Thursday, June 14, 2012

Meet the Book Authors of "BEST-Barrio Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and Other Sureño Gangs Across America"


by Co-Author Andrew Eways

How exactly did I get here?  How is it that I’m sitting in front of my computer working on a non-fiction book about Latino gangs?  I’ve asked myself these questions almost daily for more than a year now and I’m still not sure I know the answers.

I was born on an Army base in Europe, the youngest of three children.  At that time, my father was an officer in the United States Army and my mother was a secretary.  I grew up with a stable home, loving parents and positive role models.  I was the furthest thing from someone who had to find their way out of unfortunate circumstances; no substance abuse, no gang involvement, no broken home; and I have never lost sight of how fortunate I am.

As a child I loved to lose myself in television shows and movies, to immerse myself in the stories someone had created.  This gave birth to my two greatest passions; the two biggest influences in my life; my career in law enforcement and my lifelong study of the martial arts.  From Adam-12 in my childhood to Southland in my forties, I have always enjoyed police dramas.  In hindsight, I think I was destined to be a police officer.  Then in 1994, my law enforcement career began, and so did my introduction to the world of gangs.  First, several students at a local high school formed a rather short-lived white supremacist gang while, on the other side of my jurisdiction, students at another high school formed a gang based loosely on the Crips.  Within a few years while I was serving as a detective, a member of the Four Corner Hustlers from Colorado began committing armed robberies – including at least two bank robberies – while hiding in Maryland.  Before I could develop enough evidence to prosecute him, though, he was extradited back to Colorado where he served time in prison, returned to his gang, and ultimately died a violent death.  As the years of my career passed, I found myself crossing paths with gang members more and more frequently Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Skinheads, Latin Kings and many, many more.  But the gangsters that I found myself in contact with more than any others were the Sureños, an umbrella group of gangs that started in Southern California and spread across the country and beyond. 

From 1997 to 2011, my work with gangs and ethnic organized crime groups was almost constant.  I was assigned to my department’s Criminal Investigation Division, Homeland Security Unit, Organized Crime Division, and Gang Enforcement Unit.  No matter what my assignment was, it inevitably involved Sureño gang members.  Members of Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, Florencia, Tepa, Lennox, Inglewood, Lomas, Venice – so many gangsters from places I didn’t know before, but places I know now.  My desire to learn led me to study them, to learn their history and traditions.  I took every class available, interviewed every gang member I could, cultivated long-term informants who could provide me an inside look at gang life.  I wanted to learn which gangs were rivals, what crimes each was known for, how to interpret their tattoos and graffiti; everything about them.  Much like my practice of martial arts, I found myself with a constant need to learn something.  But learning wasn’t my only job function, I also needed to enforce the law and do my part to help curb gang violence.  From street-level anti-gang operations to major, multi-jurisdictional investigations, I have been involved in virtually every aspect of anti-gang work as part of various units, teams and task forces.  I continued to learn from gang professionals like Retired NYPD Sergeant Lou Savelli, Retired LAPD Detective Tony Moreno, Inmate Classifications-Gang Specialist and co-author Gabriel Morales, and many, many others. 

Like them, I began sharing by knowledge of gangs with other law enforcement professionals, first in my department’s academy, then throughout the region, and eventually across the country.  I continue to do so today.  And everywhere I go – from Florida to California – one thing never changes.  Police officers, correctional officers, and other members of the criminal justice system from coast to coast are coming in contact with Sureño gangs.

Almost twenty years since I graduated from the Maryland State Police Academy, I find myself starting a new journey.  I now live in Colorado and work for a police department in the Denver Metropolitan area, an area with a large population of Sureño gang members; many of whom came to the area from Southern California and brought their gangs with them.  I realize that apart from the need to teach criminal justice professionals about gang investigations, the public in general needs to be educated about gangs too.  Prevention and intervention efforts require knowledge and recognition of the early warning signs, so communities can take action to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.  Parents, teachers, public officials; everyone plays an important part in protecting their community from gang violence.  In 2010, during a discussion of this very topic with my friend Gabriel Morales, the idea to co-write this book was born.  We talked about something that could be of use to police officers, correctional officers, parole agents, parents, teachers, and anyone else who comes in contact with Sureño gang members.

This book represents the efforts of two gang professionals sharing their knowledge with both criminal justice professionals and civilians so that everyone involved can work together to combat gang violence and intervene before young people are tempted to join gangs.  We hope you will learn something from it, then take that knowledge and become a part of the solution.

by Co-Author Gabriel Morales

When Andy Eways approached me about writing a book on Sureño gangs, I didn’t take much time to arrive at my decision, I jumped at the chance. Previously, I had done a lot of research on Latino gangs and shared personal insights of my experiences in my book “Varrio Warfare: Violence in the Latino Community”. My second book, “La Familia: Prison Gangs in America” covered the parent prison gang of the Sureños, La EME, also known as the Mexican Mafia as well as other Security Threat Groups. I also worked on a major publication on Sureños for the Rocky Mountain Information Network (RMIN)  gang profiles of Sureños I’d encountered in my approximately ten years working in California. Prior to its dissolution I had also been asked by the President of the National Major Gang Task Force, Daryl Vigil, if I’d be interested working on a project covering Sureño gangs.

I am the Founder and current Advisor for the International Latino Gang Investigators Association (ILGIA). This group conducts training, workshops, conferences, news articles, and criminal justice networking. I worked with other groups on various projects dealing with Latino gangs.  In my Police and Corrections Academy classes there were always a lot of questions and interest about Sureño gangs. There were also a lot of misconceptions about gangs that I found in my work with non-criminal justice personnel and a growing plea for more information dealing with them, especially Sureño gangs.      

As I traveled across the country it became fairly obvious that many law enforcement, corrections, and general public considered the Sureños to be their fastest growing gang problem and/or their worst gang problem. Latino population growth has been very fast in the last hundred years, especially Mexican immigration. I saw this first hand in Washington State and in California. Unfortunately, a small but often very violent percentage were gang members, and more often than not they were Sureños.

We hope this book helps better educate you on the issues that gangs like Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and other Sureño gangs across America present. We also hope it helps all of us arrive at better solutions in dealing with the myriad of gang related issues you may encounter. I personally hope it will help deter youth from joining gangs, live a life free of crime, and help to foster an environment that makes them want to become more productive citizens in these United States of America.

You can purchase "BEST-Barrio Eighteenth Street, Mara Salvatrucha, and Other Sureños Across America" at:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Early Prison Gangs and Their Impact Today on Crime

The Mexican Mafia, aka La EME dates back to late 1957-1958, and was founded by Louis Jesse “Huero Buff” Flores at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, CA.  As with many new organizations, it started out with a small nucleus and was slow to catch on fire at first, but once people bought into the idea it really started to take off. One noted prison gang investigator notes that EME shotcaller Rodolfo “Cheyenne” Cadena (characterized in the movie "American Me" as "Santana") could not have joined until about 1960 as he was barely convicted of murder in December, 1959. Joseph “Pegleg” Morgan (characterized as white convict "J.D." in the same movie) was not an original member, but joined in 1968. By late 1965-1967, the Mexican Mafia/EME controlled many yards in the CA Dept. of Corrections (CDC) and started to victimize Northern California inmates and inmates from Southern California who would not join their gang. The majority of EME(ros) were from Southern California Barrios (or Varrios as the gang members like to call it even though misspelled in Spanish). Some EME members were against Mexicans victimizing Mexicans in prison, especially some Maravilla gang members from East L.A. According to 1st CA Prison Gang Task Force Coordinator Robert “Moco” Morrill, a Mexican Mafia and El Hoyo Maravilla member named Louie Araujo helped the “Blooming Flower” pen the 1st NFM-Nuestra Familia Mejicana (Our Mexican Family) Constitution between the lines of legal work. The draft was covertly smuggled out to others at Soledad Prison who voiced concerns about La EME’s tactics. The first NFM Padre was John "Lips" Valdez.

You can read more about early California Gangs in “The Mexican Mafia; The Story”: 

Several incidents led up to the infamous "Shoe War" prior to September 16, 1968, that just so happens to be Mexican Independence Day which celebrates Mexico’s Independence from Spain on Sept. 16th, 1810. First, NFM member Phillip “Rebel” Neri from Bakers was hit by EME members. One interesting detail, per former California Prison Warden Tony Casas (deceased), was that EME leader “Cheyenne” Cadena went out with Neri's sister. Casas should know, he personally pulled high security prisoner Cadena out for ride-a-longs to various drug programs. The EME was something that few people were aware of at the time. When Casas did this, he took Cadena out unchained, much to the dismay of Corrections Officers. Once he asked Cadena while traveling over the Tejon Pass to Bakersfield (The Grapevine), “What shall we do now?” Cadena responded, "Well you can kill me, or I can kill you, or we can get along?" The ride went smoothly.

The second event was when NFM member “Sonny” Pena  from New Mexico and Maravilla was murdered by La EME. NFM members were very upset at these acts of disrespect to their members. Finally, the “Shoe War” at San Quentin was started by EME Robert “Robot” Salas fighting against NF Hector “Mad Dog” Padilla over a pair of shoes (not boots) which were stolen by Salas’ crime partner Carlos “Pieface” Ortega. Padilla did not die, but several other inmates did in subsequent battles. Finally, after four years of intense bloodshed (September 1968-September 1972) Cadena was approached by the CDC Administration for peace talks and transferred from Folsom in Northern California to Chino Prison in Southern California in October, 1972. The plan was to meet with the leadership of the Nuestra Familia in an attempt to put an end to the war. Two NF soldiers had been killed a few months prior by La EME at the Tehachapi Prison and tempers were hot. In his futile talks, Cadena may have not been aware of another attempted murder of one of the Nuestra Familia’s 1st Captains at Chino called by Joe Morgan himself which occurred a few months prior to Cadena's arrival.  Finally, the twin Aranda Bros. from the NF were stabbed by EME at Chino Prison on December 15, 1972, which was the “final straw”.

La EME did not kill Cadena as depicted in American Me. As the official reports show, at approximately 1:05 pm, on December 17th, 1972, the alarm sounded in the Palm Hall Adjustment Center at the California Institution for Men in Chino, CA.  An altercation took place on the second tier (not the third). Inmates Frank “Joker” Mendoza and Juan "Manzanas" Colon, both members of the Nuestra Familia, were observed stabbing Cadena. Inmate Gilbert Sandoval and Steven Oropeza, members of the Mexican Mafia, attempted to assist Cadena and were also stabbed. Both Cadena and Sandoval were then thrown off the second floor tier. While both victims were laying on the floor, inmate Refugio “Tiny” Contreras who was aligned with the NF continued to stab Cadena numerous times. Cadena received 57 stab wounds in his chest and back area and died from his wounds. (The picture above is from Cadena's Funeral.) Inmate Sandoval received numerous stab wounds as well as a split skull. Sandoval was taken to UCLA Medical Center. He survived the attack, but was left paralyzed. Steven Oropeza was stabbed, but not seriously, he was able to retreat and was taken by correctional staff to the prison infirmary for medical treatment. To this day EME (SUR) and NF (Norte) fight because of these violent incidents. It is sort of like the Hatfields & McCoys dispute, most lost sight of what started the feud in the first place.

In the early 1970s, the NF elected Robert "Babo" Sosa to be their new leader. In the 1980s, the XIV Bonds were written at Folsom Prison's 4-A Building. This was different than the NF Constitution, this was a new "Northern Structure" meant to groom young Nortenos in what became known as "Nuestra Raza". The Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood were allies, thus, the AB did many hits for La EME in the 1970s including hits on Nuestra Familia who were common enemies. In the same regard, the BGF and NF were prison allies and warred against EME and AB. Aryan Brotherhood members Donald Hale and Fred Mendrin killed an NF member for La EME’s "Honorary Godfather" Joe Morgan in 1972.

While there is no hard proof, AB members were said to have originally gone by various names such as the Diamond-tooth Gang, Bluebirds, NAZIS, and finally the Aryan Brotherhood. This prison gang started in San Quentin in 1967. An AB member by the name of Jack Mahoney, who was Irish, influenced the AB, also called “The Brand” to use a "shamrock" as one of their symbols. According to prison gang expert Brian Parry, to be a bonafide AB you must have “the rock”. It is still used and often adorned with the numbers "666". They often use a runic alphabet to communicate. Early AB’s were Eddie Vaughn, Wayne “Bulldog” Ladd, and William McGirk who had Mob ties.  There was “Bucky” Garrett, Carl Nooner, and Mark Duclas who all had ties to Washington State. Other early AB were “Tall Dennis” Murphy and Joe Morse. Ronnie “Spots” Berg, Tommy “Slim” Center, Ronnie Harper, Robert “Chuco” Wendekier, Larry Witzig, Mike Carmichael, George Harp, and Eddie Burnett also played major roles early on.

The Black Guerrilla Family was the most political of all the CA prison gangs and the most dangerous towards Police and Corrections Officers in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. The BGF started out in the California Department of Corrections in 1966 as the Black Family and Black Vanguard. They were started by George Lester Jackson and W.L. Nolen. Jackson's group was the Revolutionary Armed Movement (RAM) which was considered an arm of the Black Panther Party. Jackson became a revolutionary in prison and wrote several books including “Soledad Brother – The Prison Letters of George Jackson” and “Blood in my Eye”. Jackson then merged with James "Bone" Johnson's group called the Black United Movement (BUM). These groups formed the early BGF. The following is typical of what Jackson preached, “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will die or live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution. Pass on the torch. Join us, give up your life for the people.”  Jackson was later killed in a bloody escape attempt from San Quentin Prison's Adjustment Center-High Security Unit in August of 1971. There was also a BGF support group active in Washington State called “The George Jackson Brigade”.

The Texas Syndicate (TS) officially formed at San Quentin and Folsom Prison during the early 1970s. Its nucleus was made up of inmates from Texas who were incarcerated in the California Department of Corrections (CDC). These inmates often came from the EPT or El Paso Tip, but did not call themselves TS as has been reported in error by some sources. The founder of the TS was Francisco “Panchito” Gonzales who designed the "TS Copia" at Folsom. During the 1970s, the Texas Syndicate recruited heavily to build numbers within CDC. While the TS prison gang was small, they were the most feared on the yard because of their propensity for violence and serious assaults. Today the TS is active in Texas, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the Federal BOP system but are virtually unheard of in California.

Other California Prison Gangs spread out from the state or started emulators or rivals. Groups like La EME have worked for Mexican Drug Cartels for many years. They have worked with Organized Crime Groups like La Cosa Nostra. While prison gangs are not as numerous as street gangs and may not have the power and control they once did with all of the defectors, warring factions, and new opposing group around today, they still can be very dangerous. Frank “Paco” Marcell is considered an expert on “Career Criminals” and was a Security Threat Group (STG) Manager at the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, AZ, as well as many other facilities in the U.S. during his long career. He says, “The impact that prison gangs have across the U.S. within our communities, jails and prisons differs; however, in the north and southwest they control a large proportion of criminal activity.” They still impact a lot of crime inside correctional institutions and out on the street.

You can read more about this subject in “La Familia: The Family; Prison Gangs in America”:

Do you have any stories about prison gangs or concerns you'd like to share?