Prison Gangs Prison Gangs The fight for survival within the United States prison system has created a subculture the breeds racism, hate, and violence. About two and a half years ago, a young man named William King was sentenced to death by lethal injection for his participation in the murder of James Byrd Jr. James, a middle aged black man from Jasper County, Texas, was bound at the ankles and dragged behind a truck for three miles. His body was ripped to shreds as a gruesome display of the effects of prison subculture. What caused William King and his partners Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer to commit such a horrific crime? Was their behavior a result of innate nature or was it learned? Many agree that it was the time spent in prison that caused William King to brutally murder James Byrd Jr.
Friends and family claim that William was a pleasant and quiet boy before he left for prison to serve a couple years for burglary. When he was released, his personality seemed irrational and violent and he was covered in racist tattoos. Friends say he frequently spoke about white supremacy and was anxious to develop his own splinter white supremacist gang. Kings defense attorney explained that it was the high rate of violence in Texass Beto 1 Unit that caused William to turn toward gang activity as a means of protection and security. Racist attitudes develop from poor treatment from other inmates and a need to strengthen a common bond among gang members. William, the defense attorney argued, was merely a victim of the depleting prison system in this country ().
The reality of prison gangs cannot be ignored. Victor Hassine wrote a book entitles Life Without Parole, in which he describes the horrific reality of life behind bars. He writes, Once inside, I was walked through a quantlet of desperate men. Their hot smell in the muggy corridor was as foul as their appearance. None of them seemed to have a full set of front teeth. Many bore prominently displayed tattoos of skulls or demons.
One could argue whether it was the look of these men that led them to prison or whether it was the prison that gave them their look. Just looking at them made me fear my life (Hassine, 7). While the actions of William King cannot be excused or rationalized, his story sheds insight on the problems that face our correctional facilities. Prison gangs are everywhere, and effect every inmate. When a new convict is admitted he is viewed as fresh meat among the prison gang members and victimized to no end. Prison gangs are a convicts means of survival in an environment so starved of morals that violence, rap, and murder are just a daily reality. While it is impossible to know the impact of prison gangs on our street, experts dispute over the control and communication between street and prison gangs. Some argue that there is little connection between street and prison gangs and that operations of prison gangs remain behind prison walls.
Drug trafficking does exist within prisons; it is usually made possible through inmates friends and/or girlfriends (Huff 248). Still others feel quite different, and see prison gang control reach far beyond an inmates cell. Some speculate that a large percentage of drug dealing in East Los Angeles is controlled from within prison walls by the Mexican Mafia. Joe Pegleg Morgan was in prison for forty years, beginning with a conviction of murder at the age sixteen. He manage to gain so much power and control of drug trafficking, street crimes, violence and money laundering that he rose to serve as the Mexican Mafias Godfather in the later half of his life (Barker, 311).
Prison gangs tend to display a distinct hierarchical structure. A single inmate who best embodies the gangs value (Territo, 580) assumes the role of the leader. A leader time in control is normally short, partially due to the prison systems ability to relocate inmates. It is usually the strongest remaining gang member that assumes leadership or the gangs elite counsels a decision. A members degree of influence flows down a criterion of ranks, with the recruits having no say in any aspect of the gangs direction and function. Gaining higher position in the ranks usually involve violent acts against opposing gang members. Each member takes an oath to maintain loyalty and obedience to the gang; any signs of defiance or inability to represent gang ideals would lead to violent confrontation.
One of the ways Arizona has attempted to discourage the maintenance of prison gangs is by deporting gang leaders to other facilities across the country where hey might find themselves in the racial minority (). Because most inmates have tendency to join gangs inside prison due to over exposure and the need for protection, it is important to figure out ways to combat the violence these gangs encourage. By inmate deportation, the department can ensure that the inmate will be hard-pressed to find new racial alliances. For example, the state may place an Aryan Brotherhood leader in a facility heavily populated with black inmates. Unfortunately, gangs tend to be regenerating in nature. There is always someone next in line, and by deporting a leader, the prison may only increase the gangs anger toward the system, encouraging further violence.
Many other attempts have been made to curb gang violence in prison. Twenty-three hour lock down, and further segregating measures have all been applied, but somehow prison gangs remain more prevalent and visible than ever (). While there are many splinter gangs and offshoots, officials are aware of about six major prison gangs within the country: Neta, Mexican Mafia, La Nuestra Familia, Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, and Black Guerrilla Family. Each one of these gangs has historical significance concerning the sociological implications of society. The two states that experience the brunt of prison gang activity are Texas and California. Most of these gangs are divided along strict racial lines causing a severe degree of racism among inmates. Convicts like William King, are good examples of the hatred within prison walls.
Mexican-American inmates are said to be at a disadvantage making the formation of gangs essential. First off, they are faced with a language barrier, and the inability to verbally communicate with other inmates often causes disputes leading to violence. Cultural differences are also a concern. Mexican culture depends on the consistent presence of family members For Mexican Americans it is important to see relatives regularly face-to-face, to embrace, to touch, and to simply be with one another, sharing minor joys and sorrows of daily life (Keefe 68). Finding themselves in the increasingly alienating American society, with no real formal terms of communication, the need to develop gangs becomes more predominate. Gangs replace the extended family so treasured in Mexican society as a way to emulating cultural values from their home country.
The gang Neta is a Puerto-Rican American/Hispanic gang. This group was established in 1970 in Rio Pedras Prison as a means to stop violence between inmates. Neta generally has strong ties with street gangs. They show strong patriotism believing in independence for the Island. Members are expected produce at least twenty perspective recruits and observe the come together in observance of the fallen members on the thirtieth of each month.
Their identifying marks usually consist of red, white, and blue (sometimes black is substituted) ink tattoos of two Puerto Rican flags piercing a heart or the letter N. Some members wear colored beads to identify gang affiliation and rank, and others carry identification cards. Netas most threatening rivals are the Latin Kings and Los Solidos. Neta tends to be successful at keeping a low profile, which makes them successful at drug trade, extortion, and hits on other types of violence. The Mexican Mafia is one of the dominant Mexican-American/Hispanic gangs. It got its foundation from a urban Los Angeles street gang, and developed into a major prison gang in a youthful offender program in California during the late nineteen fifties.
One of the gangs primary goals is maintaining consistent drug traffic both in and out of prison. The Mexican Mafia uses the Mexican flag symbol of an eagle with a snake, the initial EME, or a single hand print, usually black in color, as their identifying marks. Their most predominate enemies are Black Guerrilla Family, Arizonas New Mexican Mafia, and, most of all, La Nuestra Familia. The Mexican Mafia has allied itself with gangs like Arizonas Old Mexican Mafia, Mexikanemi, and New Mexico Syndicate. By way of street gangs, the Mexican Mafia tends to have more influence and connection than any other prison gang does.
The members are arrested at more frequent rate than members of other Mexican gangs (Barker, 310). The power of the Mexican Mafia extends deep into the streets of California by way of drug peddling and violent acts. The wives and girlfriends of Mexican Mafia gang members are held in high esteem amongst other member; t …