By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The house was empty; Minnie-Mac had gone to the beach with some relatives, and Red, escaping the area as soon as he heard the bullhorn, was already on the run. He stayed with a girlfriend for a couple of weeks, and then he heard the police were stopping by his grandmother’s house every day, poking around, asking questions. He turned himself in at the 77th Street station in the neighborhood where the shooting had taken place.
Red was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in order to commit grave bodily harm. He tooka deal from the district attorney: seven years at Corcoran State Prison. Serious time in a serious place. Corcoran was the model for the infamous Pelican Bay, and it is one of the toughest maximum-security prisons in the country. Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson are among the inmates serving life sentences at Corcoran. It is where eight guards were indicted for arranging prisoner gladiator-style fights in the yard.
“When I first got there, they put me in the hole for about a month — until they decided where they were going to place me.” His voice develops an icy edge. “You in yo’ socks and yo’ underwear and that’s it — you ain’t goin’ nowhere. Yo’ food, everything, is brought to you. The only time you get out that little cell is when they take you for a shower every four days. Nobody talks to you. You just somethin’ to guard.”
When Red was released from solitary, he was placed in a double cell in general population. “At that time, Corcoran was rockin’ and rollin’. Because of the race wars goin’ on there — Mexican on black. Sometimes the guards would put a Mexican and a black outside in what we called ‘the rec room,’ which was just an enclosure, and then they’d make bets on who would come out on top.”
Small animals are racing past him — deer, rabbits. Owls flap through the roiling smoke, frantic to escape. His mind is peppering him with memories of his first time out: a brushfire off the 210 West in 1995. The 20-foot flames sparked a sudden realization that the dangers he had faced as a gangbanger were nothing compared to an out-of-control fire. Getting shot was nothing stacked up against the crackle and lick of fire on flesh. That first blaze hammered down for him the orders he had learned in training, and turned a spotlight on the “watch out” situations he’d learned about that could not only save his own life but those of every other man on the crew. His greatest, most lasting fear surfaced that day: To be part of a crew that didn’t follow the rules. To have to tell somebody’s family that their son, husband, daughter got burned up because a standard fire order had been ignored.
Red was determined not to make trouble; he wanted only to do his time. “But soon as I hit that yard, I ran into a rival gang member. We looked at each other and, bam, it was war.” His lips curve into a smile that doesn’t make it to his eyes. “We standin’ there, mad-doggin’ each other, gettin’ ready for it, when a lifer — a guy who had already been down for 16 years — come up next to me and whispered, ‘Be cool. We already got enough trouble.’ ” The lifer was talking about the race war, of course, and he was making sense. Red thought about it and took a step back. The rival gangsta hesitated, then he stepped off too.
Within a week or so, whenever he was outside, Red noticed the guards would say, “?’Sup, S.C. . . .” He didn’t understand, so he started asking around. The guards were referring to him as a shot caller — high praise. It defined Red as the final word for all Crips on the yard. Then there was a knifing, a “sticking,” during free time. Two rival Mexican gang members, one claiming allegiance to the North faction, the other to the South, got into it.
“The gunman in the tower picked me out as the sticker because of my complexion,” Red says, “and I got thrown in the hole for it.” He was there for four days, all the time trying to get someone to listen, trying to explain he’s not Mexican, he’s black; he’s not from North, not from South, he’s a Crip. Finally, another inmate recognized him as Bugga Red from Eight-Tray, and he was returned to general pop.
Two weeks later, the race war escalated, and Red was on the frontlines. He was charged with inciting a riot and sent back to solitary confinement. Back alone in a cell 23-seven. No TV. Nothing but the Bible to read. This time, he began to read in earnest, beginning with Genesis and plowing straight through. He was in solitary for four months. He read the Bible every day; studied it, took it in. When he was moved back to regular housing, it didn’t take long for personal tragedy to overtake him: His mother died of cancer, and his brother, Kenny-Mac, was killed in a motorcycle accident.
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