How Gangs Took Over Prisons
Originally formed for self-protection, prison gangs have become the
unlikely custodians of order behind bars—and of crime on the streets.
On a clear morning this past February,
the inmates in the B Yard of Pelican Bay State Prison filed out of their
cellblock a few at a time and let a cool, salty breeze blow across
their bodies. Their home, the California prison system’s permanent
address for its most hardened gangsters, is in Crescent City, on the
edge of a redwood forest—about four miles from the Pacific Ocean in one
direction and 20 miles from the Oregon border in the other. This is
their yard time.
Most of the inmates belong to one of California’s six main prison
gangs: Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, the
Black Guerrilla Family, the Northern Structure, or the Nazi Lowriders
(the last two are offshoots of Nuestra Familia and the Aryan
Brotherhood, respectively). The inmates interact like volatile
chemicals: if you open their cells in such a way as to put, say, a lone
member of Nuestra Familia in a crowd of Mexican Mafia, the mix can
explode violently. So the guards release them in a careful order.