Category Archives: Prison

the Original SoCal Mexican Mafia Godfather Dies

Los Angeles never had a mafia in the way that many East Coast cities did.

Regional organized crime never really took root out here. So we never had the mafia dons, running the large crime syndicates that made the headlines in, say, Cleveland or New York.

About as close as we came was Peter “Sana” Ojeda.

Ojeda, the oldest active member of the Mexican Mafia, died June 7, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website, which lists him as 76 years old.

Sources tell me he apparently suffered a heart attack during an operation in a federal prison medical facility. YouTube memorials are already up.

To understand Ojeda’s importance, it’s important also to understand that the Mexican Mafia is neither Mexican nor was it, for many years, a mafia, strictly speaking. It is a prison gang, controlling Latino gang members in the state prison system. It took its name as a way of inspiring fear in others. Ojeda was part of that formation early on, as well as the spread of the Mafia’s influence across the state prison system.

The Mexican Mafia had no connection (until recent years) to the underworld in Mexico. Its members were, to begin with and for many years, like Ojeda’s, Mexican-American, who spoke only halting Spanish, if any at all, and whose families had been in the United States for generations.

For many years, in fact, the Mexican Mafia only ran prison yards and its influence was barely felt outside those walls.

But in the early 1990s, all that changed. The man who ushered in that change was Peter “Sana” Ojeda, a long-time member of the Mexican Mafia who had grown up in Orange County.

Ojeda, who was then on the streets, organized a meeting of O.C. street gangs at El Salvador Park in Santa Ana, filmed by law enforcement, during which he stood on bleachers dressed in a black-and-white long-sleeve shirt and told them all to stop with the gang killings and the drive-by shootings. He urged them to tax drug dealers in their neighborhoods as a way of funding neighborhood defense.

This stunned many in the Mexican Mafia, and they began to follow his lead, often using emissaries to organize meetings from San Bernardino and Pomona out to Elysian Park in Los Angeles, where one of the biggest meetings was held.

The Peace Treaty, as all this came to be known, sounded great. Gang leaders doing what law enforcement could not. But it evolved into something sinister and lasting: A system whereby gang members would indeed tax drug dealers in their area and funnel the proceeds to Mafia members, many of whom were in prison for life.

This taxation system far outlasted the Peace Treaty and is still in place today across Southern California, described in dozens of federal RICO indictments and in interviews I’ve done with dozens of gang members.

It amounts to the only regional organized crime syndicate that Southern California has ever known.

Taxation transformed Latino street gangs from scruffy neighborhood territorial entities into money-making ventures, though these were often fairly rag-tag. It gave career criminals, doing life terms in prison, access to a labor force — youths on the street who would do their bidding and admired them the way little leaguers look up to major league ball players. The Big Homies, as they were known on the street, could change life in a barrio with only a few words smuggled from prison in microprint on small pieces of paper.

It’s worth noting that their organizations on the streets, too, were often inept, bumbling, hampered by limited communications, by greed, envy, betrayal, rumor and gossip and drug use, as well as the constant return to prison of anointed emissaries of incarcerated Mafia members. One trial I sat in on involved a mafia member trying to organize three gang members to kill a rival, a man who rarely drove but was often walking in his Pomona neighborhood. Dozens and dozens of cellphone calls on how to do this and it still didn’t happen.

But Mafia taxation changed a lot about Southern California street life.

For a decade, Latino street gangs became the leading race-hate criminals in Southern California, a culture that grew from orders by many members of the Mexican Mafia that gangs should now rid their areas of black street gang/drug sales competition. As they were interpreted on the street, far from direct Mafia control, those orders often became directed at any black person, and thus in some neighborhoods campaigns were waged to get all black families to leave, which included murder, firebombings, assaults, racist graffiti and more.

Taxation made Mexican Mafia members equal in many communities to the town mayor or city council, at least with when it came to their ability to affect life in those areas. Now with the obedience of thousands of gang members on the street, many of whom were too young to have ever laid eyes on the incarcerated men they were obeying, Mafia members could, and did, ignite crime waves from maximum-security cells merely through letters smuggled from prison or via liaisons who transmitted their orders to the street. They drained city budgets, mangled lives, and forced young gang members to commit crimes that landed them in prison for life. I’ve interviewed several young men in such situations.

Ojeda was a contemporary of the pioneers of the Mexican Mafia (he’s far lower left in this photo). Among them was Joe Morgan (standing above him in the photo), whose story is also fascinating. Morgan was a Serbian-American who grew up in Boyle Heights/East LA and became culturally Mexican-American, and helped found the Mexican Mafia. Morgan died many years ago.

Ojeda was the last surviving member of that generation of the Mexican Mafia, made a member in 1972 in Tehachapi. Here’s a photo of him from those years (top right).

Throughout his life, but especially following the Salvador Park meeting, he would remain a household name in the Southern California Latino street-gang world. Meanwhile, he was in and out of prison.

In 2016, he was convicted a final time of conspiracy, largely on the basis of testimony from a former protégé, and sent to prison for 15 years, which most people figured was a life sentence.

But his control over Santa Ana and much of Orange County Latino street gang life seemed to me mostly unquestioned. So, too, his reputation as the Godfather of Orange County.

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LAT Op-Ed: Parks, Gang Free, Returned to Owners

An opinion piece of mine is out in the LA Times — this one about the radical changes at Southern California parks.

Parks, by and large, are now free of gang presence. They are, generally speaking, places where families can play and relax without the fear that not so many years ago kept them away.

As I say in the piece, this mostly benefits working-class families who couldn’t use gang-infested parks near where they lived years ago.

This marks a real revolution, I think. Dominating parks was part of how gangs emerged and grew strong in Southern California.

Hope you like the piece.

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LOS ANGELES: Mexican Mafia and La Familia Michoacana

An indictment announced today offers a scary, fascinating look into a new alliance between a California prison gang, including a current hunger strike leader, and a Mexican drug cartel.

Florencia 13 — from the Florence-Firestone district of LA — and La Familia Michoacana were apparently combining forces, with the gang giving permission to the cartel to sell methamphetamine

Important to note: Also mentioned as an unindicted co-conspirator is Mexican Mafia member Arturo “Tablas” Castellanos, who runs Florencia 13 and is currently one of the four leaders of the Short Corridor Collective in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) promoting a hunger strike across state prisons to protest solitary confinement of its members and others.

Castellanos, whose name appears 30 times in the indictment, allegedly communicated with the street using his visitors to Pelican Bay and those who visited accomplices.

The indictment alleges if not a new cooperation between cartels and the state’s prison gangs, certainly a deepening of those relationships, though authorities say they got it while the alliance was still in its early stages. At one point, La Familia allegedly paid the prison gang $150,000.

(Read the press release here.)

La Familia Michoacana is a strange cartel based in the Mexican state of Michoacan, involving Catholic teachings with drug trafficking. Members of the cartel allegedly paid money to the gang and the Mexican Mafia, and sold drugs at discounted prices, to be able to sell in the area.

Florencia 13 is a many decades-old gang. In 2007, more than a hundred Florencianos were arrested and charged with racketeering, as well as waging a war on blacks in their neighborhoods, which are unincorporated parts of Los Angeles, south of downtown and north of Watts.

All of this was allegedly on orders from Castellanos, who is serving a life term in Pelican Bay SHU for a murder committed in Los Angeles in 1979, as well as gang crimes committed while in prison since then.

I’m reading through the indictment as I travel to Ohio for more reporting for my book on heroin trafficking. More later.

Photo: CDCR & California Watch

 

 

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HUNGER STRIKE: How one prison-gang member sees it

The hunger strikes in California prisons lately are motivated as much by prison gang maneuvering as by concern over human-rights violations.

That’s the opinion of one veteran gang member I spoke with recently.

Emanating from Pelican Bay State Prison, the strikes protest the fact that hundreds of inmates are housed in solitary confinement in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), some for many years.images-1 A recent strike had 30,000 inmates refusing food. Thousands stopped eating in sporadic strikes last year as well.

Trying to understand what there was to know, I took time from a busy schedule writing a book to speak with the long-time Sureno (Southern California) gang member, who’s done a lot of time in Pelican Bay SHU, as well as several other of the state’s penal institutions, and just been released.

This gang member dropped out in prison several years ago and has spent his recent prison time on what’s known as Sensitive Needs Yards, the new euphemism for protective custody.

Protective custody used to comprise a few hundred inmates statewide, in a couple cellblocks. Now there are many thousands. So the state prison officials came up with SNYs — entire yards to house them all. Most of the new entrants into SNYs are dropouts from prison gangs. (Btw, I wrote about SNYs several years ago.)

SNYs are the most radical change to the state prison system in a generation, probably since Pelican Bay itself opened in 1989.LA Flower District

So great are the numbers of dropouts that most prisons now have at least one SNY. Mule Creek in Ione is all SNY.

In these yards, inmates must live with those that prison gangs prohibit them from getting along with on mainline, active-gang yards. So blacks and Aryan Brotherhood must live together on SNYs. Surenos must live with Nortenos and with blacks – whom normally they are under orders to attack in the mainline yards. All of them must live with child molesters and others they’d have killed on mainline yards.

(In active-gang prisons yards, Northern Hispanics and Southern Hispanics cannot be housed together due to a feud dating to the late 1960s. Southern Hispanics and blacks cannot be housed together, for the same reason. These are some of the divisions that keep life in state prisons confusing to the point of headache.)

Many SNY inmates are tired of the gang life and just want to serve their sentence in peace.

But a lot of these dropouts can’t get the gang out of their blood. So on SNYs have emerged a half-dozen new gangs of various sizes.IMG_7902

The 2-5s are the oldest. But there’s also the Northern Riders (ex-Nortenos); the Independent Riders (ex-Surenos and skinheads); BBC (Brothers by Choice – northern skinheads) and Los Amigos (former Mexican Mafia members).

This is crucial to understanding the prison hunger strikes of the last year, he said.

Guys in Pelican Bay “are saying, these SNY guys are debriefing to get out of the SHU and they’re forming new gangs. Why do you have us slammed (in solitary confinement) if all these guys who are debriefing are forming gangs and still walking the lines?” he told me.

To stoke their numbers, Pelican Bay gang leaders have ordered inmates across the system to participate in the hunger strike. Most strikers have no choice, he said.

During last year’s hunger strikes, “I was in Tehachapi and [the order] came down from Pelican Bay,” the gang member said. “They didn’t eat for three weeks. No one was supposed to eat, or program until they agreed to let out the Brothers and all the people that’s validated gang members in the SHU.

“There was a few of them who didn’t [stop eating], and they put them in the hat (a death list). They took them off roll call, which is the good list,” he said. “They tried to get us (in SNY gangs) to join the hunger strike. We shot it down. We don’t fall under their rules.”

cropped-Dfjaripo97.jpgSame thing just happened, he said. An order came down and 30,000 inmates had to stop eating.

For its part, the CDCR, the gang member said, is requiring that all inmates live with each other — no matter the race, affiliation or background – before they’ll let the Pelican Bay strikers out of solitary confinement.

CDCR’s idea, he said, is that prison-gang leaders would have to order an end to the divisions, system-wide, that have made California prison life into a bewildering and dangerous racial and geographic Balkans for decades now.

“The state’s saying, `You guys are telling us you want to come out but you don’t want to program (live on the same yards) with the SNY gangs,’” he said. “The state’s saying, `You guys all got to program together.’”wpid-Photo-Jan-24-2012-356-PM.jpg

The gang member expected inmates in Pelican Bay SHU will start insisting on single cells, where many of them double up now. That would force chaos on the SHU system. “There’s not enough room in SHUs to do that. That’s the brothers’ next move.”

Meanwhile, in SNYs, all the new gangs are “fighting for numbers.”

The new gangs illustrate the changes at work in the CDCR since the advent of SNYs.

“There’s Nortenos who are 2-5s, ex-Surenos who are Northern Riders,” he said. “There’s blacks who are ex-Crips who are 2-5s. It’s crazy.”

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LOS ANGELES: A&E Biography documentary on Drew Street and the Leon-Real family

Tonight at 10pm (9 pmCentral), A&E/Biography is showing a documentary on the Leon-Real family and the Drew Street gang, part of its (perhaps hyperbolically named) series on gangs: Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.

Anyway, I helped make this doc, interviewing with them etc. Check it out and let me know how I did. I don’t have cable….

Whatever the tone it takes, the story of Drew Street and the Leon-Real family, which I did for the LAT, was one of the most fascinating I’ve done in LA. I was totally engrossed. A saga of immigration and the underside of the American Dream. How the immigrant enclave can turn toxic.

Most of the folks on that street come from one small town in Mexico: Tlalchapa, Guerrero, which is in the Tierra Caliente, long one of that country’s most violent regions. They congregated on tiny Drew Street and the street became known back home as “El Barrio Bajo.” (The Low Neighborhood).

As one immigrant told me, “Anyone with aspirations left the street.” Most moved to Dalton, Georgia, America’s carpet capital. Those who remained turned Drew into a hive of drug and gang activity — one of the scariest in Los Angeles, with Maria Leon, a tiny woman who once sold popsicles and babysat for immigrant mothers, as the matriarch of 13 children.

Several gang sweeps and a federal prosecution have changed Drew Street.

I was just over on Drew Street and it looks better than it has in probably a couple decades at least. People can actually sell their houses there now, which wasn’t the case in 2008, at the height of the housing boom. The city seized the family’s house and tore it down, in a kind of municipal exorcism. It’s now a community garden. So that’s nice.

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: Wanna burrito? a prison tale

Tell Your True Tale

A new story is up on my storytelling website, Tell Your True Tale.

Richard Gatica, serving three life prison terms, writes of the day he offered to make a burrito for a friend on a tier above him, and how he got it up there.Richard Gatica

Check out Wanna Burrito? a prison tale up now.

It’s an amazing story, of the kind I love to post on the site. Small, poignant moment. Great stuff!

If you have a story that you think might work, let me know. Write it and send it in. I don’t pay but I do edit.

Sam

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GANGS: Two illuminating Mexican Mafia tales

In the last week, there’ve been two stories that illuminate the world of the Mexican Mafia prison gang and its influence on the streets of Southern California.

The first was the story of attorney Isaac Guillen, a guy who was in a gang, then left, went to UC Berkeley, got a law degree, only to eventually become a mob lawyer, in a sense.

Guillen’s story is classic. Several gang members have told me of how certain lawyers have gone beyond their duties as legal representatives to become liaisons between incarcerated Eme leaders and the rank and file gang members on the street — passing notes, orders for criminal activity, drugs. All behind the shield of the attorney-client privilege.

These attorneys are part of what allows Eme members to exert their influence and control on SoCal gang streets, even while they’re locked up in maximum security prison.

The second was the sentencing of Santiago Rios and his son, Louie, from the Azusa 13 gang. Rios senior was accused of being the gang’s “llavero” — keyholder, or shotcaller, anointed by the Eme to run its affairs in Azusa.

He presided over the drug business, over taxing drug dealers and of implementing gang policy, established at a meeting (prosecutors say) in 1992, of “cleansing” the city of black people. Azusa went through several years of seeing hate crimes such as murder, firebombing of black residences, beatings, graffiti, etc.

The judge, in sentencing him to almost 20 years in prison, called him a “proponent of the racial cleansing of the city of Azusa.”

A federal RICO indictment in 2011 sent the Rioses and 49 other Azusa members to jail, and now to federal prison.

But the indictment highlights just how much havoc — crime waves, really — can be created in a normally quiet town when its gang begins acting on orders from Eme members who are locked up far away. Often, they don’t know the gang members they are ordering around on the street, who are nevertheless only too willing to do their bidding.

As I mention in the story, numerous other neighborhoods and towns have been gripped by this kind of racial violence committed against blacks by Latino street gang members.

Because of this control, the Mexican Mafia — whose founders are pictured above — qualifies as the only region-wide organized crime that Southern California has known.

(The photo is one I found online without any attribution. If someone can attribute it, I’d be happy to list it, or, if they object, remove it.)

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CALIFORNIA: Stockton and writing

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Stockton, California, one of my favorite towns.

I was the crime reporter there for the Stockton Record from 1988-92.

This time, I met with students at San Joaquin Delta College, the area community college, in a class taught by poet/instructor Pedro Ramirez. We were talking about writing and how they could tell their own stories — part of my Tell Your True writing workshops.

I’ll be posting some of them soon on my TYTT storytelling page.

The town has taken a lot of hits, entering bankruptcy in the wake of the housing collapse — which seemed reflected in the tales the students wrote, most of which were pretty grim.

Cops have left for departments elsewhere — Oceanside is one, I understand — when they lose their houses due to their salaries being reduced. Crime is again on a track to break records. I did notice a lot of the parolee/addict/hooker kind of folks downtown.

One of Stockton’s problems is that, by design or not, it is within a hundred miles of something like half the prisons in the state: this includes Folsom, San Quentin, Deuel, and the new prisons down by Corcoran/Delano, as well as a women’s prison and a youth-authority prison. That’s a lot.

But there’s a backbone to the town that I always liked, and a down-to-earth quality to folks that I did not feel, for example, when I moved to Seattle for my next job. (Civil folks, those Seattlites, but not at all friendly. And then there’s the rain, or should I say the constant drizzle.)

In Stockton, I note still a lack of graffiti, which is good. When I was there, it was the graffiti that most seemed to drag down the town and give it a defeated/defeatist feel.

These photos suggest the town’s stiff upper lip remains.

 

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PRISONS: A call to end racial warring

A group of inmates in California’s maximum security lockups — Pelican Bay, Corcoran and Tehachapi — are calling for an end to the racial warring that has been part of prison life in the state since … probably since I was born.

Among those calling for this within this coalition are members of the Mexican Mafia, which has warred with blacks in the prison system and ordered Latino gang members in Southern California to wage wars on the streets with blacks as well.

One of the leading members of this collective is Arturo Castellanos — a long-documented Eme member, aka Tablas, serving a life prison sentence for murder since 1980 — who, trial documents and evidence show, ordered up the Florencia 13 war on blacks in the Florence-Firestone unincorporated area that turned that area into a war zone for several years, the worst of which was 2005.

In the federal indictment of Florencia 13 members, the unindicted co-conspirator, identified only as AC, is, according to sources, Arturo Castellanos.

The Black Hand, about ex-mafioso Rene Enriquez, gives a clear idea of how the Eme has used activist groups, lawyers and others to promote their own financial/criminal interests. In interviews with ex-Emeros and their soldiers, I’ve heard these stories as well.

Those interviews have also made clear that the truce edict and the order to end drive-by shootings in the early 1990s were simply ways of organizing Latino street gangs in Southern California into units to tax local drug dealers and kick back some of the money to incarcerated Eme members. Among the edicts the Eme came up with during these years was an order to push Latino street gangs to war with blacks in their areas, rid their areas of black drug dealers, etc.

The result was virtual race wars in neighborhoods such as West Side San Bernardino, Pacoima, Azusa, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Canoga Park, Pomona, Harbor Gateway, Wilmington, Hawaiian Gardens and the aforementioned Florence-Firestone, among others.

Surely it’s a welcome thing to end racial wars in prisons, but history and evidence show that with the Eme you always wonder about underlying motives.

 

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LOS ANGELES: `Onion Field’ killer dead

Gregory Powell, the last of the two `Onion Field’ killers, has died, to the regret of no one, apparently.

Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Smith, killed LAPD Officer Ian Campbell in a Central Valley onion field. Campbell’s partner, Karl Hettinger, never truly recovered from the event.

Joseph Wambaugh was then an officer in LAPD and took a leave to write one of the all-time great true crime books about the case. The book was memorable for many things, but mostly, I thought, for its portrayal of Hettinger, who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1994. The book launched Wambaugh’s career as a true-crime writer.

The movie about the case, with James Woods as Powell, was also powerful stuff.

I wrote an obit of Jimmy Smith when he died in 2007, for which I interviewed Wambaugh.

 

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: Huffington Post again

The Huffington Post crime page has posted another story that first appeared on my storytelling website, Tell Your True Tale.

The story is by Richard Gatica, a longtime Mexican Mafia tax collector, and drug runner inside various prisons.

Now 43 and a prison-gang dropout, he is writing his memoirs, and was just convicted of strangling his cellmate to death. His memoirs make for powerful reading as he’s a great storyteller.

Richard sent me the story of how he killed his crack dealer, included in those memoirs, more than a year ago. It was posted on TYTT last year.

Anyway, read “Killing Donald Evans” on the Huffington Post. 

Please “like” it, share it on FB, tweet about it, and tell your friends.

Earlier this month, HP also posted a story by federal prison inmate Jeffrey Scott Hunter: My First Bank Robbery.

Also I hope you’ll all consider submitting your own stories to Tell Your True Tale. We’ve got about 40 or so up so far.

If you haven’t looked into TYTT, or it’s been a while, feel free to check it out. The stories are great (and deal with all kinds of topics; only a few are about crime). Don’t pay, but I do edit.

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LOS ANGELES: The Cheryl Green case ends

The last defendant in the killing of Cheryl Green, the 14-year-old black girl gunned down by Latino street gang members, was sentenced today to 238 years to life in prison.

Ernesto Alcarez, now 25, had been convicted last month. He was the lookout that after on December 15, 2006 when 204th Street gang member Jonathan Fajardo, pictured here, went looking for blacks to shoot and found Green and some friends talking on a street nearby.

The case was one of the most remarkable of my career. First, it showed how Latino street gangs had become the region’s foremost race-hate criminals, much of this stemming from orders from the Mexican Mafia in prison, and the general apartheid culture that reins in the institutions, which had by 2006 made its way out onto the street and was causing great havoc.

The killing of Green, followed by the slaying of Christopher Ash, a 204th Street associated whom the gang believed to be an informant, left a trail of pointless destruction. Two families had loved ones killed. Five families have loved ones doing life in prison.

Amazingly, Alcarez and Fajardo barely knew each other when Fajardo set out that day, with Alcarez has his somewhat reluctant lookout.The way a gang member explained it to me, Alcarez was a kind of wannabe member of 204th Street whose commitment the gang wanted to test by sending him along with Fajardo, a dedicated 204th Streeter and serious methamphetamine user.

Their fate was entwined forever when Fajardo opened fire, killing Green.

Alcarez’s mother once told me that she’d moved from the neighborhood to get her son away from 204th Street, but he kept returning. A story like so many others I’ve heard, speaking to the brainwashing that goes on in many of these street gangs.

Strangely, Fajardo was himself half black, though he identified as a Latino. He’s now on Death Row.

I wrote a story of how the Harbor Gateway area Cheryl Green had grown up in had been changed by lenient zoning laws from a single-family neighborhood into one crammed with apartment buildings that led to the problems of race it experienced beginning in the late 1990s. The story was also about the hollowing out of the LA economy, and the departure of union jobs that had held neighborhoods like the Gateway together for so long.

Gretchen Ford, the prosecutor in the case, prosecuted five defendants in three separate trials, one of them a death penalty case for the shooter, Jonathan Fajardo. A tip of my hat to her.

It feels like the end of an era, she told me the day Alcarez was sentenced. I bet. Feels that way to me, too.

Photos: Cheryl Green and Jonathan Fajardo

 

 

 

 

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: Huffington Post

The Huffington Post has re-posted one of the stories that I put up earlier this year on my storytelling site, Tell Your True Tale.

It’s by convicted bank robber, Jeffrey Scott Hunter. My First Bank Robbery is the title of the tale.

You can see more cool stories at Tell Your True Tale.

Read ’em, share ’em, send in one of your own. I’m always looking for good stories.

 

 

 

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CALIFORNIA: Toothbrushes and solitary confinement

The other day, on my way out of town on vacation, I stopped by a San Bernardino County Courthouse to hear a bit of the trial of Richard Gatica.

Richard Gatica is accused of strangling his cellmate at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in 2006. He then propped up the cellmate for more than a day, pretending to talk and play chess with the cellmate, and moving the corpse occasionally, so that jailers wouldn’t realize what had happened.

Gatica, who grew up in Rosemead, was already doing two life terms in prison when this happened. So prosecutors are asking for the death penalty.

I happened to catch the testimony of the psychiatrist, employed by the prison system, who examined Gatica for several hours and reviewed thousands of pages of documents about him, and concluded Gatica suffered from several kinds of mental illness.

The doctor described a childhood of apparently nonstop abuse by a sadistic mother who “was severely mentally ill, both because of addictions and because of an innate mental disease which appears to be major depression. … Mr. Gatica was, along with his younger brother, the focus of his mother’s illness and anger in that Mr. Gatica was physically and emotionally abused through much of his childhood.”

Among the mental illnesses Gatica developed was post-traumatic stress disorder.

The doctor went on to say that later, in the prison system, Gatica was incarcerated in a special housing unit, SHU, which amounts to solitary confinement, where inmates are denied human contact, often sunlight and are let out of a cell an hour a day. The SHU is reserved usually for inmates who’ve committed some crime in prison, or been part of a prison gang. Gatica lived in a SHU for a dozen years, the doctor said.

“He grew up without a father in the home and with a crazy abusive mother who was also a drug addict. There wasn’t much opportunity for Mr Gatica to learn coping skills, how to be a loving, caring person. What he learned was how to be a drug addict and a criminal. Being in the segregated housing unit only reinforced Mr Gatica’s dwelling in his internal world of disassociation and very pathological defense mechanisms.”

One of which, the doctor said, was to develop an extreme phobia to germs to the point where he would scrub his cell with a toothbrush “20 to 30 times a day or [wash] his hands 20 to 30 times a day.”

Gatica sat in his seat, dressed in a lavender shirt, a tie, black slacks, glasses, short, gelled hair — looking like a business executive and watching the very middle-class jury absorb all this.

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STORYTELLING: Hieroglyphics in prison

A great story in the LA Times today about a prison inmate who taught himself ancient hieroglyphics from his cell in solitary confinement at the state prison in Tehachapi.

He now writes to the Biblical Archaeology Review, arguing the findings of scholars.

 

 

 

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