Shot Callers: Part 7
During my time at USP Florence it was the California Mexicans who were the ultimate power on the yard …and at the head of them were the Black Hand. My first experience with the California Mexican Mafia, known in the prison system as the “Black Hand” was from the movie “American Me”; that before I came to prison. That movie of course was the story, some truth, some Hollywood Bullshit, of their inception. Little did I know as I sat there in that movie theater with my eldest son Marco and his friend Joe Garza that I’d someday be standing shoulder to shoulder with some of those very same men. And though I don’t expect you to understand it, I will tell you that I am proud to have stood beside them and to have been counted as a friend by them, it was an honor few know the way I do. Unusual times make unusual friends.
Like most things that occur on this planet the Black Hand, the EMME, was conceived out of a necessity to survive, survive the harsh conditions of prison. No! – that’s a lie! You’re being taught to demonize these guys when in reality they formed themselves into the EMME to protect their people, Mexicans, in prison from the Blacks who were a dominating force in the California Prison System. The Black Hand, like the California Aryan Brotherhood (formed to protect whites in prison) came about out of a need to protect themselves, and, their people. It is for this reason that the Black Hand and the Brand, first, became allies. Dope? Yeah, of course, later on some of those guys got into dope, but that’s not nor was it the purpose of their creation. The harsh and dangerous conditions of the Prison System, created those organizations.
Like the Brand, the Black Hand has sub-groups that do their business, most prominent among them are the Surenos. Yeah, I’ve seen the stuff put out about the Surenos on TV shows like “Gangland” and I ain’t gonna argue for or against ’em – but I will tell you that those types of shows are designed to scare the viewer by demonizing not only the Surenos, but all of the Families they profile; it’s not “Fake” TV, but it’s over exaggerated TV. Me, my experience, which is extensive, with the Surenos and the Black Hand was different than that. What I saw in them was a strict code of honor, yes, it’s that bastard code we convicts use, but in here, with these pirates it’s the only system that works. I’ve talked about it in a dozen other posts. Truth is: some of these Inmates are of such a mind that they only understand retribution in the form of harsh consequences. And when it comes to discipline and a willingness “To go hard”, the Surenos/Black Hand, are at the top of the Convict list, make no mistake here they are feared and respected by all Cars in the system … these boys ain’t playin’ around!
After Ziggy and Ghost were transferred out I maintained an elite status among the whites – no, I wasn’t a bad-ass, its just that as the new white gang-members hit the yard they were told that I was highly respected and they simply followed suit and considered me a solid dude without even knowing how I achieved that elite status. As the folks in the know were transferred out and new guys came in stories were told – over-exaggerated actually, and as a result, I carried a level of rank I didn’t actually earn.
Then in 2008 we had the infamous Race-Riot; you know as much as I’m gonna tell you about that. After the riot we were on Lock Down Status ( Lock Down means we were locked in our cells for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) for about eight or nine months. Then when we did come out the “Independent White Boys” killed an NLR gang member and we went back on Lock Down for another three months.
During this prolonged Lock Down, Administration, transferred almost every white man on the yard; leaving only a few of the original crew, I was one of the ones they kept at USP Florence. During this time Administration was actively trying to change the culture at Florence by bringing in a different type of prisoner. Out went the Lifers and guys with bodies and in came kids with short sentences of ten years and less. Yeah, I know ten years is a long time, but not for the old crews, most of them had long sentences. My point is this: the men who transferred in to Florence in 2008 or after, of all races, were of a different breed, lots of kids – lots of “Inmates” which I clearly differentiate from a “Convict”. The yard was never the same after the riot; it was no longer a level 6 Penitentiary … and it was no longer a yard to be feared.
After the riot, but while we were still on Lock-Down, Staff decided to try and encourage peace between the whites and the blacks by bringing them together; they wanted to open the yard back up, but they didn’t want the Blacks and Whites trying to kill each other over what had happened. So what they did was to take the top six Blacks and the top six Whites and bring them together to hopefully make peace. How they did this was to put us into cages next to each other for half a day, everyday with the hope that we’d be able to work out our differences. Cages: let me explain.
When you go to the “Hole” you are obviously locked in a cell 24 hours a day. But the Bureau of Prisons, the B.O.P., have a rule that they are required to let prisoners out of those boxes once every three days for some Recreation. This out of the cell recreation does not apply to men on “Lock Down” in the cellblocks, they are given no recreation. But in the Hole you do have this privilege. This out of the Hole cell recreation takes place in cages that are about four meters wide by four meters long. So, part of the Hole Complex is cells and a small portion is comprised of a row or two of these fenced-in cages. It was here, in the Recreation Cages for the Hole prisoners that they took us to work out the politics needed to bring peace back to the yard. In this they lined us up, one person per cage, and alternated us by race; one black, one white, then another black and so forth – 12 of us – no cops! Yeah, the Guards walked out and let us hash it out. Like I told you before, the guards at USP Florence were worried about men killing each other and were more like us, “Convict Guards”, than these FCI guards whose main worry is to catch some Mexican from Mexico stealing milk from the kitchen to trade for a Ramen Noodle! Hell – at Florence, I’ve seen Guards call out Convicts to fight! Yeah, of course there were some little bitch guards there too, but there were also some bad-assed guards – they pretty much had to be. Over there when a couple of men got into a fight, as long as nobody had to leave the yard to go to the hospital, the guards looked the other way. Yeah, over there most of the guards wouldn’t even do an Incident Report for fights and such, here, you can get written up for having a Calendar hanging on your wall!!! – very different mindset. Please, don’t get me started on the childishness of this place or we’ll be here all day. No. I ain’t complaining, I’d rather put up with this infantile BS and be close to my family, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
By selecting me as one of the top six white-boys coupled with the fact that they came into the cell-blocks while everyone else was locked down and took the 12 of us, black and white, to these get-togethers elevated my status among the other races who simply accepted us, me included, as the Leaders of the Yard. Yes, we opened the yard back up – actually we made peace pretty quick, hell convicts understand shit like that, it ain’t personal – hell, it wasn’t long before we were out there laughing and telling stories … “Did you see ol’ so-n-so running around trying to keep from getting hit!” laughter … “and ol’ so-n-so was so scared he pissed his pants!” laughter, yeah it was a memorable experience. Like I said earlier, we’d been Locked Down for so long (almost nine months at that time) that we all wanted peace, but we were also enjoying our time outside the cell-block cells – well, that and, Holy Shit! – the food. Because they were trying to butter us up so we’d make peace – they fed us like Kings! Yeah, those poor bastards back in the cell-block were eating bologna sandwiches and we were eating steaks! So we prolonged these Peace-Talks for as long as we could.
Every evening after our talks when we went back to our cells the Guards were instructed to leave us out to walk around the cell-block for an hour so we could walk around to each cell and talk to the other Cons. Being that we 12 came out of different cell-blocks, I happened to be the only one from my block. So I went from door to door, to Blacks, Whites, Hispanics – whomever and told them what was going on; “We’re working things out!” etc. To the Blacks I’d tell them that their Speakers were out there and then I’d pass whatever messages needed passing. Standard stuff; making sure that everybody had a voice, a say so in the process, but, like I told you, we’d been locked down for so long that everybody without exception implored me to pass the word that our Block wanted to open the yard back up, and to accomplish this, they were willing to make peace.
Eventually peace was made and the yard was opened back up, but it, The Yard, was different. When we came out the yard at Florence had been subdivided and fenced into individual sections – no more could we mix with other convicts from other cell-blocks – we were segregated one building from the other. Never again could there be a full-scale riot at USP Florence. What had once been an open prison yard now looked like a Concentration Camp.
During my tenure at Florence there was a consistency among the California Mexicans; at all times there was at least two or three of the Black Hand on the yard. After the yard was split up they separated the Black Hand on the yard and put some on each side of the yard. Two of them came to my cell-block. Over the next year I got to know them both very well – like me, one of them was a serious painter.
In my cell-block there were about 15 whites, 30 blacks and maybe 25 Surenos, the rest were strays from other groups like the Texas EMME with whom I also have many friends … and others. But we were the three dominant groups. I was Speaking for my cell-block, and, partly because of past events and partly because of Staff picking me as one of the 6 whites I carried a lot of respect with the other cell-blocks as well.
The point here is that I got along well with the two Black Hand guys in my cell-block. I was friends with both of them, but one of them, the youngest of the two, a man I’ll call CB, took a real liking to me and we became close. We were so close in fact that he’d invite me into their TV Room to watch TV; sometimes out of respect, I’d go, but not always – I represented my people. This may not sound like much to you, but TV Rooms were sacred space – each race had one and no one violated that space, so for me to go into their TV Room and sit beside a Black Hand, was a statement to everyone … it was a sign of respect, on both our parts. Needless to say, word spread all over the yard that I was respected by the Black Hand.
Now, the Surenos who were the muscle for the Black Hand, had a Speaker of their own, a fella we called “Chongo”. Chongo and I were also friends. He, like his Big Homies carried me different than they did other folks.
One evening Chongo comes to my cell, sits down and says, “Mark. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ wants to see you up in his cell – he’s gonna “Bless You” ‘”. To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant; I had never heard the term before. But when I went to his cell and sat down, the Big Homie, told me that he and his people were gonna carry me as one of their own. I still didn’t fully understand what that meant – not entirely, but I knew it was considered an honor.
As that word went out to the Yard everyone took notice, and now not only the white-boys paid respect, but the California Mexicans of all stripes, the guys who ran the yard, paid me big respect. But it wasn’t until a few months later that I’d actually learn what being “Blessed” by the Black Hand meant. You ain’t gonna want to miss it.
I NEED HELP!
I’m trying to hire a part-time Personal Assistant. I need someone who is smarter than me, self-motivated, has a good computer, understands WordPerfect, can type, is willing to store some of my writings and able to look up and send me Source Material off the web. I can pay $15 an hour. If you know someone who’d be interested have them text me @ 513-322-7717.
Thanks for reading this, and as always, Peace be with you. Mark
Three Rivers, 10-19-18