By W. Wisely
With virtually all confirmed members of the Aryan Brotherhood indefinitely sentenced to Pelican Bay's infamous SHU, a new group moved in to fill the void on California prison yards. The pace of stabbings, slashings, assaults, and race riots in maximum security, Level IV, prisons has increased. The world's largest and most costly gulag is proving to be fertile ground for the seed of one next-generation white supremacist prison gang. Officially sanctioned racism from segregated housing, assignment quotas, to barbering services, nurtured a new wave of angry white males. The Nazi Lowriders.
July 29, 1999, about 8 in the morning. I'll write as long as I can. Guard told Southern Mexicans last night all cells to be searched today. Chicans, NLR will cell extract in protest. 15 to 20 guards, 4 sergeants, fire chief, several MTAs, maintenance men, lieutenants, and captains. Cloud of pepper spray spreads through block. Took twenty minutes to cut sheets tying first cell shut. Gassed two Southern Mexicans ten times, jerked door open. Six gooners, helmets, face shields, gas masks, bullet resistant vests, black leather gloves, steel toed paratrooper boots, knee and shin guards. Push big Plexiglas shield into cell, trampled almost unconscious prisoners. Beat, kicked men, flipped over, handcuffed behind backs, dragged out. One tried to walk. Other was limp.
The Ride formed sometime in the 1980s in the California Youth Authority's Youth Training School in Ontario, California. Young white prisoners were getting raped, robbed, beat, and stabbed by black and Latino street gang members. The Nazi Lowriders was the white response. "We didn't get big in the pen until the mid-90s," said Demon, not his real nickname, a validated NLR member and "shotcaller" in charge of the white prisoners at Lancaster prison's segregation unit.
Demon left keys by Rusty. They took Rusty and two other members by van to the hole two weeks ago. Late last night, kite addressed "to all whites" came around. "To all white warriors, we will fight to the end! Tie your doors shut, make cups of piss and shit to throw on guards. Try to break back window of cell. Anyone who don't extract is through!" Prisoner who sent kite just got in. Why's he calling shots?
The NLR has confused and frightened prison gang experts and law enforcement. It has no known structure, no constitution, no hierarchy. "We've got some Big Homies, but no one in particular leads the Ride," said Demon. "Some members have earned higher status and get more respect based on work they put in, so they got more juice. The structure is shaky, but it'll tighten up when we get to SHU," Demon said. There'll be housecleaning in the ranks, comeuppance for bad calls and scandalous moves. "Too much dope fiending going on," Demon smiled.
Vents off. Tee Shirt over mouth, nose. Breathe in shallow gasps, lungs on fire, hard to stop coughing. Second cell. Two more Southern Mexicans.
Door wrenched open, gooners try to rush in, prisoners, wearing only boxer shorts, fight back, stopped guards. Out numbered, overpowered, unable to breathe, prisoners subdued, beaten, kicked, clubbed like baby seals. One dragged out to concrete yard, hog-tied with chains and shackles. Be there over twelve hours, no water, no toilet, legs, arms, wrists, and shoulders numb from pain. Steel restraints grate on bone after a few hours. Cellie brought back, put in cage. Gave up without fight, never walk mainline again without fear of assault.
Sheriffs Lee Baca of Los Angeles County and Mike Carona of Orange County presented a report Thursday, August 19, 1999, by the Anti-Defamation League on the NLR, believed to be the fastest-growing white supremacist gang in the state, according to the Los Angeles Times. Believing the NLR a bigger problem in his jails than the Mexican Mafia, Baca said, "It's a menace we all have to attack." Known members are segregated in Orange and Los Angeles County jails after a series of attacks against blacks. Tom Leyden, a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and former neo-Nazi skinhead, said the NLR is different because members use and sell drugs, primarily crank, while embracing racist philosophies such as the 14 Words and 86 Precepts.
Short, fat, female gooner yelled, "Don't come out!" They want each cell to be a battle. They laugh. Third cell. Took almost an hour to cut elaborately braided ties holding the door shut. Door jerked open, two young skinheads, fought ferociously, backed extraction team off. When over, NLR and skins loudly cheered, rattled cell doors, shook whole building. Gooners went out of order, cleared cells each side of Demon's.
At a quiet Mission Viejo video arcade in 1996, several purported Nazi Lowriders beat a 12 year-old Southern Mexican boy with a metal pipe. The attack was captured on film and broadcast by Fox News in a series about the resurgence of racist prison gangs. In July of 1999, after the news stories aired, Southern Mexican prisoners on Lancaster's B Facility received orders. "What happened on B Yard came from the [Pelican] Bay," said an older Southern Mexican who declined to be identified, but who participated in the melee. The riot involved more than 125 prisoners. Clumsy, another Latino prisoner, was shot through the back by a guard during the incident. "What's happening here is happening all over because of the shit that went on outside with the NLR jumping little Chicans," the older con said.
Guards, maintenance, nurses, MTAs, and other staff ran out. Overcome by pepper spray although they wore gas masks. Just woke up on floor, bump on head. Guess I tried to stand up and fainted. Don't know how long I was out. It's dark now. Having trouble writing. Cell lights out, water turned off. Thirsty. Demon didn't want to extract. Guards fronted him off. Came to cell, yelled, "You coming out or not?" They knew. He had no choice. They gassed Demon's cell through the vent. Sergeant emptied one canister, got another, emptied that, too. Demon fought. His cellie unconscious. Gooners threw photos, Bible, and magazines on tier.
The Ride allows no female members, but has quite a few groupies. Members and associates sport Nazi tattoos, Swastikas, portraits of Hitler, and SS lightning bolts like racist skinheads. In fact, the NLR recruits skins and forms loose alliances with skinhead gangs in and out of prison. "There are sleepers on every prison yard and on the streets putting in work for the Ride until they can get in," said Elbert "Mad Dog" Vaught, a short, slender and thirty-something Three Striker from San Fernando Valley. Mad Dog's covered from head to toe with prison tattoos. The letters NLR are tattooed in four-inch high block letters across his Adam's apple. Since March, 1999, there's been a moratorium on admitting new members until the NLR settles its problems both within and without the ranks.
At first closely aligned with the Aryan Brotherhood, the two white gangs had a falling out. "Somewhere along the line the NLR clashed with the Brand and decided to be on our own and not do what they said. So, there's a conflict, a power struggle," Demon said. This struggle recently resulted in the stabbing of several NLR members housed at Palm Hall, a segregated housing unit inside the Southern Reception Center at Chino, California.
Fire chief turned on exhaust fan. It's facing my cell. Pepper spray runs down smeared plastic covering cell door. At seventh cell, Spunky and Fatboy, Southern Mexicans, slammed against metal bunks and cell walls. Crowd of prison staff gawked like spectators at dog fight-only, this is six rottweilers against two blind Chihuahuas. Screaming, pounding, roar of gas generator for flood lights outside. This started after breakfast, it's after midnight now. I'm propped against cell door. MTA, "You all right?" Me, "No, I can't breathe, my eyelids are swollen, I've got a headache." "Can't give you anything. You have to put in a slip to see the doctor," she said walking away. "Why did you ask?" I whispered to the door. Chorus of coughing, sneezing, puking, mixed with grunts, bangs, curses. Don't know if I'll make it through this.
"Stir, stir, stir it up!" yelled Bullet, freshly arrived to segregation from Lancaster's C Facility after slashing another prisoner's throat. The razor blade is the weapon of choice for whites, and stirring up trouble among their own kind the recreation of the day. "Now that we're all going to the SHU," Demon said, "we'll be preying and stirring on ourselves." The Ride believe they're the enforcers for whites in jail and prison. Yet, although they call minorities "mud races," and glibly spew empty racist rhetoric adopted from their skinhead and neo-Nazi allies, Nazi Lowriders buy drugs from black and Latino prisoners, and even carry out hits on whites for minorities.
On Centinela's maximum security yard, newly arrived whites are told to show their "paperwork," the court judgment or probation report showing what they were convicted of, before they even make up their bunk. "I don't want to do it, but they'll stab me if I don't. I don't want no trouble," said Steve, a twenty-one year old sentenced to 25 years to life for simple assault. Steve paced nervously in his bare cell, no television, radio, or canteen. "We've been locked down since I got here three months ago. I haven't been able to make it to the canteen once," he apologized.
Steve explained the NLR control his county jail, and prisoners must show their booking papers before they are even allowed to enter a cell. Steve played guitar outside. When he talked about it, a thin smile fixed his face for a moment. "Every time they let us off lockdown, there's another stabbing and we go back on," Steve said. He asked to see the prison psychiatrist so he can get medication for depression, not because he thinks drugs will help. He knows he'll be transferred out of Centinela if he takes antidepressants.
Prisoners who've been in the system a long time, or those just coming out of segregation or the hole, don't have paperwork. They get slashed or stabbed anyway, usually by their cellies. If the cellie won't handle it, both of them get hit. It's mandatory for whites to wear shoes when going to and from the shower at Centinela. The prison has four facilities. One was recently converted to a Level IV, and has alternated between long lock-downs, and days or even hours of normal program since.
In July 1999, a sergeant was stabbed by prisoners. During the lockdown that followed, all prisoners were cell fed. Whenever they left their cells, whether for showers or visits, they were strip searched, and handcuffed behind their backs. Twelve guards, brandishing pepper spray and batons, cautiously cracked cell doors one by one to hand food trays in. The designer forgot to include tray slots for the cell doors in case of lockdowns. There are so many prisoners facing disciplinary charges two blocks are used for segregation. Like most Level IV prisons in the state, the whites in segregation are almost all NLR, skins, associates, or their victims.
They're nearly here. 13th cell. They opened pipe chase to block my view from crack of door. Pumping pepper spray fog into vent. One cell away now. Got up to wet towel, gas dropped me to knees. Uncontrollable coughing, sneezing. Throat constricting, eyes running. Neighbors blocked door with mattress. Sergeant used mop handle to shove mattress aside and spray gas. They're in. Beating the two Southern Mexicans, dragged out in cuffs, chained, shackled, still beating and kicking them on tier.
Unlike straight edge skins and the Aryan Brotherhood in the beginning, NLR members are free to use drugs. Mad Dog ran up drug debts on the yard at Corcoran prison with Southern Mexicans and refused to pay. Four of his NLR brothers laid an ambush and stabbed him six times. "It's crazy man. We talk all this shit about racial unity and how the white man is superior, then turn right around and whack each other for Mexicans," he said. Mad Dog thinks a lot of the problems will be worked out when the shotcallers meet in SHU. "There's gonna be some sorry motherfuckers real soon," he smiled.
Surprise. I'm not dead. You can't hurt this bad when you're dead. It's about 2 in the morning and quiet. They extracted 58 prisoners. This place looks like a battle field. The NLR, skins, and Southern Mexicans are still chained, shackled, and hog-tied outside on separate concrete yards. A transportation van pulled up. Four NLR members were hustled into the van and driven away. They're taking them to Tehachapi.
At first, the department, like law enforcement outside, and the media, were confused about the NLR. They thought it was a street gang started in Costa Mesa, California, sometime in the late 1980s. But, during Fox's news story, one shadowed NLR figure promised in an electronically disguised voice, "We're taking over the prisons." That was enough to spook the always paranoid prisoncrats in Sacramento. The department decided to treat the Ride like a prison gang, validating members and associates so they could be housed indeterminately in the hole.
Tehachapi prison's SHU closed in the late 1980s after Pelican Bay was built. But, in anticipation of the demand for more segregation cells, Tehachapi SHU was reactivated July 1, 1999, according to The Bakersfield Californian. When full, the hole there will house 270 prisoners. It's not known whether the decision to send validated NLR members to Tehachapi rather than Pelican Bay is part of a plan to minimize further bloodshed between The Ride and the Mexican Mafia.
There's no doubt the NLR is the fastest growing racist gang in the California prison system. Historically, prison staff use race as the wedge they pound into the large prisoner population to divide and conquer. Unfortunately, hate's an easy sell. It's tough for the angry, bitter, broken people who populate prisons to set aside their differences, join together, and fight the common enemy.
But, segregation and SHU cells cost so much more than general population cells. With California's prison population at nearly 200 percent capacity, and the Legislature loath to dole out hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build more Super Max style dungeons, tough decisions must be made. In the short term, the NLR will be locked down, their hatred, fears, and suspicions turned inward. In the long run, the department may have to let them out. Back to the mainlines, and eventually back to the streets. "It don't matter," Demon said. "For every one of us they slam, three or four more youngsters are waiting to join. We'll win in the end." Perhaps so. And, if they do, doesn't that mean everyone else loses?
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