We watched the yard gate open where dozens of prison guards from other yards were waiting to help with the escort. Over fifty prison guards dressed in green uniforms, that resembled military fatigues, positioned themselves on both sides of the single file line of inmates. Every prison guard was holding something. Some had 50 caliber rifles, others block guns and others held pepper spray canisters the size of a fire extinguisher. In contrast, the inmates all looked like tattooed down body builders and soldiers of a different ilk. The procession stretched for nearly 100 yards.
The experience felt eerie, almost out of body. As we walked I felt the pepper spray on the side of my face and neck eating deeper into my skin as it progressed down my body with my sweat, leaving a ‘burned by fire’ feeling in its wake. We walked by the second prison yard and through the razor wire fences saw over five hundred prisoners lying on the ground with prison guards walking amongst them holding guns at the ready in case our yard’s riot kicked off another there. We passed that prison yard and I knew the inmates would remain on the ground in the prone position until we were housed in the Hole Administrative Segregation.
We walked another 500 yards and passed two more prison yards before reaching our destination. The Hole, Ad Seg, was behind the last yard in an isolated compound and we circled it. On the way that eerie feeling magnified with the noise. Men were training their bodies in a choreographed and precise manner. One leader was barking orders with the rest of the group responding, followed by the sounds of bodies exercising and grunting. I began to make out the cadence, “Surenos!! Raza!! Estamos listos? Vamanos!” I knew enough Spanish prison slang to understand the cadence was being applied to the Southern California Mexicans and the Mexicans originally from Mexico, The Race, according to them and always at the ready to go.
Around the corner the building opened up enough to peer in at the portion the prisoners were allowed to use for yard two hours every other day. Instead of a regular prison yard, the prisoners were confined to kennels. Row after row of fenced in rectangular dog runs allowed two prisoners per cage 6′ by 10′ of width to pace back and forth or work out like they were now.
I realized something monumental. I had to find L’il Bird and Boxer, the two Mexicans labeled Mexican Mafia who were removed from the yard before the ensuing power struggle. I needed to communicate to them that the policy we had ironed out together hadn’t been respected by Stranger, who stepped up to fill their void. Now that Stranger was gone from the yard, now in line with us to get processed into Ad Seg, the yard we just vacated was void of leadership again. Both L’il Bird and Boxer had the influence and reach to send word to that yard to keep the peace.
We turned the corner of the building again and were able to see the yard through the fence. I zeroed in on L’il Bird and Boxer. Their sturdy, older bodies stood out amongst the younger, less seasoned Mexicans. Both of their sweat glistened bodies were covered by tattoos blasted in aged ink from decades ago and fading. Both had collages of Aztec war scenes and I was hoping their power to command wasn’t fading like the ink. I searched out the rest of the kennels and in the sea of Mexicans found four White men. The four Whites were distinguishable from the rest of the prisoners by their sheer size.
All four men had large bald heads and only one of them didn’t have his scalp covered in tattoo ink to the forehead. That behemoth was the largest at 6’7″ and at least 280 lbs of iron clad frame. He was scrutinizing us with so much energy I couldn’t look away. The eerie feeling magnified even more as I watched him focus on ascertaining why we were in line to get housed in Ad Seg with him, apparently his spot. He used his fingers for sign language and introduced his name, Bam Bam, his counterpart’s name in the kennel with him, Blitz, along with Sinner and Traveler in the next kennel.
Next he used his fingers to ask us questions. “What prison yard had we just come from?” With our hands cuffed behind our backs in zip ties we had to communicate by nodding our heads or shaking them. He finger questioned, A-Yard? We shook our head no until he got to D-Yard. Then, he finger questioned, What happened with the Mexicans? His fingers were taking too long to go letter by letter so he resorted to mimicking possibilities that started with lifting a drink to his mouth to see if we had been drunk? We shook our heads no. He nailed it with his next one. He mimicked the act of registering a needle and shooting dope into his arm. We nodded our head vigorously that he was so warm he was in the oven with us. Next he lifted his hand and ran his fingers together in the universal sign for money and then used his hand to slide by his throat to say the money hadn’t made it. We nodded our heads that he understood our problem. He then used his hand to make it look like he had a knife in it and jabbed it into his other hand repeatedly to ask if weapons were used. We shook our heads no. Then he used both of his fists to fire straight punches and we nodded our heads yes.