CHAPTER 1: KILLING ALABAMA
There are several ways to kill a man in prison. I’ve watched in masked horror as an MS-13 member was suddenly thrown off the third tier from forty feet in the air by an associate. The sickening pops and crunches of bone and tissue being split open from the sudden impact with concrete, still echoes along the dark corridors of my shadow complex. That metaphoric, dark place where our suppressed memories and emotions fester inside. The smell of a man’s flesh on fire, and the screams of pure agony as his life burns out of him, still linger there as well. Along with the memory of bows and arrows made from newspapers and elastic bands. And master locks inside worn cotton tube-socks used as bludgeoning weapons for smashing skulls and brain matter.
But, no tactic is more visceral, more intimate and violent, than plunging a sharp piece of steel into another human being’s flesh and organs. Severing vital arteries, veins, and capillaries with a crude knife fashioned from plastic or metal, as you feel their last hoarse breaths warm on your face. That is the way most prison murders and assaults happen, and it’s the way I chose to try and murder Alabama in the summer of 2005.
Alabama was king in Soledad. As the shot caller for the whites, he had a lot of connections. He was a lifer who already served more years than I’d been alive. He had guards that would bring him drugs and other contraband. He knew powerful gang leaders that could end someone’s life with a simple order to their countless hoards of loyal soldiers. And, for a man in his late fifties, he was in solid physical shape. He worked out for several hours a day. And had been for decades. My first real mission putting in work as a “torpedo” wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. This wasn’t like participating in a riot or jumping a fellow comrade who had violated our laws. What I was about to do, was to try and kill the most powerful man on the most secured yard in Soledad state prison. And I was a twenty-one year old first termer, who had so far barely served just three years in the pen.
Alabama was actually a very kind and compassionate man for a shot caller serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison. Rumor was he murdered someone and was sentence 25 to life. Then, he escaped and lived in Alabama for several years before he was caught again. Hence the nickname “Alabama”. Or, just “Bama,” for short.
But, I remember the first time my mom and step-dad came to visit me in Soledad. They were very nervous and anxious about the whole ordeal. Despite having only a few hours to visit his wife, Alabama went out of his way to take ten minutes to reassure my parents that I was okay, and “a great kid,” who was, “smart as all hell,” and he said he would, “make sure I never wasted another day or drop of potential in prison again.” His soft spoken, southern accent repelled many of my parent’s fears. I was always grateful for that.
The problem was, Alabama cared too much about young guys like me. Torpedo’s. Young men, kids really, being forced to put in work and possibly catch more time. When a child molester, rapist or snitch would be uncovered and a torpedo had to take them out, Alabama would alert the Sargent, not of the assailant’s identity, but of the victims, and the guards would remove them from general population to the safety of protective custody. Saving the torpedo from serving more time, by stopping the assault from happening, but essentially snitching in a certain way, making him a lot of enemies in the process. Word was circulating that Bama had to be killed. And the day three comrades and I heard the order was given from the Aryan Brotherhood to hit Bama, and nobody was doing anything, we decided to take measures into our own hands.
The fact that the Aryan Brotherhood, or “The Brand”, had put a green light on Alabama (which meant it was okay to “go” ahead and kill him) was big. And the fact that nobody was doing it, was even bigger. The Brand was at the top of the hierarchy in prison for the whites. They called all the shots. Pulled all the strings. Refusing an order is sin. And it had been that way since the 70’s.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s racial tensions in America flared up largely due to the civil rights movement. This raging fire would soon make its way into our state penitentiaries. There, racial riots broke out in droves and out of that tension gangs like the Mexican Mafia were formed, modeling themselves with the hierarchical structure of the Italian Mafia. The Black Guerilla family, with ties to the Black Panthers, was another one of these gangs with the same “blood in, blood out” mentality. Which is to say: you have to commit violence to get in, and that same violence will be committed against you for the consequence of leaving.
Siding up by race, white inmates began to form similar gangs in retaliation. I know from experience that if you don’t side up by race, and thus apart of a collective force rather than a sole
individual, your chances of surviving prison lifestyle on the general population yards are extremely slim if not non-existent. I was once yelled at for letting a black man reach into my cookie bag to get a cookie out, because he “contaminated” the rest of the bag. I was told I’d be killed if it happened again to make a point. That’s how serious it is to stick to your own in the prison general population.
One of these new white gangs also based on the “blood in, blood out” ethos was the Nazi Low-riders. They used neo-Nazi symbology and were vocally white supremacists who glorified the outlaw life with a heavy emphasis on firearms. Another similar gang was the Aryan Brotherhood. Their members had the infamous shamrock tattoo with the numbers 666 inside. This represented their opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. They had a fondness for Luis Lamor western stories about outlaws who would fight for the brand their rancher had on the cattle. This gunslinger attitude is how they got the kick-name: “The Brand.”
By the 1970’s the AB was a serious force in California prisons like San Quentin and Folsom. Soon, Brand members were committing federal crimes to get locked up in federal prisons so that they could recruit more members. By the 80’s, though there were only around 100 members out of 35,000 inmates, they were committing white collar crimes like ID theft and extortion.
These guys were serious. The few. The proud. The Brand. And even though they are put in a segregated housing unit, (or the SHU) these days, away from the general population, their power and influence is still vast and growing. When they put a hit on someone, it was only a matter of time before that someone was no one. And if they wanted Alabama to be killed, and not a single person was doing anything, whoever did take him out would definitely stand out as a “solid youngster” for stepping up. Which was my ultimate goal. To have respect. Respect I always felt I never received growing up. And here there was no better gang to have respect from, if you were white, than The Brand.
Spanky, Rooster, Rowdy, and I had plotted it all out the previous day at yard. After another long and hot day out in the prison’s North Facility yard, I wrapped up the rest of the day by shooting the shit with some of the other younger comrades. The yard was thinning out, most guys seeking the relaxation of their cooler cells, and a distraction from yard drama and politics that their small clear televisions, with ten only channels, could provide. We younger skinheads tried to stay out on the yard, away from the ZOG box (what we called television because we believed the media was run by the “Zionist Occupational Government,” or “ZOG,” for short,) as long as we were allowed out on it. Not just for the recreation and socialization, but in case a riot popped off or a comrade was attacked. The more soldiers like us out on the yard in one of those circumstances, the better chance for victory in our minds.
We stood by the “white area” picnic benches, under the shadow of a guard tower where a tactically trained corrections officer, with tightly cropped brown hair, looked in our direction every few moments through dark aviator sunglasses. He held a mini 14 semi-automatic rifle in his meaty hands that would put a hole through one of us in a split second. Spanky, the oldest and most reckless of us all, was leading the conversation. It was the typical yard drama of the day interwoven with war-stories about how tough he was. Except, Spanky was a pathological liar. Most of the words that came out of his mouth were bullshit.
He also had a giant heroin addiction that everyone pretended they didn’t know about because we weren’t allowed to use drugs as skinheads. It would get you killed by your own comrades if they found out. Not all yards had this policy, but the north facility in Soledad’s Correctional Training Facility, or CTF, was a level 3 prison yard. Which meant it was maximum security. (Levels 1 and 2 are minimum security, levels 3 and 4 are maximum.) Which meant more violent inmates in the population, who were also in structured gangs, that followed its policies very fundamentally. And as skinheads who followed the 88 precepts, we had to enforce the precept of keeping toxins out of the blood. Which meant no drugs. Or we would kill you. The only reason why Spanky got a pass, was because his grandmother sent him a lot of money, and we all benefited from it. Plus, we all had a soft spot for Spanky. Even though he was such a shit, you couldn’t help but love the guy. His smile and laugh was contagious. And he had a certain charm, that has no doubt helped him survive as a weaselly heroin addict, there was simply no defense for.
Rooster was a tall, thin young redhead who had just arrived to Soledad from LA county jail, where he was convicted of the attempted murder of a black gang member, and charged with a hate crime. And Rowdy was a short but smart skinhead much like myself at the time. We spent many yards discussing Hitler and WW2 while walking around the track that bordered the entire yard, giving us a full tour past all of the basketball and handball courts, pull-up bars, dip bars, and other recreational equipment.
Instead of the grim castle like designs of older prisons like San Quentin, which was built in the 1880’s, Soledad featured a more modern design. When it was built in the 1940’s, it was to be a new kind of prison. Gone were the days of the cage for the criminal. Rather than punishment, emphasis would be put on academic and vocational training. The prison had private cells, a gymnasium and sports equipment, first-run movies for entertainment, farms for alfalfa and corn, neatly trimmed lawns, and even a hog ranch. Central facility was added in 1946, and was the level 2 yard. The old yard became south yard for level 1 inmates that could work the farm. When the north facility was built in 1958, it was considered a progressive yard because it combined a population with youth and adult inmates. But, it soon became known as “gladiator school,” where hot blooded youngsters could be put to work for the older, gang leader inmates, for this very reason. It became the level 3 yard, and was infamous for its large scale race riots, and heavy gang activity.
We started discussing the rumors about the AB putting a green light on Bama, when Spanky suddenly blurted out: “I’ll stab that mother-fucker,” with a smirk on his face that said, “it ain’t shit,” while he picked at a scar from a fresh tattoo near his elbow, indifferent to the weight of what he had just said. Rowdy, Rooster, and I all looked at each-other smiling. We were all thinking the same thing. Spanky talked big shit, and nothing ever came of it.
But, Rowdy beat us all to it by being the first to say: “I think you should. Because a skinhead with honor and integrity wouldn’t just talk about doing something,” he looked in Spanky’s direction with a cold stare, “he’d do it.”
The silence that followed made me cringe. “Damn, Spanky just got put on blast!” I thought to myself. Our smiles quickly turned into “o’s” as we waited for Spanky to defend himself. He was pulling nervously on his thick blonde beard now. “Get me a piece and it’s handled.” He finally said defensively, staring at the ground with an exaggerated frown. He shrugged his shoulders, looked up at us, and repeated, “I mean… I need a piece but, ya, fuck ya I’ll fuckin’ do it dude. Fuck that snitch. It’s done.” He slowly drew his thumb across his neck.
Rowdy looked over at me. “Riot Child, c’you get Spanky the piece?” It was a question that he already knew the answer to.
I answered, “Whenever,” with a smirk.
“Good,” Rowdy now looked at Spanky. “Well that settles it.” He then looked at the rest of us, and asked, “So, when do we want to do this?” We all contemplated for a few moments.
“The sooner the better.” Rooster chimed in first. He was looking around cautiously to be sure nobody overheard our conversation. “If we sit on this words gonna get out somehow. Best to act now before anyone else finds out.”
“Rooster makes a great point,” Rowdy said, nodding his head up and down. “We need to have this go down, like, tomorrow.” He flicked a lit cigarette on the ground, crunched it out under a state issued work-boot, and nodded to a group of passing woods from the Inland Empire.
“I can have a piece by tomorrow,” I said when they were out of sight. I had the richest cellmate in the prison. We had razor blades and all kinds of weaponized contraband we could make a shank from. And a good one too. Not some crude piece of metal ripped off a locker, or bunk, like in the movies.
Spanky looked at me from the corner of his eyes. I could see that he was regretting talking shit, because now, he had to actually go through with it. I could tell he wanted to converse to me that he was just running his mouth, but I also knew that Spanky’s ego wouldn’t let him admit it to the rest of the guys. So, he swallowed and, staring into my eyes with a serious look, said, “You’re gonna be my wingman on this one Riot Child.”
“Of course,” I answered right away with forged confidence. “I got you all the way comrade.” I popped my knuckles nervously while in thought. I suddenly remembered the recruiting officer, named “Demon,” for the gang I was prospecting for, was in the hole. He was put in the dorm about a month ago and, after beating up two black guys for getting too close to him in the shower, was taken to the hole before I got a chance to talk to him about becoming an official member. The guy was a legend all over the California prison system. He was a very controversial figure, even among other skinheads. He openly called for the mass extermination of all Jews and other non-whites. Which, surprisingly, isn’t a universal Neo-Nazi tenet.
For the brief moment that I did get to meet him, he was showing me all of his tattoos. He boasted he had over a hundred dead Jews inked into his skin. The words, “Nigger,” and, “Killer,” written down both legs. The god of justice’s rune, “tiwaz,” above his left eye, with, “Anti-Semite,” written above the other. I thought that if I came back to the hole for putting in work he would recruit me for sure.
“I need to go report to Demon anyway,” I said. Then looked over at Rooster and Rowdy. “I’m gonna need one other torpedo and someone to ditch the shank.” I pointed at Spanky, “Spanky hits Bama, then another comrade and I will put hands on him. Meanwhile, Spanky passes the piece to someone that will get rid of it, so Spank can get away.”
That’s typically how I’ve seen this work. It was important to get rid of the weapon, and that the assailant escape, while the victim gets beat down by other inmates who have no connection with the weapon. In prison, when you do a hit and fail, 9 times out of 10 you get killed. And if you get caught, you risk getting charged with another crime and having your sentence extended. So, you have make sure it gets done right.
Rooster volunteered first. “I’ll ditch the piece, but I’m not getting anywhere near Bama after he’s hit.” The fire in his eyes burned brighter than his freckles in the warm, summer sultriness. Rooster was young, but he wasn’t going to let anyone make him do something he didn’t want to do.
“Fair enough,” said Rowdy. He pinched his nose in thought. Sweat started to drip down his forehead, as the Soledad sun roasted our pale, bald heads. “I’ll… I’ll uh, see who I can get to go with you Riot… Probably Young Guns or something.” He scrunched his clammy face in deep thought. “I dunno, but I’ll find somebody.”
We settled on the next day at night yard to do the hit. It was decided that Jimmy was to be the other guy who would help me beat down Bama, while Rooster got rid of the piece, and Spanky made his escape. Now, Jimmy wasn’t a skinhead. But, he was an Odinist who ran with us. And he was kind of a pushover who probably felt he had something to prove to us for not being a skinhead. But, I felt confident with Jimmy by my side because the guy was solid. He was physically up for it, and had the honor and integrity to see it through. Jimmy, had heart.
Later on that night, I made the shank by melting a plastic toothbrush, the bristle end, to a box-cutter. Then, I used floss to tie it down tightly to ensure the box-cutter wouldn’t come off. My cellmate Sam helped me. He was an Italian immigrant with ties to the mafia. I’m pretty sure that’s where all his money came from.
He was serving a life sentence for kidnapping and extortion out of Orange County. And he had made many shanks during his time in prison. After we finished, we went over each possible scenario, one at a time, and the ways I could best handle them. After reviewing strategy for several hours, I got some rest and went about the following day like it was just another one hundreds I’d already served. Except, in my frantic head, I couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to take place later that evening.
The bell for night yard finally rang after we had gotten back from chow about an hour ago. I hopped off my top bunk, the frigid concrete floor cool on my feet. I slipped on some clean socks and laced my boots up. “You know,” Sam said while lying on his bunk watching Jeopardy, “Spanky isa not agoing to ado it.” He said in a thick Italian accent as he took a sip of Folgers instant coffee and cackled. “Kid just aruns his amoutha but anever backs it upa!” He wiped the spilled coffee from his mouth and chin, while I pulled the shank from my hiding spot in a hollow of the bunk. I put the shank, wrapped in a piece of a t-shirt so I wouldn’t leave prints or cut myself, into the pocket of my denim blue jacket. Then, I put the red ID card I borrowed earlier that day, from another convict that looked like me, in the cell door window. Nervously waiting for the guard to let me out. (Night yard was a privilege for inmates with a job. I didn’t have a job. So, I had to get a red ID card, which was required for night yard, from someone who did, to get access fo it.)
“He better,” I said softly to myself, but loud enough for Sam to hear me, “or I’m probably gonna end up having to.” The words crystallized into condensation on the window. I said it as a joke, but as I said it, I realized just how true that it actually was. And the weight of it clung to me like a heavy rainfall. The jingle of keys grew louder and louder until the guard finally came to my cell door, and unlocked it with a loud “click!” I pulled the card back out of the window with as much “business-as-usual” candor as I could muster, and walked down the steps, out of the building, and into the dimly lit prison yard.
It was much cooler on the yard at night. A crisp gust of Monterey County air ripped through my denim jackets and jeans. I shivered, and felt my skin turn to gooseflesh as I scanned the yard. My comrade Tyr was waiting for me with Rowdy. He had just gotten to Soledad two weeks prior and hadn’t been cleared to go to yard yet. We met in reception two years ago at Tracy state prison. He was affiliated with the gang I was prospecting for, “Aryan Front”, which was notorious in Northern California, and was quickly making a name for itself in the joint. He was the one who inspired me to join, and became my sponsor. We called him Tyr because he had lost an arm to cancer as a young kid. And the Norse god of justice, who also only had one arm, was called Tyr by the Vikings. This was the first night I saw him since we were sent to separate prisons. He had already gotten out on parole, violated, and came back. This time, to the same yard I was on since we got split up.
“What. The. Fuck?” I asked rhetorically, as we embraced for the first time in two years. “You never wrote me comrade.” I said as we pulled away from each-other, and I embraced Rowdy with a hug. “I got that.” I whispered in his ear, referring to the freshly made shank in my jacket pocket. He nodded and looked away, as if I hadn’t said anything of much importance.
Tyr rubbed the back of his neck and groaned with convincing regret. We started making our way to the handball courts ahead. “Comrade, dude, I was going through it with the ole lady y’mean?” He smacked me hard on the back with an open hand. He had biomechanical style tattoos on his arm. The side of his neck, had a big black “Independent Trucks” skating company iron cross tattoo. “But bro, I got things on lock for Aryan Front on the street comrade.” He slung his arm around my neck and said into my ear, “We’ll talk more if you don’t get rolled up for this.” He lowered his voice. “I’m fucking proud of you skinhead. And you know Demon is gonna welcome you in with open arms after this.” His voice lowered even more now. “But, I want you to be the one to hit Bama.”
I felt my throat freeze in mid-swallow as my stomach filled with razor winged butterflies. Tyr squeezed his arm-lock around my neck tighter and emphasized his next few sentences with authority. “Spanky is a dope fiend. He’ll fuck this up if he doesn’t puss out. And if you wanna prove to Demon and me you are hard enough for Aryan Front, now is your chance to step-the-fuck-up.” He put his forehead on the side of my face, arm still clung tightly around my neck. “Look at me.” He ordered.
My head was spinning. I turned my face towards him, so my forehead was now resting firmly against his. His sole hand was gripping the back of my head. We stared directly into each-other’s eyes. I squinted mine to mask the anxiety that was surging inside of me. I wasn’t prepared for this. Beating down a wounded convict with another comrade was one thing, but being the guy who walks up and stabs one, and Alabama at that… That was a completely different thing. I felt his thick bristly eyebrows excoriate my forehead, as Tyr widened his eyes, and waited for me to respond. I stared at him for a handful of heartbeats before finally asking, “Where’s Spanky?”