Goro, what about racism and gang activity in prison?
Stopping racial balkanization in prison would be nearly impossible today, and in many cases it’s not necessarily what the administration wants. Inmates self-segregate anyway, the California system has been on the brink of all-out race war since the 1960’s when gang formation was actively encouraged by prison staff to prevent things like Attica from happening. Also more and more inmates were starting to get into the whole counterculture/extreme political stuff and staff realized that a united front of inmates of all races would be extremely difficult to control. So a couple guard-sanctioned acts of violence resulted in the creation of the main power structure we’ve had for the last 40 years. It’s no coincidence that the main prison gangs all started within a couple joints in the same part of California- the Black Guerrilla Family, Mexican Mafia & Nuestra Familia, and the Aryan Brotherhood. The main indictments and such of the AB’s really only came when they started becoming too allied with the Eme’s and started killing too many people on the outside.
Now, prison gangs- the indispensable enemy- are more important than ever at maintaining control. The pacification of Attica required the National Guard and the shooting of hostages. Today’s prisons are so overcrowded, with many operating at 200%+ of design capacity, and understaffed with undertrained personnel that a cohesive uprising will be impossible to control. It would take the Marines, if not air strikes. This comes at the steep price of widespread prison violence. There are third-generation racially-based gang members today. Even if the government wanted to end it it would be very difficult.
The other side effect, magnified by the hyperincarceration of minorities and juveniles due to the drug war, is that all street-level gang activity is either directly or indirectly controlled by prison gangs. This is because at some point any serious banger is going to be going to prison and will then need to ally with a prison gang at first in order to avoid being killed outright, and then later for mutual benefit; and partially because in most gangs you can only get so far if you haven’t been inside. Criminal trials are a good way to see if you’ll snitch or cooperate. So If you’re a local street gang in El Paso moving some weed across the border and doing a little local-level distribution, at some point in the chain 5% to 20% of the money is going to be given to the Eme’s or NF. Same goes for white gangs selling speed- at some point the Aryan Brotherhood or the NLR’s or some such is going to be getting a cut. Nearly all street-gang activity is at some level connected to prison gangs. The taxes are paid voluntarily for many reasons, not the least of which is that nobody wants to be a member of a non-paying gang and then go to prison and face the taxman; to say nothing of the very real possibility that the taxman might one day pay a visit to the neighborhood. Every prison gang has some “Davids,” remember.
Wait a minute, are you saying that instutionalized gang warfare and racism are deliberate tools used by an overcrowded prison system to prevent the prisoners from unifying against their jailors?
That was part of the reason for its genesis, but I don’t think even back then they realized how bad it would get or how quickly they would lose control. They started with control-units (now called SHU’s) to try to keep it in check, and when that didn’t work they built a prison where the whole thing was a SHU (Pelican Bay). When that didn’t work they SHU’d it up too, and then when it hit 200% capacity they built another one just like it (Kern Valley). It filled up twice over as well, and it still didn’t work.
In the 60’s, it was thought that racial conflict inside prisons was preferable to wholesale uprisings nationwide like Attica; that the price was worth preventing total anarchy systemwide. It was thought that increased racial strife between cons could be effectively managed by increased harshness on the part of the facility. We now know this not to be true, but far too late. It was also thought at the time that the country was much closer to some kind of major upheaval than it really was. Vietnam, civil rights movement, counterculture, all of it- Nixon, not realizing Nam would end not with a bang, etc. felt that some kind of uncontrollable uprising was inevitable. Attica and the violent episodes which happened in the streets as a result of civil rights + Vietnam were seen as mere hints to some future mass revolt, instead of what they wound up being. The drug war is usually credited to Reagan but in fact it was Nixon’s last, greatest war- and will be his legacy once future historians look on the matter with more educated eyes.
What the government could not have foreseen was how their initial efforts could so completely backfire. In the 60’s, there were things which would be totally unheard of in prison today. There were gangs of big strong gay men who roamed the tiers, protecting all small inmates of any race from rape- and killing prison rapists. This is unthinkable in today’s prisons. So it started by sending groups of Hispanics in a juvenile facility into tiers with older black offenders, knowing that they would be victimized and gang up. Knowing that they would take to the adult prisons this allegiance. This was the birth of the Eme’s- the Mexican Mafia, one of the most feared and powerful criminal organizations as has ever existed in this country and which will endure for the entire lifetime fo the USA. The administrators could not have foreseen this.
So, why do people even join gangs now?
Well, besides the protection it affords from prison rape: The gang addresses all the needs which the facility does not, and those which the con might not have gotten fulfilled on the outside before incarceration. To join you have to be vetted- you will get a background check of sorts (and there are no secrets in prison). This is to ensure undesirables do not gain entry but gives many guys a sense of importance they may not have otherwise had. You will be mentored, taught to read & write, taught the rules- all gangs have a charter, or constitution, you will need to recite this from memory at a certain point or you will be denied entry and forced to fend for yourself (and probably punished harshly by members). This is done to ensure obedience and to weed out those who cannot follow orders, but gives a sense of belonging to something important, to have put in effort and succeeded. You’ll have someone to push you for that last rep on the weight bench, to help you deal with the problems you have with your girlfriend, to send someone on the outside to look in on your kid. Many in prison did not have mentors, role models; poverty, drugs & the “baby-daddy” effect- magnified (as almost every social ill) by hyperincarceration- have seen to that.
The big brother or father is provided by the gang. People join clubs, fraternities, military, etc. looking for a sense of belonging; the sense of “tribe” or “family.” How powerful would it be if you knew- not thought but knew- that the only way you get in is by taking a life, that all the others have taken one, that they will go to prison before betraying you… that they will die for you- that they will kill for you?
Since all prison gangs are racial in nature, even more importance can be assigned (tribe). There is a reason the whites use Norse runes/symbols, and Hispanics use Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican imagery and tradition. To speak the ancient language of Nahuatl allows covert communication by members, but it also allows these angry men who have stunted senses of community, belonging, importance to reach back through the centuries and identify with the invincible Eagle Warriors of the Aztec empire; same for the Norse imagery providing identification with the mighty Vikings.
By the way, the government knows how important and effective this shit is, and part of USMC boot camp is filling the recruits’ minds with stories of Zulus, Spartans, and other legendary warriors to build up “a warrior mind” or whatever excuse they use nowadays.
This is the power of gangs- at the top they’re essentially businesses, but at the bottom they fulfill these very primal needs of angry and needy people; the brains of the soldiers are effectively starved for a sense of belonging, of purpose, and once the gang provides that it’s like the first shot of heroin. It’s absolutely irresistible for many, many people.