that we should make a run for it. He was no fool. It was common knowledge that Hollenbeck had a track record for killing greasers. This was the same division that had recently blown away Little Kiki, my sidekick from Preston. Speedy also took into account that my judgment was temporarily impaired. I was desperate. I was facing a heavy murder rap. Fortunately, Speedy resisted. He pointed out that they were just itching for a reason to plug us. In my heart I knew he was probably right. Common sense prevailed and we went meekly. The Los Angeles County Jail was like a train station, bristling with nonstop activity. There was the daily ritual of new bookings, releases, attorney and family visits, court lines, parole officers and bondsmen jostling for position. They always seemed to bump heads, one attempting to secure a parole-hold on the same prisoner the other was trying to free.

Inmates who succeeded in winning their cases in court stampeded through the release area alongside those who could afford to make bail. Convicted felons caught the chain to their destinations throughout the California Department of Corrections' prison system.

The vast majority of prisoners were caught somewhere in between the free world and the dreaded pits of the prisons' big yards, suspended temporarily in a state of limbo. There they would remain, innocent until proven guilty, awaiting the outcome of their court encounters and the judgments that would dictate their fate.

My booking slip was a pink document with my name, booking number, list of charges and other personal data. Mine also had a large purple star stamped across the center of the slip. It signified I was a murderer who warranted close supervision.

During the preliminary hearing I came face to face with the family of my victim. I saw the pain and suffering in the eyes of my victim's mother. Her grief kindled an overwhelming sense of sorrow, albeit temporary, and compassion in me. I wanted to reach out and comfort her as my sorrow was for her grief, not for her son's loss of life. For an instant I pictured the image of another woman about her age crying


her heart out while identifying my dead corpse at the morgue. It was a dreadful thought. My soul cried out for Mrs. Lopez' forgiveness but the venomous glares I received from her two elder sons, who had brought her to the courtroom to witness the proceedings, only hardened my heart. I stared back in defiance.


On the other side of the courtroom sat another victim of my criminal deeds - my mother. Although thankful to have her son alive, she grieved for a different reason. Seated next to her was my home girl Pat McCarthy who brought the supporting cast of several homeboys and homegirls. They were closely scrutinized by the courtroom bailiffs.

Like male members of every street gang, our female counterparts, or "home girls,” made up an important segment of the neighborhood. The Tiny's were complemented by the "Tinywalkers" - Geraldine, Frances, Yolie, Dimples to name a few. The Midgets' girls included Pat McCarthy, Candy, Dorothy, Chiller, and many others. Female gang members are almost as treacherous and subtle as some of their male opposites. They are utilized primarily for less physical endeavors such as concealing weapons and drugs, spying on rivals, and setting up enemy gang members. Most of them were not hardcore like the guys.

These "cholas, ” as they were called, wore heavy makeup and lipstick. Their hair was tossed in the chola fashion - very flamboyant, like the wicked women of the night, they were almost Elvira impersonators. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of them are not whores. A unique breed, they were aggressive tornadoes of sexual stimuli, confidently and defiantly swishing their tender bodies as they walked. They were grown up little girls whose beauty was mourned by many who felt they were wasting their attributes surrendering their innocence to no account gang members. Gang membership offers protection, companionship and a sense of familial unity which is often lacking at home. This attracts multitudes of adolescents who come from disfunctional home situations devoid of love.


The street gang is a common force that draws love-hungry brown skinned kids into the protective umbrella that hides them from what they perceive to be an insensitive society - the same society that thumbed its nose at them in school, during job interviews, at shopping malls, on the bus and wherever Chicanos and gavachos crossed paths. On the other hand it encouraged a complete disregard for authority, especially for those who choose crime as a way of expressing their defiant and rebellious attitudes. It is a way of receiving the recognition and acceptance they desperately crave and an avenue in which the guys could demonstrate their macho. The gang offered complete independence. Going to jail and doing time is considered an honorable accomplishment. The exploits of an incarcerated homeboy is carried through the neighborhood grapevine with the same pride as that of a war hero.

Criminal activities provide a deviant means to the normal American end of succeeding. Many gang members believe that they will someday end up in prison and, convinced thusly, act in such a way as to gradually bring it about. They live out a self-fulfilled prophecy and shun the rules of two cultures, those of their parents and those of their country. For better or for worse, they have created their own world. Chiller was a year younger than me and inherited her moniker because of her raspy voice; it literally sent chills down your spine. Chiller was my homeboy Tutie's girl. One night we were congregated at Eddie Boy's home celebrating his birthday and I noticed she was eyeing me with interest. Unnoticed, we slipped away from the main party to a tool shed. As if drawn by a magnet we attacked each other. After roughly removing each other's clothing, we proceeded to vent our lust. I didn't realize until much later that I had shed my virginity that evening.

There would be many more similar nights to come. Ready and eager to meet the challenges and pleasures that were ahead, I retained her panties as a souvenir. Shortly after joining Varrio Nuevo I became actively involved in gang fights, organized robberies, heroin usage and other gang-related activities. I proceeded to establish my criminal resume and street reputation. "Do it right" became my personal motto. My desire to excel as a criminal delinquent drove me towards a yet-to-be-determined and obscure goal. My brief period of freedom began in February when I was released from DVI. It was over when I was arrested in May. In spite of my activities on behalf of the ‘hood in three months of freedom, I managed to go through four jobs. My first experience in the "real world" was a civil service job at Arroyo Seco Park. Employed by Parks and Recreation, I qualified because there were no felony convictions on my record up to that point. There was a six-month probation period and upon successful completion, the city position would become permanent. I quit after raking leaves for nearly eight hours. In my halfhearted quest to become a productive member of the human race I tried another city job, this time at the animal shelter in West Los Angeles. My primary responsibility was to put dogs to sleep.... forever. Unclaimed strays that could not be sold and unfortunate canines that contracted communicable diseases were sentenced to death in the chamber. I was given specific instructions for performing the distasteful duty of dog executioner. First, I would wheel the condemned creatures from their confinement to the air chamber. I was told to simply allow longer time for the larger dogs and lower the time switch for smaller ones. The older animals were surely aware of what was happening because every time I passed their cages they would retreat in fear. When I wheeled a condemned creature past them they howled in unison as if mourning the impending death of a comrade. It was eerie.


I was their grim reaper. I also felt like a big time heel. I almost quit on the spot when I was instructed to put two puppies to sleep. Unaware of their grim fate, maybe thinking I was their mama, they happily licked my wrists as I carried them in cupped hands. With a heavy heart I placed them tenderly in their final cage and pushed the button. When I got home that evening and described my morbid duties at the dog pound, my younger brother and sister began to cry. They accused me of being a murderer. They even hid Pandy, the faithful family dog, where I could not find him and get any ideas. Needless to say, my civil service days were over.

My next stop was the community employment center. There I convinced counselors that I was indeed still willing to work. I was referred to the Oscar Mayer meat processing plant in Vernon where I was hired at $3.15 an hour. In addition to the hourly rate there was bonus pay for each crate of meat we could pack after achieving our quota.

Three of us were assigned to one machine. My first day on the job I noticed that my coworkers were visibly miffed at my work speed - or lack of it. They claimed I was slowing them down, preventing them from achieving the quota, and thereby hindering them from earning the hefty overtime bonus they were accustomed to making on a daily basis. The short Mexican didn't say much but he was noticeably upset. The big guy, a six-foot Russian immigrant, was bitching like a disturbed hen about my incompetence. In broken English he whined about my job performance and threatened to report me to the section foreman. Somehow I made it through the first day without losing my cool.

The following morning I arrived at work determined not to tolerate anymore shit. I gave it one hell of a try and psyched myself up to go all out on the line. By the lunch break the snide remarks continued and the Russian made a few obscene references to my lack of intelligence. We ate in a cafeteria and I quickly consumed my lunch. I wanted to be the first to return to the work floor. I was determined to teach the Russian a lesson in manners. At the foot of the stairway I hid behind a group of large sausages that were suspended on large meat hooks along a conveyor.

As the retum-to-work whistle sounded, employees descended the stairs en route to their assigned work areas. They passed without noticing me. Not wanting to miss my target, I glanced from person to person. Finally he appeared, pausing conveniently at the bottom of the stairs and extinguished his cigarette on the floor. As he continued past the first row of sausages I emerged from my concealment and braced myself. My right fist caught him squarely on the side of the jaw. The surprised Russian screamed and hit the floor like a fallen Redwood. I felt like I had connected on a Bob Gibson fastball with my favorite Duke Snider baseball swing. He was twice my size and I think the only reason he was scared to death was the possibilty of losing his job. He frantically scampered away on all fours beneath the sausages. I decided not to pursue him. Instead, I punched out my time card...for good.

Once outside in the parking lot, my anger subsided. I burst out laughing as I relived the hilarious scene in my mind. Later, I recounted the incident to friends and family who dubbed it the “weenie caper.” I spiced it up a little by relating how I had beaten the Russian senseless with a giant sausage. I managed to work a grand total of 10.2 hours at the processing plant.


My fourth and final job was at the Standard Packaging Corporation where I was employed as a roll wrapper and receiving clerk. There I lasted a record two weeks before losing patience and deciding to rejoin the homeboys. I missed the action and excitement of the neighborhood, but I really missed the Friday night partying. My first weekend back, we celebrated in the ‘hood, someone even proposed a toast to the "weenie man.” Every gang had a favorite hangout. At these locations we partied, held meetings, rendezvoused after skipping school and conducted other gang-related business. Traditionally, VNE gang memebers gathered at the Circle, an oval shaped lawn situated in the heart of Estrada Courts. It was a convenient vantage point from which to keep an eye out for enemy gang members and police patrols. It offered multiple escape routes in every direction.

I glanced around as we downed some beer and exchanged banter. This was home and these were my brothers and sisters. During those moments of companionship we were all related. The brick fences and the sides of some of the dwellings were covered with the familiar neighborhood graffiti. VNE inscriptions appeared everywhere. It stood for Varrio Nuevo Estrada. I noted with satisfaction that one end of the rental office still displayed the giant spray painted block letters I had carefully painted. They read: EL MACHINEGUN MUNDO x VARRIO NUEVO x ESTRADA x TINY'S and appeared to be shouting to the world that I indeed existed. Yes indeed, here I was someone special. The language of the street was displayed on just about any available space. There was no mistaking which neighborhood you were in. We majored in advertising and imaginative minds never ceased to amaze me when it came to gang graffiti.

Riding the bus through Lincoln Heights, up Figueroa towards Avenue 60, my eyes were assailed by eight foot block letters boldly spray painted in red on the side of a local business establishment: WELCOME TO "LOS AVENUES!" The bus slowed, as if in deference to some unseen warning and proceeded with caution along the main thoroughfare. Familiar placasos of gang members from the Avenues were displayed everywhere - carved on bus benches, stop signs, utility poles, phone booths, and store fronts. Some areas, such as the downtown shopping district, were unclaimed by any gang. It was virgin territory providing blocks upon endless blocks of real estate where opportunistic gang members demonstrated their artistic talents. The endless graffiti promoted their ‘hood or showed disdain for an adversary. Example: A member of the Dog Town gang could spray paint his nickname on a building and return to find it crossed out and replaced by graffiti from a rival gang. A close examination reveals very interesting information.

Such an act is interpreted as a challenge to the individual whose name was crossed out and to members of Dog Town as well. Violent confrontations are provoked for much less than that. Barrio graffiti is considered sacred and is a gang member's way of getting recognition and "raising the flag" for the hood. Crossing out a placaso is considered a serious act of disrespect. The most famous placa writer I knew was James Morrow, known as “Little Huero” from Florencia. At Juvenile Hall he succeeded in driving counselors crazy by carving his moniker on their lunch boxes. He would also sit in the library and, book by book, patiently sign his name and street gang initials on the front and back covers with a black felt pen. There was not a housing unit, bench, classroom, holding room or juvenile transportation vehicle that I came across without his familiar mark etched or inked in. When we did time in Preston together he would climb like a spider monkey to the very top of the gymnasium's roof to leave his autograph. He knew that there it would be preserved for the life of the


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building since no counselor in his right mind would dare climb such heights in search of graffiti. It was at Preston that I struck a deal with Little Huero. Anytime I left my mark, his would accompany mine and vice versa. MUNDO x VNE and HUERITO x F13 could be found side by side in some of the strangest places in the California Youth Authority. I think it was safe to assume we had somewhat of an identity problem in those days. We craved attention. On a tour of the old Preston castle, which was no longer in use, bewildered counselors returned demanding to know how we succeeded to etch our monikers into the castle's limestone bricks. This would have required a daring escape in broad daylight directly under the main lookout tower and then return to the institution. We innocently claimed ignorance. It became a Preston unsolved mystery.

In 1966, Little Huero died of a heroin overdose, but his name lived on. It was not uncommon to ride buses bearing his inscribed trademark. In 1978, twelve years after Huero's death, I was being transported to the L.A. County Jail. His placa remained on an old brick wall directly across the jail, a reminder to all of us who loved this mischievous devil. A scene I'll never forget occurred during a funeral procession for a slain Los Angeles police officer. Olympic Boulevard had been somberly transformed into a sea of black and white. Law enforcement agencies from neighboring counties and throughout the state paid their last respects to a fallen comrade. Police cars and motorcycles proceeded en route to the cemetery as I watched at an intersection with several homeboys. It was there we observed a brilliantly polished L.A.P.D. cruiser approach displaying the familiar police logo, "To Protect and To Serve.” Beneath it was an unforgettable inscription which read: "Little Huero de la Florence!"

Patricia Jean McCarthy was Irish. Her family was one of the few and rare non-Chicano families living in the Projects. The McCarthys were well liked by the homeboys. Her older brother George, who was from the Tiny's, was fiercely protective of his attractive red haired sister. Like a hawk, he watched over her and her sister Violet. That is, until he was shot to death during a robbery caper. Pat and I hit it off from the beginning. She was a natural red head with dazzling green eyes and a smooth complexion. At Legg Lake Park we double dated one weekend with Big Huero and Geraldine. At the park I made Pat blush when I suggested that each couple go our separate ways. I wasn't one to mince words. When we agreed on a secluded area I wasted no time gathering Pat in my arms. We lost ourselves in a duel of passionate kisses and lustful whispers. Oblivious to curious passersby we were startled by the noisy scrutiny from a herd of ducks that cautiously waddled by to study two silly lovebirds.

Wine, women and war became my steady companions as Pat and I became the latest official neighborhood item. It was preferable, almost mandatory, to hook up with someone from your own ‘hood. Major problems and potential gang confrontations were avoided this way. We went out with each other until my arrest on the murder charge. Bernard Nizinski became my attorney of record. He was retained by my mother despite my vehement protests. I had insisted on proceeding with a court appointed counsel rather but she would have none of it. There was an old saying about how money talks and bullshit walks. In this case, I didn't feel right in allowing my mother to deplete her meager savings on my account, but was overruled and in the end it turned out for the best.


After a visit from the attorney, I returned to my housing unit at the county jail. He had painted a bleak picture about my chances in court. That night I lay in my bunk and thought about the maddening course my life had taken. I was on a runaway truck with no brakes. My criminal lifestyle which began as a curious adventure in search of peer acceptance with little thought to consequences was catching up with me. I offered no excuses for my violent behavior, nor did I sincerely entertain any thoughts of remorse. This time the roof had really caved in on me. Numb and emotionless on the inside, I refused to display any fear or dread at the prospect of going to prison. I accepted my fate with a chilly calm that even scared me. Was there a Frankenstein hidden somewhere in the dark recesses of my soul? Was being an honest citizen that bad? I never allowed myself the time to search for answers for these questions because I was just too involved in "mi vida loca" - my crazy life. Mental fortitude and tolerance was a characteristic that I could thank my dad for. He played his role in creating the monster I had become. I came equipped with a built-in defense system that effectively insulated me against pain. In the end, the choices were mine. I had no one to blame but yours truly.

As my soul cried out in anguish I fooled myself into believing I was having fun. There was consolation in the thought that my predicament was nothing compared to those in worse situations. Cripples, the terminally ill, even death row inmates, were in that category. In contrast, my plight wasn't so bleak, I convinced myself. During these infrequent bouts of depression I would fall asleep, secure in the knowledge that there would be a tomorrow. Visiting days were special to everyone. The visiting room was always packed with blue denim-clad prisoners seated on one side of the thick window partitions. It was more than just a physical separation. Heartbroken mothers, bewildered children, and lonely wives and girlfriends were given fifteen minutes on a telephone to say hi and goodbye. About fifty of us waited impatiently for the deputy to call our visitors. He finally unlocked the door separating the rows of visiting sections, each designated by a letter from A to G. Like a floodgate the steel door opened and a wave of rushing visitors gushed in frantically viewing their visiting passes locating the row their man was assigned to.

I craned my neck in search of my visitors and found time to admire the hottest female specimens. I zeroed in on the sexy women, those with tight-fitting blouses and sweaters. In the summer the scanty tops that barely covered their bulging mounds became my favorite jailhouse entertainment. Needless to say, there were plenty of roving eyes. Most of the girls displayed their assets proudly. These sexy exhibitionists were well aware they had the visiting room’s undivided attention. Just ask the deputies. Wearing the shortest of skirts, some of the girls would eventually raise them just enough to satisfy their men. It was always a privilege to be seated nearby with the perfect unobstructed view. We too wore our best set of jailhouse blues. Those who had been confined in the county jail the longest, or who had a homeboy wearing the same size clothing, donned neatly pressed shirts with sharp creases. Many of us wore custom-sewn, quarter-sleeved shirts in order to show off our tattoos. The shirts would be tucked into our dark blue county jail denims according to regulations. Neatly groomed and clean­ shaven, we would enter the visiting room in regal style, wearing our coolest expressions. We fancied ourselves to be studs - God's gift to women. Even my sister Marie later marveled how she was always shocked and considered it a shame that some of the best-looking men could be found in prison.


We had nothing better to do with our time and inmates did in fact pay closer attention to their physical conditioning and personal hygiene. It was no great wonder then to find the visiting room filled with extra women, sisters of wives and other female candidates, searching for a handsome guy to correspond with. Many relationships sprouted and flourished from such encounters.

I saw them first and waved. My mother spotted me and nudged Pat. She was seaching row to row; probably checking out all the dudes, I laughed to myself. Mom sat down first and Pat stood behind her blowing kisses at me. She was looking good. While we waited my mom pointed at her head indicating I was in dire need of a haircut. I nodded patiently that I understood. The visiting room scene was like a convention for the hearing impaired. All around me visitors and inmates communicated using hand signs. Others spelled out messages on the partition glass while we waited for the phones to be activated.

Because our visiting time was limited, every spoken word had to count and many clutched their phones with anticipation. Like horses at the starting gate, everyone was restless and ready to go It was like being at the racetrack. When the phones clicked on we were off and jabbering. Fifteen minutes was just enough time to piss me off.

Mom and I discussed family business. As usual, everyone was fine at home. The attorney told her he would be visiting me soon with a plea bargain offer from the prosecutor. She pleaded with me to take the second-degree murder deal. I assured her that I would discuss the matter with Nizinski. I was lying through my teeth but it made her happy. Pat wore tight blue jeans and a black turtleneck sweater. When she sat down I detected a red spot on her neck. It was barely noticeable below the fold on her collar. From the comer of my eye I saw my mom. She was standing behind Pat pointing frantically from her neck, then to Pat. I pretended not to see her and continued my conversation with my girl of the moment. Yes, I still loved and missed her, I lied. Sure, I thought about her as much as she thought about me, maybe even more, I assured her. In the background my mom covered her forehead in mock terror as she attempted to convey what I already knew. If I could speak without Pat being present I would be saying, "Be cool, ma. I'm not blind.” Pat needed me so much and needed me to love her; I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Knowing that the time was about up I reminded her to put the twenty dollars on my account. That was the visiting limit. Like a thoroughbred, she routinely “ran” for me once a week. She turned to ask my mom how much visiting time remained and her sweater descended about a quarter of an inch. Exposed were a row of hickies which covered a good portion of her neck. When she turned back my eyes returned to meet hers a split second too late. Reddening at the realization she had been busted, Pat began to explain when the phones abruptly cut her off. Pretending not to have seen a thing, I waved farewell, mouthed a reminder to return the following week and an "I love you.” I also pointed to the cashier's window. She nodded back. There was definitely no shame in my game.

In 1969, the war in Viet Nam raged on and claimed young men from the neighborhood, those who qualified and possessed no felonies on their record. One of my deep desires was to join Tony Sandoval, my neighbor, and take out enemy combatants. During another visiting occasion, my mother produced an envelope from her purse and proceeded to read it over the visiting room telephone. It was from the Selective Service, she read, and the headline was the Order to Report for Armed Forces Physical Examination. It was mailed two days prior to my murder arrest with directions to present myself at the downtown L.A. Induction Station on June 19, 1969. Talk about mixed feelings for mom. On the one


hand, like most mothers, she dreaded the prospect of any of her kids going to war but how could she be thankful that I was prevented from going because I was in jail charged with a felony - a capital one to boot!. Needless to say, any notion of serving my country was nonexistent.


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The following week I met with my attorney. Having already scared my mother, he presented the deal. The D.A. now wanted me to plead guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter. I asked Nizinski for his professional advice. "There is an outside possibility that you could get convicted of first degree murder. There is better than a fifty-fifty chance of getting convicted of second degree. If you turn down the involuntary manslaughter it's a very dangerous gamble. If you want to gamble wait until you get out and we'll go to Las Vegas."

Now he sounded like Cal Worthington, the used car salesman. The jailhouse was rampant with tales of slick attorneys who traded off less affluent clients. They would feed them to the dogs in exchange for those who could line their pockets with hard currency. I told him I would sleep on it. On the morning of the trial I furiously paced the floor and considered my predicament. I was in the bullpen awaiting the bus that would transport me to the Hall Of Justice building. My train of thought was interrupted. About a dozen deputies were escorting a heavily chained prisoner to a Sheriffs transportation van that waited outside the holding tank area. I moved up to the bars to get a closer look at the inmate who warranted such close supervision. He was short, about five feet or so, with extremely long hair and a heavy beard. “Wild One” approached my cage wearing a wild smirk on his face. He was trying to impress everyone within sight. They said his magnetism was a hit with drug-influenced kids on the outside. In the county jail he generated pure contempt. Charles Manson was the object of this loathing. This egotistical runt was now shuffling past my cage nearly within strangling distance.


In the jailhouse strata, murderers were generally considered the upper class elite of that nefarious netherworld. In the course of criminal or gang "business,” there were those who killed honorably. Then there were the scumbags; Manson was indeed a bonafide scumbucket who occupied the lowest rung on the inmate social ladder. He shared the shame and notoriety afforded to despised child molesters and those accused of harming or killing the elderly or utterly helpless. My emotions bordered on temporary insanity. At that instant I yearned for an opportunity to find myself alone with him. Five minutes would be plenty of time to break his neck and vent my murderous fury on his sick ass. I wanted to erase the perverted sneer from his ugly mug. Like hundreds of other inmates, I had sentenced him to death and relished the opportunity to take his head. I thought about his pregnant victim - Sharon Tate - defenseless and desperately pleading with her executioners. Manson glanced at me for a fleeting moment. Our eyes met. He could see I was eyefucking him with unconcealed hatred. When he was close enough, I spat directly into his face. Like a spooked dog, he jumped away from the bars. "How ya doing, bitch?" I asked him. He cowered away and tried to clean his face by rubbing awkwardly on his coveralls. The escorting deputies chose not to discipline me. Instead they smiled with satisfaction and yanked at his waist chain, leading him to the van. I had succeeded in removing that fucked up smile from his face. Manson was later convicted of the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders.

When I arrived at the courthouse Mr. Nizinski informed me that the judge had agreed to accept a guilty plea to one count of Involuntary Manslaughter. He also promised I would be sentenced to one year in the county jail. I was euphoric. I had already served eight months so I would be but a few months from freedom and maybe much less after calculating time off for good behavior. The news was unexpected but definitely much welcomed.

My mom was in the spectator section alongside Pat, my unfaithful racehorse. I winked at them and gave the thumbs up signal as the court bailiff read aloud my case number and motioned for me to rise. Donning my most pious expression I approached the bench with my head slightly bowed. The judge asked if I had anything to say on my behalf. "No, your Honor," I responded. He read the charges and commented on the circumstances of the offense while my attorney nodded his head at me reassuringly. The fix was in. The rest was a floorshow - a mere formality. Strangely, I detected a cutting edge in the judge's voice as he addressed me personally. He told me I was in great need of professional help and needed to be taught a lesson. Judge William Ritzi then pronounced judgment. I was sentenced to what the law prescribed: six to fifteen at the California Department of Corrections. Shocked, I glanced over at my attorney who appeared uncomfortable. He shrugged as if he'd crapped out on a gambling table. I faced the judge. "I have something to say," I flared. "Fuck your mother! Fuck your white mother!"

I was immediately pounced upon by two bailiffs. After wrestling me to the floor they dragged me from the courtroom. Undeterred, I continued to direct a barrage of obscenities at the ancestors of the red-faced judge.

Forgotten was my shocked mother who covered her mouth to stifle a sob. Forgotten was the life I had taken. Forgotten was the sorrowful look on the face of Mrs. Lopez when she confronted her son's killer. Any remorse I may have entertained was replaced with outrage at what I perceived to be a double cross by the judge and my attorney. I was on my way to the big house - the California state prison - with a big time attitude.



Chapter 10. Fish on the Line

The California Institution for Men in Chino, California, was a half hour drive from the Los Angeles County Jail. On January 20, 1970, the Sheriffs bus rumbled along the tree-lined road, which led past the front gate to the security shack. We were greeted by a somber-faced, khaki-clad prison guard. He nodded to the driver. This was the clearance sign allowing us to proceed to yet another gate. Our confined housing status would change on this day as all new arrivals to the California Department of Corrections were processed at C.I.M. Suddenly, I remembered what had been gnawing at my memory since we left L.A. As the gate slid open to admit the newly sentenced state convicts I remembered it was my baby sister's thirteenth birthday. As the bus rolled in I was thinking of her. "Happy birthday, Mouse,” I muttered to no one in particular. "Mouse" was her family pet name. The Chino Men's Prison was constructed similar to D.V.I. It resembled a hospital facility or a university campus. Each building looked alike and manned gun towers were strategically positioned to overlook the outer perimeters and exercise yards. I was headed to the Southern Reception and Guidance Center. SRGC was the processing center for those convicted felons originating from the Southern California area.

SRGC, like its Youth Authority counterpart at Norwalk, housed well over a thousand new arrivals. Its primary responsibility is to perform a thorough medical and dental examination of each convict, administer academic, aptitude and psychiatric tests, appoint a counselor to interview each inmate, and prepare a file for a classification committee to evaluate. Based on the information derived from these files, the committee then determines the most suitable prison. I was CDC #B-25376. My new number, assigned to me about two hours after my arrival, would identify me until my eventual discharge from parole. This identifying number could only change if I committed and was convicted of a new felony while incarcerated. In that event an "A" would follow the controlling number and, sequentially thereafter, other letters would continue alphabetically for future convictions. Four new convictions while imprisoned could result in a life sentence under the Habitual Criminal statute under Section 4500 of the California Penal Code. Possessing a prison number was a badge of honor and considered a macho accomplishment with the homeboys. I would ultimately waste seventeen of nineteen years behind bars. As I look back I can still feel that deranged mentality. My sinister perspective on life was my warped way of responding to my traumatic childhood experiences. But the choice had been mine. It was also my idea of indulging the Mexicano's morbid fascination with death and self-castigation. Although my soul was out of touch with the human race as I perpetuated my personal nightmare, I would ultimately survive.

The anger I felt inside at my loss of freedom was tempered by the artificial dreams of being a "vato loco, ” one crazy guy, and a crazy pinto - a hardcore convict. My aspirations were to succeed in being a tough guy and blaze trails that would gain notoriety and respect from my peers. My sentence was an indeterminate one. It mandated I serve a minimum of six months to a maximum of fifteen years. Only the Adult Authority was empowered to grant parole. At their discretion and within the parameters of the sentencing ranges, these members had exclusive control over my future.

Officially and legally I was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. The presiding judge had agreed to reduce the initial murder charge from first degree to the lowest possible form of homicide. Because I had already exceeded my minimum sentence, I was technically eligible for parole on the day I arrived at Chino. Realistically, three years was the median sentence duration for similar offenses. I was to serve nearly double my sentence.

After being photographed and fingerprinted, we were given our customary state issue and ordered to form a single line by a large metal door leading to the main population. Curiously checking out the new arrivals, convict traffic began to form around us. The escorting guards walked ahead of us paving the way. "Fish on the line! Clear the hallway!" The supervising guard checked me off his list as I looked into the crowded tv room in search of a familiar face. I was assigned to Sycamore Unit. A khaki-clad guard escorted us up a winding staircase. When we reached the 2nd tier I was directed to cell 247. My cell partner was not in but his personal articles were displayed on a shelf. I noticed the bottom bunk was made up which left the top bunk for me. The cell doors were electronically controlled and there was a cranking sound of steel on steel followed by the sliding door slamming open. The guard at the end of the tier ordered us into our respective cells. I took special precaution to distance myself from the entranceway for the return thrust. I quickly entered the cell and waited. "Watch the gates! Gates coming closed!" A guard warned. Like the sound of an onrushing train, the door trembled for a moment and clanged shut. I made the upper bunk and arranged my few personal effects on the empty shelves. I was becoming irritated and unimpressed with the imitation gangsters who strolled by the cells to test the new arrivals with their intimidating glares. When I heard the approaching footsteps I considered confronting the next convict who tried to pin me down with a crazy look of my own. As I waited I overheard a familiar voice calling out my name as he bullied his way past other convicts. "Hey man, get out of my way. M.G.! M.G. Mundo! Where in the hell are you, homie?"

Guillermo "Wino" Garcia was from Varrio Nuevo. He had not changed much. Wino was known in the neighborhood for being a bully. It appeared prison had not mellowed him in the least. I laughed with pleasure at the sight of his ugly mug. He appeared in front of my cell and pressed against the bars. I noticed he had a dark suntan as he reached through the bars to shake my hand. "Hey, suckah," I called out. "You must think you're in Palm Springs or something. What's this pinchi tan supposed to do, make you look pretty for the rucas?"

Mundo and Speedy



It was like a homecoming session. We were glad to see each other and reminisce about the old neighborhood. I got him up-to-date on the latest happenings on the outside and he shared with me the scam on the inside. We agreed to meet in the chow hall after the count. He offered a clenched fist salute and was gone. On March 9, I was transferred from Chino on the “grey goose.” Our destination was Soledad State Prison. There were about sixty of us on this "chain" including three guards - two in front of the bus and one at the rear. The latter was seated in a bulletproof windowed cubicle with a shotgun cradled in his arms. We were herded to our assigned seats. One guard barked out our last names and prison numbers. Each of us was searched for weapons or contraband and then ordered, one by one, to climb aboard.

It was impossible to climb more than a step at a time because the leg irons were not long enough. Many of us stumbled and some fell to the ground unable to manage the steps. This required assistance from the grinning guards who seemed to be enjoying our discomfort. It was a ridiculous scene in which the distance between the steps leading up to the floor of the bus was almost exactly equal to the length of the chain separating each pair of feet. There was no room for error.

I slept through most of the ride and dreamt about the free world. As we arrived, I was roused by a fellow convict. A guard could be heard hollering indistinguishable commands. Momentarily lost, I had to fully tune in from the already forgotten world from which I had awakened. It was all coming back to me. I recognized the familiar dialogue. "Henley!"

"B-25227!" came the response. "Alright, off the bus and get in line!"

"Mendoza!" "Aw, shit...I mean, B-25376!"

The guard stared at me as I slowly shuffled off the bus and squinted at the bright sun that seemed to glow angrily at our arrival. A second khaki-clad guard approached me with a box. It was filled with sack lunches - our midday meal.

"O.K. Mendoza, you've been nominated to carry this.” He grinned sarcastically and extended his arms. I was suddenly in a very sour mood. I was rudely awakened from my siesta to the stark reality of arriving at another confinement. Now, The Man expected me to tote a box and embarrass myself in the presence of Soledad's citizenry. No fucking way. I gave him an evil leer. "Do you see any nigger in me?"

That produced scattered chuckles from most of the convicts and glares from offended blacks. They always seemed to think they had a patent on that unmentionable word. It became immediately obvious to the guards that this constituted a refusal to comply, albeit a flamboyant one. "Are you refusing an order?" He demanded.


The guard was attempting to maintain his authority and a semblance of being in control of the situation. He was very uncomfortable and probably unaccustomed to having a lowly convict refuse an order. "Well, sir, even Ray Charles can see that I ain't jumping out of my shoes to be anybody's flunky. I came here to do my number and that's it. Yeah. I'm refusing.”

Three other guards materialized. I was ordered to remain behind as the other convicts were escorted to the processing area. My new companions then received instructions via their walkie-talkies to bring me in. I shuffled my way through a large security gate slowly making our way along a cement pathway. Then, a gun tower guard emerged from his lofty cubicle overlooking the security gate. He glared menacingly at me while holding his rifle with one arm, butt on his hip and barrel pointed skyward. His finger caressed the trigger. He was subtly conveying his willingness to use his weapon. Unimpressed, I returned his stare. First I looked down at his boots, then slowly up until our eyes met. He saw my cheeks move as I mixed saliva. Once I had accumulated enough, I spat a gusher in his direction. That's what I thought about his threat. His face turned beet red. Although he said nothing, I could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears. I was a walking time bomb filled with years of pent up hostility and only the Lord knew how this rage would be vented. I smiled and moved on. I was placed in a pitch dark holding cell approximately five by seven by seven feet. A sack lunch was tossed inside and the door clanged shut. I wondered what the punishment for disobeying an order would be. Not that I really gave a damn. I had already been deprived of my liberty and the worst they could do was kill me. Nothing like starting off on the right foot I thought. It never occurred to me that maybe I deserved my imprisonment for the heinous crime I had committed. I refused to remember the hurt on Mrs. Lopez' face when she forced herself to face me in the courtroom. It was excruciatingly painful for her to confront the person who had taken her son from this world. Obviously miserable with myself, I was a twenty-year-old, cocky, hardened wise guy filled with bitterness.

After several hours my eyes became accustomed to the dark. The only light I saw was what crept in through the cracks of the door. The soundproof cell I occupied was called a "quiet cell" and was primarily used to house the unruly inmates involved in violent disturbances, fist fights, drunken binges and those waiting to be taken to the adjustment center. And Oh yes among the distinguished guests were those who refused to transport sack lunches across the prison yard. I was being taught a lesson. I was held incommunicado for a few hours, which was far preferable than going to the adjustment center, which would have reflected poorly at the parole hearing. I didn't bother to thank them, but was still released from my dungeon that night, processed and assigned to Whitney Hall.

One afternoon, while working in the educational department's clerical office, we received instructions from our supervisors that all inmates were to return to our housing units for an emergency lockup and head count. Maybe someone had escaped, I thought. We were all curious as hundreds of us made the trek from our work and school assignments across a gravel road that led to the units. It could not be related to any strike activities because I surely would have heard about it. By the time I returned to Whitney Hall the word on the yard had spread like wildfire. A guard had been murdered in front of Rainer Hall. That evening we received the official word: Officer Schull had been found dead inside the tool shack with dozens of stab wounds.


We were placed on an indefinite emergency lockdown while the investigation was conducted. Every inch of the institution was combed with metal detectors in search of buried and secreted prison-made shanks and other weapons. Six Black inmates, dubbed the Soledad Six, were locked up in the Adjustment Center where they joined George Jackson. A few months earlier, Jackson and his co-defendant, dubbed the Soledad Brothers, were charged in the murder of another white guard. Officer Mills' body was found on the ground floor after being beaten and tossed from an upper tier. A year later, at another prison, I would witness the final episode in the bloody life of George Jackson.

When the lockdown was lifted we returned to our work assignments. Our freedom was short lived. What began as a personal dispute between a member of our Chicano clique and a white biker over the ownership rights to a homosexual had somehow escalated into a racial confrontation. Resembling a western showdown, a dozen white inmates issued a challenge for twelve of us to meet them outside the dining hall after breakfast. This meant before sundown, I later joked. Shiner from White Fence and I were part of the Mexican “dirty dozen.” The primary weapons of choice had already been found and confiscated by prison guards during the massive shakedown following the Schull homicide. We were forced to improvise and exercise our creativity. Crazy Leo found a Jergen's lotion bottle, Lito from The Avenues melted razor blades into the end of a toothbrush and Shiner and I stuffed several bars of soap into socks. We securely fastened our makeshift mini-clubs by wrapping the slack from the socks around our hands for a better grip. A well-placed blow with a soap sock, as I had learned in my rumbles at DVI, could knock an adversary senseless.

Shiner removed his glasses as our foes exited the chow hall and slowly walked toward us. They fanned out into groups of twos and threes and approached on the gravel road. We were positioned on both sides of the trail. The silence in the air could be sliced with a knife as they got to within ten yards from us. I could not help thinking if Shiner would be able to see without his prescription glasses. We would find out soon enough. Somewhere in the back of my brain I thought I heard the theme song from The Good, Bad & The Ugly. Not one to be preempted, I stepped up to the first pair of bikers and began an inconsequential dialogue with the larger of the two. All I wanted was to buy a few seconds of confusion. In Spanish, I told him I was going to break his jaw. He did not understand what I was saying. While he warily watched my left arm waving in the air as I spoke, my right came up and the soap sock smashed into his jaw catching him squarely and dropping him to his knees. The melee was on. Momentarily dazed, Big Man attempted to rise. I delivered a kick to the throat that sent him sprawling and gasping for air. I then pounced on him and continued to rain repeated blows to his head and arms with my loaded sock. To my right, Shiner was stomping on someone's head. On my immediate left Leo barely missed splitting mine open. The jagged edge from his bottle came within inches from my forehead as he swung at his victim.

Big Man could not recover. Holding him down by his jacket collar with my left hand, I pounded his head mercilessly until he slumped to the ground unconscious. After what seemed like an eternity I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by a group of khaki-clad men. Prison guards were everywhere! Everyone had dispersed, leaving the battlefield strewn with wounded bikers. Everyone had escaped everyone but me. My partners ran to avoid detection. I had blacked out temporarily and the shrill of guards' whistles penetrated my brain while someone screamed at me to let up on Big Man. Realizing the party was over, I jumped up, flung my soap sock at the guards, and ran past them to Whitney Hall. It was too late. I was recognized at the scene and arrested inside my housing unit. I was then escorted to the quiet room where I waited for the short stroll to the Adjustment Center.


Big Man suffered a concussion and recovered. His partners had injuries ranging from mild concussions to deep lacerations and broken limbs. The Mexican Dozen escaped relatively unscathed with minor cuts. In the Adjustment Center racial tensions were extremely high with Black inmates pitted against Chicanos and whites. The guards, most whom were white, contributed to the tension. Cop-hating Blacks and "nigger-hating" guards openly displayed their contempt for each other. It became a common occurrence for a group of Black inmates to be released from their cells to exercise with a larger group of hostile Mexican-Americans and Anglos, or vice versa. It was at the Soledad Adjustment Center, or O-Wing, that I became acquainted with members of the Mexican Mafia. I met Richard "Huero Psycho" Rodriguez from San Fernando, Raymond "Bevito" Alvarez from Wilmington and Benjamin "Topo" Peters from Hoyo Soto. Each was a longtime member. Bevito was in O-Wing for killing Dopey Dan, a popular Black inmate who made the fatal mistake of loud-talking Little Romeo, an EME soldier. But Romeo was locked in his cell at the time Dopey Dan spewed insults at him. Bevito gladly obliged to defend the organization's honor and stabbed him to death on the tier during the exercise period. He was now awaiting prosecution from the DA's office.

Huero Psycho was confined for stabbing the library clerk in the eye after the clerk had requested him to keep the talking down while in the library. He too was awaiting action from the DA.

Topo was subpoenaed from Folsom as a "character witness" in Bevito's upcoming murder trial. The Mexican Mafia, as well as other convicts, exploited the power of the subpoena for other reasons. Meetings were set up amongst representatives from the various prisons and important messages were exchanged at these encounters. Rarely were they actually used in court. Topo, Topito or Dientudo (Big Tooth), as he was affectionately dubbed by his EME brothers, was quite a character. He was a rotund, bucktoothed, short and very vociferous person who was not only crazy in the extreme criminal sense, but exuded a high degree of confidence and arrogance. He saw himself not as a man of mediocrity but of merit. The one certainty about being around Topo is that you never experienced a dull moment.

A few days after paroling from prison, Topo and Dennis Kanos, a longtime associate, were at the Woodland Hills residence of David "Nino" Marmolejo, another EME associate. There they snorted and fixed coke and traded old prison stories. Feeling good and in a talkative mood, Topo often exaggerated his violent tales. Although Nino knew better, he dared not contradict, besides, Nino's wife Sandie was intrigued. Topo invited Nino and Sandie to accompany him for a stroll to a nearby mall. Nino politely declined but Sandie readily agreed. At a drug store Topo purchased bathroom items such as razor blades, toothpaste and other personal care necessities. He then bought a can of feminine deodorant spray. This alarmed Sandie as she thought he was communicating something to her with possible sexual implications. What Sandie did not know was that he was unable to read. It wasn't until later, after he had taken a shower, that Sandie's fears were put to rest.

He stood shirtless, spraying his underarms with FDS and looking as cool as ever. Nino carefully brought it to his attention and Topo laughed it off. He explained how the underarm deodorants were situated near 80

the female douche sprays and he had somehow failed to notice. Sandie bit her lower lip to keep from exploding with laughter and nodded quickly in agreement. Then there was the time when EME soldier Danny Barela invited Topo to a classy restaurant in Beverly Hills that specialized in barbecued ribs. Topo approved of the ribs and was impressed by the atmosphere. He glanced around nodding his appreciation and proceeded to go into his urbane histrionics. They ordered the specialty: barbecued ribs. For reasons unbeknownst to Danny, himself a frequent patron, the finger bowls were brought before the arrival of the glasses of water or the cocktails they ordered. To the surprise of everyone at their table, which included their female companions for the evening, Topo raised the finger bowl to his lips and emptied it of its content. Danny discreetly pointed out to him the purpose of the finger bowl after the ladies had excused themselves to the powder room. Without any display of embarrassment, Topo growled, "Fuck it, brother. I was thirsty." In yet another brief encounter, Topo and Dennis Kanos visited a hamburger stand on the Westside and Dennis had to plead with Topo not to shoot the waiter for refusing to sell him a steak sandwich. They exclusively sold hamburgers, Dennis explained, and convinced him that he had not been disrespected. Topo relented and returned his sidearm to his shoulder holster. While doing time in the Adjustment Center, Topo and I indulged in several chess matches. Numbering our boards to correspond with each piece, we called out the moves from our cells. I soon discovered that he was a sore loser. When I defeated him, his board and chess pieces came flying out of his cell and onto the tier.

Notorious for such temper tantrums, Topo often went days without talking to me. He would then return apologetically demanding a rematch. Despite his theatrics, I was nevertheless attracted to these violent characters. I liked their “me-against-the-world” approach to matters. Life in solitary confinement was anything but boring while I awaited my fate.

On August 27, 1970, I appeared before the disciplinary and classification committee to have my case heard. Vowing not to display any signs of weakness, I pretended to be indifferent to the proceedings. I would not let them hurt me nor penetrate the tough exterior I had erected around my emotions. I could handle whatever they wished to dish out. “Well, Mr. Mendoza, we can't send you back to North Facility with all the excitement that has taken place there. So you tell us. Where would you like us to send you?" "San Quentin,” I answered automatically. I felt like kicking myself after I had said it. I was being stubborn and defiant. My response even raised a few eyebrows from some of the committee members.

"You're kind of young for San Quentin, don't you think?" I was only twenty. "I can handle it. I have an uncle there,” I lied. "His name is Victor Juarez.”

Victor "Cupie" Juarez was transferred to San Quentin from Chino on the same day I was shipped to Soledad. The committee asked me to step outside while they considered my request. Within minutes I was summoned back inside for their verdict. No doubt sensing my grim determination, they did something which deep down inside I did not think they would. They called my bluff. "Very well, Mr. Mendoza. You want to go to San Quentin. You've got it. You'll be leaving on the next bus. Good luck."


Chapter 11. Made at San Quentin It was another dour, frigid morning on the San Quentin upper yard. The ominous dark clouds slowly rolled in overhead as I stood atop the cement bench, which ran alongside the east block. In the winter it was customary to stand to better survey the perilous surroundings and keep our legs limber. Sitting on the cold hard slab was a notorious way of attracting a case of dreaded hemorrhoids.

Following the morning breakfast call, most of the convicts huddled beneath the Shed - a sheet metal overhang, which covered a great portion of the exercise yard. It offered much welcomed although limited protection from the bone chilling elements.

San Quentin Upper Yard (1970's) My homeboy Elmo and I were nursing steaming hot glasses of coffee as we attempted to warm our insides. Both of us wore thick black state issued wool coats and beanies to insulate against the swirling wind. In between swigs, we clutched our glasses tightly to absorb its heat and keep our fingers from becoming numb. We had been invited by Big Mike to witness a Mexican Mafia hit. Big Mike shared a story with us about a prison clerk who refused to cooperate with the EME in securing requested information from the records office. Once he balked, his life expectancy had been literally reduced to minutes. "Keep your eyes on the dude walking by the yard shack.” Mike directed our attention across the yard to a tall wiry Chicano wearing a blue denim jacket and a dark blue beanie. There was nothing unusual about his demeanor. Like hundreds of other convicts who were pacing up and down the yard in an effort to combat the cold, he joined the flow and strolled casually toward the canteen area with his hands warmly tucked away in his jacket pockets.

Mike then pointed out a fat Irish convict who appeared to be in his early thirties. He was puffing furiously on a cigar and seemed unaware of his impending danger. Without moving our heads for fear of drawing attention to the event that was about to unfold, our eyes scanned the yard and followed the players in the upcoming drama. Mine shifted from Mr. Beanie to Fat Man and it was apparent to the trained eye that Mr. Beanie was carefully stalking his intended victim. Of course we had the added luxury of foreknowledge.


The stage was set and we had a ringside seat. Mr. Beanie weaved his way deftly and inconspicuously around other convicts, stopping once to light a cigarette. He saw his opening when Fat Man hunched his shoulders and cupped his hands in front of his face, attempting to relight his stogie. Mr. Beanie sprung, like a damn panther, I observed. Holding a shank with both hands, he drove it between Fat Man's neck and shoulder and thrust downward, twisting as he penetrated his victim's torso. Fat Man at first appeared to be paralyzed, frozen in time, as his eyes rolled and his mouth convulsed uncontrollably, coughing up clots of blood and falling forward, headfirst onto the asphalt. I admired his handiwork from a distance as the hit man yanked the piece out of his victim's body. Then, in a deliberate yet businesslike manner, he slowly walked off without drawing attention to himself. The scene reminded me of a matador finishing off a bull except in this instance there were no cheers, at least not audibly. He passed the evidence to a trusted flunky and stopped to share a cup of coffee with another convict as if nothing had happened. The first indication to prison guards that something was amiss was the sight of convicts clearing the area. Everyone in the vicinity sought to avoid Fat Man's twitching body. They quickly distanced themselves from any suspicion that might be directed at them. Spotting the dying man, a gunrail guard from above began blowing his whistle. The alerted guards on the ground rushed to the mortally wounded victim, but it was too late. By the time the hospital attendants could be summoned, their gurneys in tow, Fat Man had expired in front of hundreds of onlookers. No matter how many times you saw death on the prison yard; no matter how desensitized the convict population was to the violence, there was always a shock value attached to the hits committed in the joint. I think we all carry these scenes indelibly etched somewhere in our memory banks.

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This was life on the Big Yard and we were privileged witnesses to a textbook prison execution. Big Mike looked at us, like a proud parent and raised his eyebrow inquisitively. I don't know if he expected congratulations for an exclusive performance or what.


Rather than reveal that I was impressed with the exclusive demonstration, I maintained the required front. Returning Mike's cold blank look I began a discussion about who should be the starting quarterback for the L.A. Rams this season.


San Quentin lived up to its billing in every way. It was in early September of 1970 when I arrived at the old prison. As I crossed the yard in my white coveralls the scene had been chaotic with literally thousands of convicts packed like cattle. They were straining to get a closer glimpse of the new arrivals as we were being led to the chow hall. We were the new "fish on the line.” As was customary in every prison where "fresh meat" was arriving, the old timers were in search of "tuna.” The usual banter and catcalls could be heard intermittently. Those of us who had been around awhile understood that this was the convict's manner of probing for signs of weakness. "Ooh, mama. Shake it one time for me!"

"Damn, sweet thing. I love you to fucking death!"

"That one's mine. Don't be looking at my woman.”

There was a distinct feeling of excited apprehension in the pit of my stomach as we filed our way to the south dining hall. Rather than a feeling of fear for my personal safety, because I already knew what it took to survive, it was more a dread of the unknown. I was anxious to see if there were any familiar faces. One always felt more comfortable with a friend or homeboy to shoot the shit with. It was also nice


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to have someone who could assist with the introduction to a new environment. I was relieved when I finally sighted "Black" Philip Segura from Clover, Crazy Leo DeCoud from the 80's and "Joker" Mendoza from Redondo. Leo was waving his arms frantically from the canteen area trying to get my attention. "Que hubo, Mundo!" Leo's voice boomed. He was still louder than ten niggers, as I'd teased him at Soledad. He clenched his fist at me in the old convict salute and I nodded in acknowledgement to his greeting. We were warned not to intermingle or speak to anyone in the general population until after we were fed. I motioned for them to wait outside the chow hall and they waved back. We then disappeared into the dining room.

A prison chow hall is the clamor of hundreds of forks and spoons clattering on metal trays screeching like an unharmonious symphony. There was the sound of trays being set on aluminum cafeteria shelves as convicts passed through the food lines. Well above us, on a narrow wooden walkway, were the armed guards who menacingly displayed their shotguns, Winchesters and holstered sidearms while supervising the feeding of the prison populace.

The chowhall gave you the impression of being inside an airplane hangar or maybe the belly of a whale. I was suddenly feeling better about things knowing I had the company of my former partners in crime from Soledad Prison. My chest must have expanded a few inches as I suddenly felt a surge of confidence. I was James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson rolled up in one as I glared disdainfully at my surroundings. The convict culinary workers checked us out as we passed the serving table. There we accepted the chow that agreed with us and rejected the rest. The servers, clad in white smocks and caps, appeared somewhat hostile. I later learned about the heat that rose from the large cauldrons. It made for a miserable experience for those assigned to mess hall duty together with the chore of serving the more than three thousand convicts that passed through three times each day. Upon exiting the chowhall I was welcomed warmly by my old comrades. Shiner had been transferred to Soledad-Central and almost everyone else had been sent to forestry camps. Only the fuck-ups made it to the Big "Q.” I was introduced to some homeboys from Varrio Nuevo whom I had never met on the outside. One by one, they shook my hand and welcomed me to the yard. There was Elmo, Tubby, and Crow. The only homeboy I did know from the outside was Bugs, who waited his turn with that crazy grin on his face. "Hey, Bugs. Are you still playing with matches?"

That produced a few laughs from the group and a blush from Bugs. This was his second term in prison for firebombing his ex-girlfriend's home.

Elmo was the self-appointed spokesman for the neighborhood. He proceeded to explain to me what Bevito had previously related back in O-Wing. The vast majority of Chicano convicts from Los Angeles and Southern California had elected to back the Mexican Mafia, whose members in San Quentin were locked away in the Adjustment Center and B-Section.

The remainder of the Chicano population, mostly from Northern California, backed the Nuestra Familia. I had come face to face with California's prison version of the north versus the south. The paranoia on the yard could be traced back to the Shoe War of 1968. After that incident the prison administration justified the prolonged confinement of the dreaded Mexican Mafia on the premise that their lives would be endangered if released to the general population.


In reality, it came down to who the administration feared the most. It was no secret that the prison staff had better communication with the NF than with the EME. Meanwhile, frustrated EME members managed to control the lock-up units and in 1970 several NF members were stabbed by disgruntled EME soldiers in B-Section. In November of 1970, convicts from Los Angeles joined forces and petitioned the prison staff for the release of the EME members who were being warehoused in the lockup units. Ralph "Vito" Rodriguez, who would years later join the EME, and I met with Sargeant William "Bill" Hankins, the prison's investigative officer and gang expert, in an attempt to persuade him to work out a compromise solution. He dismissed us with a promise to look into it.

We then circulated the petition among the Chicano convict population. We wanted to show Hankins the problems were in the past and that life on the mainline was back to normal. Sgt. Hankins wasn't buying into our tactic. Adding fuel to the fire, L.A. convicts became enraged when NF members refused to sign the petition. Their refusal was seen as a cowardly gesture and we accused them of being afraid to sign for fear of a confrontation with the EME. Organized snitching was a better way of putting it.

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Tensions increased as rumors began to circulate about the NF conspiring with Sgt. Hankins to prevent EME members from being released to the general population. Elmo, Vito and I continued to spearhead the movement on EME's behalf and the threat of a major confrontation loomed ominously. Officials at San Quentin became uneasy when their "feelers" informed of convicts transferring shanks from the industry section to the housing area in preparation for a war. The NF and its allies became increasingly wary of EME's supporters. Warden Louis Nelson, despite vehement protests from Hankins, relented. He agreed to release Big Mike Mulhem from the Adjustment Center as a test case. By acquiescing, Warden Nelson succeeded in averting a large-scale confrontation, at least for the meantime.


When Big Mike appeared on the yard, Elmo immediately slipped him a "bonecrusher" - a finely-honed prisonmade knife. I relieved Mike of his bag of personal effects so that his arms would be free.

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A meeting was immediately requested by NF leader "Chalo" Hernandez and Louie Araujo, who was the leader of the Maravilla faction and a close NF ally. They asked Big Mike to accept a truce where both EME and NF members could coexist peacefully. They wanted assurances from Mike that no one would move against them.

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While they met in the center of the upper yard beneath the shed, about two dozen EME backers were scattered throughout the yard, armed to the teeth, willing and actually relishing the opportunity of an ™ armed confrontation. We were strategically positioned, well armed and poised to strike. We assured Q Mike his back would be covered should he choose to attack Chalo and Louie. The fifty or more NF Q members and associates that were congregated in front of the canteen had no idea what we had in store for a them. W Mike gave them the assurances they wanted to hear. He agreed to a truce and promised to talk to other Mexican Mafia members in the Adjustment Center and in other prisons. He would ensure the safety of future NF members who could be transferred to other prisons, such as Folsom, where EME enjoyed uncontested control of the mainline. Mike had given his word but everyone was well aware that the truce would be a fragile one at best.


NF was the abbreviation for Nuestra Familia. In late-1970, I enjoyed referring to them as Northern Farmers - a derisive acronym that many on the Yard began to coin. This term originated from the fact that most of their members hailed from rural communities located in northern California. Within days I shortened it to “farmers” or farmeros in Spanish. My reason for taunting the NF on the upper yard with this derisive label was to coax them into a confrontation. Because of the truce agreement, I could not “fire the first shot.” Little did I know then that over thirty years later, this label would remain synonymous with the NF and used predominately by their detractors. I never sought to secure a patent on the label. Following Big Mike's release to the mainline was Manuel "Mad Korean" Enerva. He had been convicted of the 1966 murder of another inmate at DVI and was serving a life sentence. Elmo and I began associating with them and were kept abreast of EME activity throughout the prison system. We also realized we were being groomed for membership.

One day Elmo and Big Mike cornered me on the upper yard and Mike asked me if I wanted to join the EME. Elmo had been recruited the week before. I politely refused and thanked him for considering me. Although I gave no reason for declining, and he didn't ask, it was not because I did not wish to be a member. I simply felt at that time that I was not being recruited on my own merits and instead had been asked to satisfy my homeboy Elmo. Because of my refusal, I was soon excluded from their confidential discussions. I was not pleased with this rejection and wanted to be a part of their family. I wanted to become an EME soldado. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be among the most dedicated. Finally, I reversed my earlier position and related to Elmo that I wished to be reconsidered.

Elmo promised to bring it up to Big Mike and Manuel Enerva. Only they could decide if the offer was still open. The bottom line with the Mexican Mafia when it came to joining was that one did not call on them. They called you. Neither did they have time for unwilling recruits. Never did they pressure anyone into joining. They wanted committed and willing soldados. ***

Engrossed in the interview we used up the tape. Dennis Choate fumbled with his cassette machine and muttered something about the weather and invited me to take a break. “Go ahead and stretch your legs if you'd like." I thanked him and walked around his office admiring the paintings and placards displaying certificates of recognition for one thing or another. There were also graduation documents displayed proudly in mahogany frames. He reloaded his recorder. Dennis indicated it was time to roll again. "So was it at San Quentin that you finally met Joe?" "Oh, no. It was much later." Four years to be exact. "When I arrived at San Quentin on September 9, 1970, Joe was either in Folsom or in Chino. He was recruited about 6 months to a year before me. At least, that's what I remember the brothers telling me at that time."

"O.K., then let's talk about when and how you became a bonafide member of the Mexican Mafia.”



Big Mike and Manuel Enerva were waving their arms at me. I was crossing the upper yard when I saw them. I acknowledged their invitation by nodding and then proceeded to weave my way through the herd of convicts. Everyone on the yard was waiting impatiently for the work whistle to sound. Those assigned to a work or school detail would go one way while most of the others would retire to the warmth of their cells. "Orale. What's happening, Mike? Hey, Manuel.” "Alright, Mundo,” greeted Mike. Manuel nodded slowly and studied me closely with those deadly squinting eyes.

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"Say, Carnalito,” continued Mike, "I've been talking with the other Carnales about you and we like your style. Your homeboy Elmo said you had talked to him about wanting to reconsider getting in, verdad?" "Yeah, he told me more or less the same things you and Manuel had already said about what was expected of me and he filled me in on a few other things."


"Well, this ain't no game little brother, and it's not like getting into a fucking club or joining the Marines. It's not even like it was when you got into your barrio. We usually don't ask anybody to get in more than once, you know what I mean?"

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"Once you say yes,” Manuel joined in, "and we accept you, then there's only one way out. That's in a coffin! Entiendes?"



Manuel was still irritated at me for rejecting their previous offer. I later learned that no one had ever refused to join La EME in the past. He was emphatically making his point. I fully understood the consequences of taking the irreversible step. "To entiendo. ” I understood. I had to keep a straight face to keep from laughing at Manuel's resemblance to a movie gangster character. "Do you want to get into La EME?"

Big Mike was now asking me to utter the one word that would irrevocably alter and forever seal my life's course. It was similar to the preacher's "Do you solemnly swear?" The obvious response would be equivalent to "I do.” "Yeah." I replied as I returned Manuel's icy stare.

Mike then extended his arm and shook mine and Manuel followed suit. There was nothing more to be said. I wanted to be a part of this unique fraternity. Now it was done and I was in. As a member of the Gang of all Gangs, only death “would do us part.” Like a school kid who had graduated to high school, a surge of pride coursed through me as Mike and Manuel proceeded to bring me up to date with EME's current events. They reminded me that I was now the cream of the crop, the convicts' version of the Green Berets. What stood out in my mind at the time were the similarities between the EME's recruitment process and getting married. After a period of courtship you become engaged when you demonstrate an intention to join the organization. The sponsor, or sponsors, after determining that the "bride-to-be is willing, eager and ready to join, spells out the rules, requirements and expectations incumbent upon the new recruit. The "marriage" is the culmination with the "vows" sealing it por vida - for life.


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EME's democratic structure, in theory, was unique in that each member had an equal voice in EME matters and the membership voted together, one man-one vote, on all major decisions. There was no head or boss and no member was higher or lower in rank or importance than another. In actuality, leaders naturally assumed their roles and would come to a point of pretty much dictating EME policy at the given prison or location within the prison setting or on the outside.

As long as this policy did not deviate drastically from EME's overall goals and intentions, it was normally conceded that those with the leadership in their respective turfs were also held accountable for the actions of the members under the leader or leaders' scope of influence. Determination of this leadership was purely informal - a natural concession to the one they would look to for guidance. Out of a flock of wolves would emerge a big bad wolf to oversee the pack. No one, including the most influential, was exempt from performing a hit and whoever enjoyed the best opportunity to carry out an assignment was required to do so. With that said, there were always plenty of volunteers willing to jump at the chance of "chalking up another notch.”

At the time of my EME membership, the Mexican Mafia's "Ten Commandments" for its members were: You must be sponsored by at least one active EME member. Unanimous approval from every EME member in the prison system is necessary, but often membership is confirmed by the members at the sponsoring prison/location with the responsibility of the new member falling on the sponsor(s). Death is the only way out of the EME. The EME comes first, even before your family. Never admit to the authorities or anyone outside the criminal underworld that you are from the EME or that the EME exists. Admission to a person in the criminal underworld is on a need to know basis. Never attack, endanger, threaten or abandon a fellow EME brother. Never disrespect another brother by word or deed. Personal conflicts from the past are to be forever forgotten for the larger goal of furthering the EME's criminal activities. An EME soldier could never show fear or weakness. If a member is in a position to carry out a criminal task he is required to do so, regardless of the degree of personal risk involved, so long as it is EME business. The primary responsibility for an EME member-gone-bad is designated, if physically possible, to the person(s) who sponsored him.

I soon learned from Big Mike and Manuel that the Mexican Mafia had intended on allowing enough members to be released from the lockup units to effectively launch a coordinated and devastating final attack on the Nuestra Familia. Some even discussed killing Sgt. Hankins at the same time but this idea was dismissed as not in the EME’s interest.


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The EME tomes fct „ Ewo before one's fbm«y Code©fSieoee: WweradfwttheEMEsexistence Death is theon^ exit from the organization Must be sponsored by an active made member Politicking is prohMect Do not disrespect a fellow

6, Never attack, endanger or abandon a "carnal*

Big Milces My EME

7, A carnal must carry out any assignment, regardless of odds or personal danger 8, An EME soldier can never display fear or weakness 9, An EME member cannot become involved with a fellow carnal's wife or girlfriend

Prison officials had taken careful precautions to not release any of EME's members to the mainline that had been participants in the 1968 Shoe War. Their fear was that these soldiers would possess a more personal motive for revenge. We had our own plans. In early-1971, a development occurred that derailed our plans. Cheyenne Cadena and Chalo Hernandez arranged a meeting in B-Section. Cheyenne was en route to Folsom Prison and had stopped in San Quentin on a three-day layover. After meeting with Chalo, word was sent out to Big Mike that a genuine truce had been agreed upon and Cheyenne had given his word that no EME soldier would move against an NF member.

While Cheyenne and Chalo met, both Mad Korean and I were in B-Section for misdemeanor disciplinary infractions and were immediately apprised of this new development, much to our chagrin. Although we had briefed Cheyenne of our plans to move against our longtime adversaries at an undetermined future date, he instructed us to cancel them.

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Despite the cease-fire that ensued following the declared truce, the EME nevertheless doggedly continued its quest to establish its version of "manifest destiny" in the California prison system. At San Quentin we inevitably gained control of a great portion of the black market activities and the NF cautiously avoided any dispute or confrontation with us as we continued to our peaceful co-existence.

On December 28, 1971, the rains arrived and most of the convicts remained in their cells away from the persistent downpour that battered the big yard. Arnold "Huero" Averill was from the San Bernardino area and had done time in Tehachapi with members of the NF. No doubt wanting to find favor in their eyes, he made it known that there wasn't a Mexican Mafia soldier around that could deal with him. Although he was somewhat correct - there weren't any EME members at Tehachapi at the particular time that he had been there - even the NF quietly admonished him to not make his personal feelings a matter of public record............... for health reasons. We received word of his arrival from a front office clerk who kept us abreast of incoming convicts, was decided that Huero would be the recipient of a welcoming committee. 89


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Alejandro "Moe" Ferrel, Mad Korean and a third party made it a point to dress for the occasion. Clad in yellow raincoats, the three loitered on the first tier and chatted amongst themselves. The gunrail guard could only cover so much area and he was conveniently overlooking the inmate barbershop when Huero appeared at the front door of the east block. He then proceeded to his cell and entered after the correctional officer pulled the control lever at the end of the tier. Because Huero's cell was a good distance from the guard's position, all vision was conveniently obscured by the dozens of inmates who were either entering or leaving their own habitats during the unlock.

It was therefore impossible to notice the three raincoat-clad individuals who followed Huero into his cell. Without uttering one word, Moe grabbed the unsuspecting victim and held him while the other two stabbed him repeatedly. Shortly after the inmates were locked in for the afternoon count, Huero's dead body, sporting multiple stab wounds, was discovered by a correctional officer. An eyewitness identified Moe and Mad Korean as two of the assailants seen leaving the dead inmate's cell and they were taken to Isolation. I was observed near the shower area removing my raincoat but was released for lack of evidence. The eyewitness later recanted and Moe and Mad Korean rejoined me after their release to the general population.


(Back Row) Vincent "Chente" Gutierrez, Nick "Nico" Velasquez, Joe "Colorado" Ariaz, Ramon "Mundo" Mendoza, Jack "Eddie Boy" Marquez, Mike "Big Mike" Mulhern, Raymond "Chavo" Perez and Victorio "Cupie" Juarez (Front Row) Robert "Tawa" Romero, Jesse "Chuy" Fraijo, Manuel "Buff’ Perez, Manuel "Mad Korean" Enerva and Desiderio "Desi" Gonzales

By this time EME had begun to organize executions on the outside. A heroin pipeline was established from Mexico via the assistance of Alejandro "Hondo" Lechuga, who had escaped from the Folsom ranch, to Louis "Huero Buff' Flores who had recently paroled from Folsom. Huero Buff and Hondo, charter EME members were also fellow homeboys from Hawaiian Gardens. They employed the assistance of their street gang members for smuggling and distributing EME's heroin and stockpiling weapons. The weapons were then issued to Mexican Mafia soldados as they were released on parole from prison.


By extending their tentacles to the outside, the EME added a new dimension to their murderous potential. Not only did we possess the capacity to have an inmate executed virtually anywhere within the California prison system, but we combined this threat with the capability of accomplishing the same in the free world as well.

One of EME's first street executions was that of Alfonso "Apache" Alvarez, a soldier who had been recruited by Cheyenne. In 1971, Richard "Mosca" Solis, a longtime EME member, was being tried in San Bernardino County for assaulting a prison guard at CIM-Chino. EME leaders from several prisons were subpoenaed by Solis to appear as "character witnesses.” Big Mike Mulhem from San Quentin, Mike "Acha" Ison, Robert "Robot" Salas, and Richard "Richie" Ruiz from Folsom, were among several of those selected to meet at Chino. Such a legal maneuver was frequently employed by the EME as it afforded an ideal opportunity to conduct meetings for the purpose of exchanging important messages, instructions and general information. While EME heavyweights lounged in solitary confinement at Chino awaiting their opportunity to appear on Solis' behalf in court, soldiers on the outside were mapping out a daring escape plot. "Apache" had been instructed to arm other paroled brothers with automatic weapons in a daring jailbreak plot. The transporting guards would be gunned down en route to the San Bernardino courthouse, freeing their brothers in the process.

When the rescue mission failed to materialize Apache was held responsible. The opportunity to execute the escape plan while a concentration of Carnales was being transported to the courthouse had come and gone. There was no rescheduling possible. Apache had been named to lead the operation and failed to deliver. In other words, Apache had “fucked up.” His abbreviated future was now in the hands of his EME brothers. Although he realized he had committed a monumental blunder, Apache allowed himself to be lulled into a false sense of security when he was asked to perform an execution for the EME. Eager to redeem himself for his unpardonable mistake, he gunned down James "Chapo" St. Clair in Monterey Park. A month later, Apache was greeted in Monterey Park by Alfred "Alfie" Sosa and Ernest "Kilroy" Roybal who gunned him down after receiving the orders from Mike "Acha" Ison in Folsom.


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