tv Lockup Raw MSNBC December 25, 2013 5:00pm-6:01pm PST
due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised. msnbc takes you behind the walls of america's most notorious prisons, into a world of chaos and danger. now, the scenes you've never seen, "lockup: raw." when you come to prison you have to join a gang. you have no choice. it's a must. >> once i opened the door with the drugs i got recognition. >> many of them have this warrior mentality.
>> by getting that recognition, i get power. >> my job was to go in there and kill him and went in with the intention of killing him. with power i get every one i go to. >> you're surrounded by, you know, a thousand killers. and every one of them did a stranger. >> once i control the yards i control the drug situation. i control the inmates as well. >> we were actually killing people that didn't deserve to be killed. >> this is california's san quentin state prison, one of the first prisons ever profiled on "lockup." >> for a photographer, san quentin was a really interesting place to shoot because it's the old-style tiers and the big exercise yard and there's a lot of corners and shadows and things to attract your lens. so it was just as a
photographer, it was really an interesting place to shoot. it can be a very dangerous place because it's got incredibly dangerous or infamous history as a dangerous place. >> on our first day of shooting here, we got a stark introduction to the constant security threats posed by gang warfare. >> we're basically getting ready to feed the level four, which are the maximum security inmates. tonight we're expecting some type of problems possibly. so we have extra coverage tonight to provide security. >> let's go. >> the correctional staff received a tip that a gang-related attack might occur at dinner. >> hispanic inmates, the gang members specifically, are doing what is called cleaning house. anyone that does not want to participate in their gang activity, if they refuse, then the result is being slashed and
it's usually across the face and they're marked for life. >> it doesn't matter how much staff we have, they will erupt if it's going to. >> our cameras rolled as the first group of inmates filed into the chow hall. pepper spray guns at the ready, officers carefully scan the room for any signs of trouble. >> i remember the potential riot at the cafeteria really well because we were right in the middle of it. there was not a whole lot of care taken at the time to keep us out of the line of fire. so we were right in the middle of it. that was kind of a tense thing. >> as the first group of inmates finished their meals and began to exit the cafeteria, an alarm sounds. signaling an assault or other disturbance near the chow hall. >> get out of the way, step back. step back. >> following protocol, inmates
on the yard hit the ground and those in the cafeteria take their seats as officers sprint to the scene. >> it was a tense moment when everybody hit the deck. sure enough, they found a weapon and we were right in the middle of it. >> officers catch a gang member attempting to conceal a shank, a homemade slashing weapon. this time, violence was avoided. but nowhere is gang influence more prevalent than out on the rec yards of california's prisons. >> this is a turf war here. everybody's got their own turf and they're not going to let anybody else take it from them. the inmates segregate themselves out here. and the reason being that the gangs want it that way. so a man has no choice but to go with his own type of people. >> it's all run by gangs or at least the gangs think they run the prisons, and then the correctional officers think they run the prison. but everybody gangs up by race and you have to know where you're going.
you don't want to go walking in the wrong area of the prison yard because you're on somebody else's turf. >> while inmates can segregate themselves in prison, it's not always that way in county jail. the first stop on the often long road of incarceration for gang members. >> every gang in los angeles county ends up coming here. and we just don't have enough places to segregate everybody and keep them from assaulting each other. and if you get one group that has superior numbers over the other and something sparks off a fight, it's going to be on. >> officials at the los angeles county jail told us racially segregated gangs are responsible for most of the violence including riots, like this one captured on surveillance tape. but we met one inmate who blames the pr >> i never wanted to get
involved in racial problems. when i went to prison, i didn't hate blacks. i didn't hate mexicans. i didn't hate indians. i didn't hate anybody like that. but when you go to these prisons and by the time you do ten years like me, if you're even halfway sane, it's a miracle. >> vanjlis garafolo was awaiting trial for the attempted murder of five police officers while on parole for an earlier conviction of voluntary manslaughter. >> the date i met vanjlis garafolo it was like meeting hannibal lecter with shackles. i saw his feet first and i kind of looked up i saw all the tattoos. this guy was huge, 6'3", probably about 235. i mean he was built like an nfl linebacker. he looked like a stone cold killer. what's even more fascinating is what came out of his mouth. >> the california department of corrections is solely responsible for the madness that
goes on in this prison system. and i'll tell you why, because when a big white boy like me goes to prison, he is expected to do his part for the white cause and it's the same for the blacks, the mexicans, the indians, the orientals, asians, everybody else. they're expected to go to prison and do their part. why? because the inmates who run the prisons are the inmates doing life and life without the possibility of parole and they don't give a damn about my parole date or anybody else's. and these guys doing life and life without, they're hopeless. they're so full of hate just because of the sentences they have that they don't care what kind of chaos they cause in there.
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pelican bay state prison sits in near pristine wilderness on the coastline of northern california. >> we're located just miles from the oregon border just in from the coast. so we're fairly remote. we're not surrounded by nothing. >> it's no accident that pelican bay is isolated hundreds of miles from the state's major cities. >> we fight an unending battle to keep the communication from our security housing unit inmates, particularly our gangsters, from getting back out to the streets and out of our 1,100 inmates, over 800 have been validated as gang members or associates.
>> pelican bay is the toughest prison in the california prison system. it's where the worst of the worst go to. the first time we sent a "lockup" crew was weeks after they suffered their worst gang riot in history. and there was still tension in the air as the crew walked through the gates. >> the riot fought primarily between black and hispanic inmates lasted a little over 30 minutes. one inmate was killed and dozens of others were stabbed or beaten. when we returned five years later, the tension was still palpable. >> one of the interesting things about pelican bay is there really seemed to be two systems of rules, the prison administration and then the rules of the gangs. and there's this constant tension between the two. it's like a modern day sparta. they have trained themselves mentally, physically for a wartime situation. and it feels like a war. it feels like a wartime prison, pelican bay. >> correctional staff told us
that when it comes to battling gang activity, they're fighting a system that starts long before inmates arrive in prison. >> they're convinced that at early ages, at 8, 9, 10, 11 years old that gangs are the way to go. >> such was the case with epi cortina. he joined a street gang at age 11. it led to a 16-year to life sentence for murder. >> i've been pelican-bay raised. been up here going on 14 years. >> he'd been in prison since he was 19. he was 32 at the time i interviewed him. and he'd just been through years and years of just senseless violence. >> after his arrival at pelican bay, cortina, like many other hispanic gang-bangers from northern california, joined a prison gang known as nuestra. familia.
>> i walked into a war atmosphere and i was all for it. let's go, strapped on the boots and let's go. so three months after coming to pelican bay, i was assigned squad leader because squad leader is i'm in charge of educating other people on the bombs, the format, how to make knives, how to stab people, where to stab people, what would be the best times, exercising and making sure everybody's following the guidelines of our gang. right? >> i almost felt like it must have been what it was like 10,000 years ago when you have this almost tribalism. and you have to rely on your clan for protection. >> people would get stabbed because the mentality that we had out here and the way we train people within our own gang is the only time you should be fighting using your fist is to defend yourself. when we're attacking somebody, you're going to come at them with a knife, period. because, you know, it's better to do something right the first time than having to go back and do it a second time. >> this here is a sampling of the type of weapons that we do
find here at pelican bay. some of these are made out of files, nails. here's a ballpoint pen with a sophisticated spear tip at the end of it. like when they don't have access to metal, they'll resort to plastic or wood. here's a good example of what they can make out of plastic. >> plastic weapons are for emergency situations. if we're going to stab someone, we're going to come at you with steel and make sure we do the job correctly. >> traditionally what inmates like to do is to come out and stage weapons on the yard to be used in assaults later on in the yard. periodically, we search the yard. >> our cameras followed along as officers searched the pelican yard for buried weapons. >> there's something down here. right here. >> oh, yeah, we've got one. >> ooh [ bleep ].
>> what have you got there? >> looks like definitely a can lid. >> number 10 can lid. >> out of a dining hall smuggled out. nice little point. >> that's a metal shank. these are the plastics. >> where there's one, there's sure to be two. >> we go for the vital areas, you know, kidneys, liver. we'd go, you know, for the heart, the neck, the face. we try to go for kill shots because we want to send a message, we're going to come at you strong and try to put you in a box. >> we later learn that gang members are not only taught how to stab but how to be stabbed. >> i've heard inmates tell me about how they will intentionally take a cold shower. what happens when you take a cold shower? you jump in there, you turn it on and the shock of the body, you recoil, you draw yourself in.
but, you see, but when you get stabbed, it's that same feeling. it's that same trauma, that same shock that goes through the body is what the inmates tell me. and as a result of that, if you flinch, if you draw in in that split second, you can be very, very vulnerable. so they train themselves not to flinch but to lean forward into the violence. >> every day, you know, going out to the yard, you always have to look behind your back, who's walking behind you just in case you have to stab somebody or someone attempts to stab you. >> our crews have learned that active members rarely if ever reveal so much information about their gangs. epi was no exception. it's just that when we met him, he'd already quit his gang and was living in protective custody. marked for retribution by his former associates. >> what i would tell a youngster who is headed to pelican bay is don't believe a lot of the ideology that these so-called gang members have. you know, they're out to use you.
i don't care how much work, how much stabbings you put in, how much money you bring to the organization, if you don't meet the creed of that organization, you're going to be used. you're going to get abused. they say, we're trying to uprise our own race, you know, the mexican race, bring pride to it, what have you. but in actuality, these gangs and organizations, they bring a disgrace to our race. coming up on "lockup: raw," ganging up -- >> i moved in with the guy to take him out. >> betrayal, one of a gang-bangers' greatest enemies. with 0-calorie monk fruit in the raw. ♪ welcome back ♪ [ male announcer ] it's made with the natural vine-ripened sweetness of fruit so you can serve up deliciously sweet treats without all the sugar. so let no drink go unsweetened. no spatula un-licked. and no last bit un-sipped. you don't have to throw a party, but you'll probably feel like celebrating. raw natural sweetness, raw natural success.
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?7 california state prison corcoran has one of the largest populations of many dangerous inmates on the west coast. our crews have visited here several times and correctional staff is always blunt about the danger. >> when talking to the cos at corcoran, they told me, you come in here, you have to join a gang for protection. immediately. >> when you come to the prison, you have to join a gang. you have no choice. it's a must.
>> the prison cannot protect you from the other inmates. it's an incredible admission. >> so you have to have that backup from your other races that are out here, whatever race backs you up, you need to be in their gang because you have no protection. you're on your own and anything could happen to you. >> correctional officers know anything can happen to them as well. >> i'm very well aware that the gangs can reach outside these walls. it may hold them in, but it doesn't hold in their power, the things they can do. i keep my family business to myself. i don't go to areas in the public where i know gangs are known to hang out. i avoid those locations. >> the dangerous time out here for us as officers is when we know there's tension between two races because we don't know if it's going to be large, small. we can never determine what's going to happen between them. whatever happens, then we come around and pick up the pieces. that's about all we can do.
>> we were out there, again, about 12 cos on the yard, 500 prisoners, all of a sudden the siren went off. there was a fight in a part of the yard. i looked up, the guards were hanging out of towers with their rifles. i looked around, 500 inmates sprawled on the dirt. so i just did a huge swan dive, was chewing dirt myself. and then i looked up and my sound man, my camera man and my young assistant woman producer were all standing up still still doing their jobs, still recording everything while i was flat on the ground with all the other inmates. and as i walked around after that, some of the guards were calling me belly flop. >> backing up the officers on the yard are intelligence units that are growing ever more sophisticated at gang-infested prisons throughout california.
>> here at san quentin i work for a unit called the investigative services unit. the inmates call us the goon squad. >> the specially trained officers assigned to these units are constantly working to intercept gang communications drug smuggling, and prevent illicit activities. another one of their functions is to validate an inmate's gang affiliation. >> you need three identifiers to validate a gang member. tattoos, known association with another gang member, admission and if they are a validated gang member, they are shipped off to one of three prisons throughout the state. >> those three prisons contain
california's most restrictive cell blocks. they're known as security housing units or the shu. one is located at pelican bay. >> many of them are in here indeterminately. they'll never leave shu until a committee decides they are not a part of a gang anymore. >> this officer works at the facility. he told us a simple lapse on his part could result in gang warfare. >> if i were to pop two doors at the same time and they were, the mexican-american from los angeles and a mexican-american from sacramento, the odds are very, very good they would immediately commence to fight because that is expected of them in prison. that's the rules of the game. if word got out that they had an opportunity and didn't go after someone, they would have some explaining to do. that's just life in prison. >> they are restricted to their cell for 23 1/2 hours a day. they only get a half hour outside in their little hard yard right next to their cells and then they're right back into their cells. >> despite the restrictive conditions in the shu, gang members still find ways to make weapons, sometimes carving them right out of their own cells.
>> this was made by an aryan brotherhood member in a security housing unit. they're in there with nothing, certainly nothing to cut through metal. this guy, he got ahold of some kind of cutting agent. the cell doors is all mild steel. if you take a spring clip like part of a fingernail clipper and that is spring steel, hardened steel and they will sharpen that and they will cut the weapons right out of their cell doors. they'll simply choose a section of the door and scribe on the door the same size as a weapon that they want to cut and they'll just keep scribing it until it cuts all the way through the mild steel. >> when gang members in the pelican bay shu make weapons, they're expected to use them. >> i was involved with the aryan brotherhood back in 1984 when i was at folsom prison. you know, we had some work that needed to be tended to. so i put in some work, stabbed an individual. he needed to be taken out.
>> walter "big foot" farmer's involvement in the white supremacist gang, the aryan brotherhood, eventually landed him in the pelican bay shu. but that didn't end his loyalty to his gang. >> of course, you have to earn your bone, which basically means you have to earn your blood in, blood out. you know, and i got my assignment and went after that. >> and what was the assignment? >> it was to take out an individual that was on the hit list for the aryan brotherhood. >> and who was that person, and what did it involve? was he a rival gang or -- >> no, he was a white guy. he wasn't an asset to us as a gang or he wasn't an asset to his own race. and he was just a headache. >> most shu inmates are single-celled. but due to overcrowding, that's not always possible.
a circumstance farmer used to his advantage. >> i moved in with the guy to take him out. >> and when you say he was taken out, what happened? did you personally -- >> my job was to go in there and kill him. and i went in there with the intention of killing him, but i stabbed him several times and the damn knife bent. we used a knee brace. we have to be real resourceful in the shu, what we can use for weapons. we used an aluminum knee brace. this was a big guy, so i went after this guy and i hit a bone and the knife had bent on the third time. so he got lucky. >> like other inmates who find themselves growing old in the shu, farmer eventually quit his gang. >> i got tired of the impulsive subjective reasoning for people doing things. we were actually killing people that didn't deserve to be killed. coming up on "lockup: raw" -- >> some women are attracted to the bad boys. well, these are the real bad boys. >> i would set up my homegirls from the streets on the visiting list, and the girls that were coming to visit these guys were coming with drugs secured. >> prison gangs run an illicit drug trade.
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i'm craig melvin here is what is happening right now in louisiana, a fire in a mobile home killed three children this morning, the children's father saved a fourth child. the mother is in the hospital with burns. and the judge ruling that the same sex ban on marriages is unconstitutional. and edward snowden aired a christmas message, calling for an end to mass surveillance. back to lockup. you would think that putting criminals behind bars would stop them from committing crimes.
as we with found out from talking to c.o.'s and inmates, that's usually not the case, especially when it comes to gangs. >> the gangs inside the prison control drug trafficking, extortion. any kind of crime that you can think of that happens in the streets, it happens within the prison system. >> actually, gang members, their number one source in making money is through narcotics. out on the street, and the institution, they can make just as much money in the institution as they can on the street. selling narcotics leads to hits, people that have drug debts. >> once i came to state prison, i knew there was always a demand for drugs. >> miguel perez was convicted of a contract murder and drug trafficking, when he was only 15. he says he used family connections with a foreign drug cartel to rise up the ranks of his prison gang, the mexican mafia. >> once i opened the door with
the drugs, i got recognition. by getting that recognition, i get power. with the power, i get control of whatever yard i go to. when once i control the yard, i control the inmates. >> miguel perez was a big drug distributor in various prisons he had been in. i think the thing that so shocked me is that so much of the drugs coming into prison can never happen, unless there's a whole group of people out there willing to assist. >> even though the individuals locked up, they have a lot of access to individuals on the street. they have visitors that see them on a regular basis. they have mail, they can send mail out, receive mail. they're able to send coded messages out to other street gangs, or carry out their deeds. >> i would give people on the main line who didn't get visits, who didn't have no visitors coming in, i would set up my homegirls from the streets on
the visiting list, and the girls that were coming to visit these guys were coming with drugs secured, whether it was methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, acid, pcp. any drug that was in demand in the yard at the time, that i knew would make the most money, is what i would have these women bring in. >> perez told us, visitors usually smuggled the drugs inside small balloons. >> if there were balloons the size for you to swallow, then we would usually wait to the end of the visit. at the end when he's kissing the visitor good-bye, she's passing everything from her mouth to his mouth. he would hold it in his mouth until he's ready to get searched. when you're going to get searched, that's when you swallow it. by the time it takes for the
balloon to travel from the top of your throat to your stomach, is 45 minutes. you use that window to get home and throw up, so you don't have to go through all that. if it was too big to swallow, then we would secure it through the rectum. if it was going to be done that way, we couldn't wait to the end of the visit. we would have to do it at the end of the visit. surveillance footage showed how bizarre smuggling techniques worked. >> we have a suspect attempting to introduce narcotics into the institution. that is a suspect sitting right there, he's looking around. as you can see. there's another inmate. the inmate directly in front of him, is attempting to block the cameras. as you can see, he's halfway off the chair. that is what piqued the
curiosity of my officers, the way the individual is sitting. that's usually an indicator that there's a chance he's going to try to introduce narcotics. you can see his right hand. there's an orange bindle, within a matter of seconds it will be secreted in his rectum. you can see there he goes. at that point he's introduced narcotics into the institute. unfortunately for him, we had staff in the area monitoring the video cameras, we watched this as it unfolded and we were able to apprehend him and his visitor. >> for this attempt to smuggle one ounce of marijuana into prison, he was placed into administrative segregation. >> some women are attracted to the bad boys. these are the real bad boys. and the inmates in prison they just use these people. it is not about love or anything like that. they just use them and destroy
their lives. >> for some, destroying the life of a loved one is offset by the profits generated by drug trafficking behind bars. >> one gram of black tar heroin on the street will cost somewhere between 40 and 80 dollars, once it comes inside prison it can go for as much as $800. and a gram is very easy to get in. >> a demand along with the lure of easy money, has drugs flooding into prisons. pitting inmates and corrections officials in a constant game of cat and mouse. often played in the prison mailroom. >> they go through hundreds of pieces of mail a day. sometimes we get lucky and find something. >> when you do it through mail, you have to get heroin on a sheet. like a plastic sheet of paper and you smash it down so it's smooth. you put another sheet on top of it, and seal it all the way around. >> most likely heroin, it was recovered from the mailroom in a greeting card.
>> the greeting card was peeled back, the narcotics were pressed between two pieces of wax paper. the green card was open they laid it in there and resealed it. >> also stamps. if it's someone that just wants to get high for the day, instead of licking the stamp, you can wet it with acid. not to mention just to get this stuff in what you want to use to get it in. >> this guy had so much talent for tactics and strategy and going around the authorities and dealing with all the different other inmates. i mean, here's a guy carrying one of the most precious commodities to inmates in prison which is drugs. and this guy survives for years. i mean, this is what gets me about some of these guys, they're genius survivors.
coming up on "lockup raw." >> i'm a critic of the blacks. >> whites are the minority in here. >> one prison's minority race seeks an identity. even at a distance of 10 miles... the length of 146 football fields... they can see the light of a single candle. your eyes are amazing. look after them with centrum silver. multivitamins with lutein and vitamins a, c, and e to support healthy eyes and packed with key nutrients to support your heart and brain, too. centrum silver. for the most amazing parts of you. ♪ i want to spread a little love this year ♪ [ male announcer ] this december, experience the gift of unsurpassed craftsmanship and some of the best offers of the year at the lexus december to remember sales event. this is the pursuit of perfection.
swanson makes holiday dishes delicious. the racial divide throughout california prisons is usually blamed on gangs. and it turns the majority on the outside into a minority on the inside. >> whites are the minority in here. we're greatly outnumbered. i'm sure you've seen that on the yard. we have a tendency to look out for each other the best we can. you would do the same with your family. it's family oriented. >> in fact aaron yost is
serving 35 years to life for burglary and drug possession and says the racial divide has less to do with gangs than it does with human nature. >> a man's history is like -- is racial. you have all different groups of people that invade other people's country that take what they want, their resources. we're animals, we evolve. you have different ethnicities. it's inbred in us, it's genetic isn't it? you see something that's different. all animals are like that. why should it be any different here. but in here you have to -- you know this prison the conditions in here were set, you know what i mean? when prison first started, how is it going to change? nobody wants to change.
>> two other kern valley inmates also claim they felt threatened by their minority status. >> what are your tattoos about? >> just white power. you know what i mean. you grow up in a situation like this, you got to do something, you know what i mean? everybody's clicked up. >> that's how the whole system runs. everyone's broken up into groups. theoretically, a lot of people think all these people hate, hate, it's all about hate, but it's not, really. what it's about is mainly, you come into an environment and you're surrounded by 1,000 killers, every one of them is a stranger. so naturally you're going to find people that you have things in common with, and you're going to group up because you have to. >> the day after this interview, we witnessed one of the few times that inmates of different races act as one.
>> 86! let's move it. >> we followed katherine hines out to the exercise yard to see part of their daily routine. >> this is our exercise cage. we get it every other day. it's four hours of exercise. we look forward to it, for sure. sunlight, it's a big deal. so -- >> just getting sunlight. it's like a lizard, takes a minute to get going. >> are you going to work out? >> yeah. >> then nearly two minutes pass, with nothing happening. our camera operator walked in between exercise cages waiting for the session to begin. finally our crew was informed it wouldn't start until they left. >> when our crew went back indoors, they learned that kern valley's dominant hispanic gang controlled the exercise session.
because all their practices are shrouded in secrecy, they would not work out in front of our cameras. but they can't avoid prison surveillance cameras. >> notice right now you have what they call a cadence call which is an exercise routine. there's a certain group of inmates that initiate it. and, therefore, the race have to follow as long as they show respect. everything in prison is about respect. >> we found another example of an inmate bridging the racial divide. when we ran into dillon dunn at work in kern valley's kitchen. >> how unusual are you here? >> in this prison i'm the only one. >> the only what? >> the only white krip. >> when we met dylan dunn i think the whole crew was surprised to find out he was a crip. a white guy is a crip.
>> i run with the blacks. there's not too many people like me. >> at first we thought he was messing with us, or just trying to have a little fun, but we found out he was the real deal. >> so talk to me about how an irish boy ends up as a crip? >> i'm not irish. >> dylan dunn? >> my father. >> well it is my stepdad. i'm puerto rican and italian. >> how are you perceived here? >> i get my respect. if i didn't, i -- like, they could stab me or whatever, i wouldn't be here, i'd be dead, you know. so evidently i get my respect. i mean, it wasn't easy, you know, it's still not easy, some places i go, i'm a target. >> why? >> because of who i run with, who my gang is. like i said, real racers.
if blacks get into it, i got to be there. really especially -- i'm always out there on the front lines. i'm always going to be that way. >> why? >> because i pretty much always have to prove myself, you know? always, no matter what. so i can't change my life now, i chose that road, so i have to be a part of that. i don't try to be black, i'm me, i'm dylan. >> but even the brotherhood of his prison gang didn't allow dunn much optimism for the future. >> hope is the biggest -- to me, hope is like thou kill me before one of them kills me. >> what? >> hope. as far as getting out. if i hope too much for it, i'll go bald, probably shrivel up, it's a disease to me. coming up on "lockup raw" -- >> for a gang member, it's probably one of the toughest decisions you make in life.
>> the life and death consequences of leaving a prison gang. >> am i going to get killed by dropping out? is it africa? the middle east? canada? or the u.s.? the answer is... the u.s. ♪ ♪ most of america's energy comes from right here at home. take the energy quiz. energy lives here. ♪♪ ♪ [ male announcer ] welcome back all the sweet things your family loves with 0-calorie monk fruit in the raw. ♪ welcome back ♪ [ male announcer ] it's made with the natural vine-ripened sweetness of fruit so you can serve up deliciously sweet treats without all the sugar. so let no drink go unsweetened. no spatula
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the key to surviving the prison sentence at pelican bay is understanding the politics of the yard. a system put in place by the prison's gang population. >> everyone is separated by gangs, by race. you cannot just run into a certain area. you have to be so careful about where you go, how you look at someone, what handlebars you use to do chin-ups or push-ups. there's a series of invisible lines that are all over that yard. and that makes for a great deal of tension. >> you feel tension in the air. when something's going to happen, you can feel the tension -- you can cut it with a knife sometimes, it's so bad. >> life here is kind of rough. you know, stabbings all the time, guys have to be real
careful who he associates with. stick with your own race. i've seen people get their throat cut, i've seen people get rat packed, five guys on one, get their heads smashed in. i've seen people strangled in cells. life here is pretty treacherous. >> authorities told us that the violence is like a drug to the gangs here. >> violence for many inmates -- if the truth be known and told by them, they're addicted to it. they're so into the violence, into the experience of the adrenaline rush of combat that that's what they want. they look for that. when your whole environment is nothing but drive byes and gangland slayings, the thrill of surviving every day is a merit badge. >> even for some of the most hardened prison gang members,
the dues of belonging came at too high a cost. >> people would be put in the hat -- meaning the hit list for any personal reason it could be any personal agenda. for any reason. i didn't want that to happen to me. >> when they decided to leave gang life behind, pelican bay had a place for them to go. a protective housing unit. but admittance came with a price. >> one of the areas at pelican bay is the transitional housing unit, this is where inmates who want to opt out of the gang life divulge everything they know to the prison authorities, they then get the protection of being put away from the prison population. you give up information on the organization the thing is they're trying to build up some
credibility with you, are you being honest with us? or are you trying to be a sleeper so you can get out there and stab one of these people who has disassociated themselves from these gangs. >> for a gang member, it's probably one of the toughest decisions they'll ever make in their life. >> it's easy to get into the gang and start doing stuff with the gang. but to step away from it the other gang members consider them a rat, or no good. it's a tough decision for them. if they have family members involved, that puts their family members in jeopardy. >> the big issues that i wrestled with was, am i going to get killed by dropping out? is my family going to get killed by dropping out? defected from the gangs. that was my big issue, i started realizing that, am i going to get killed by staying over there? >> what seems to be the biggest problem in your life right now? >> we met jason in an anger management class inside the transitional housing unit.
>> get myself on track, keeping myself on track. >> jason had to join the nazi low riders once in prison for protection. just looking at his eyes, you could see at times he almost had this 1,000 yard stare. i'm sure that war veterans have of having seen and felt the shock of so much violence. >> he's serving a life sentence for murder, told us he reached the breaking point when he was ordered to kill a fellow gang member. >> they told me if i don't do it, if i don't do the right thing and whack the guy, i would be whacked. so i started seeing that they asked people to do stuff that they wouldn't do themselves, and they're playing people as a puppet and that's what basically they are, puppet masters. i'm not a puppet. >> one of the things i noticed in the transitional housing unit, there's a real mix of prisoners, people that
previously on the main yard would have been trying to kill each other. but now, we're all mixing -- there were books, there were counseling sessions, a much less tense atmosphere from the rest of the prison. the irony, though, is that some of them still carry this weight of being snitches, of having divulged information to the prison authorities. >> i just seen a lot of the people that were involved with the nazi low riders starting to debrief. i used to look down on it, because i grew up thinking that child molesters, rapers and snitches were all in the same category. >> many of them still were a little bit uncomfortable with that idea, especially uncomfortable about having to give over their protection now, completely to the prison authorities. they were not able any more to rely on their gang for protection. >> do i feel safe? you never can feel safe in a prison environment.
i don't depend on prison administration to protect me. yeah, they're going to take steps to sure we're secure. but at the same time i'm going to fall back on what i learned in prison to make it in here. >> in some ways you feel like you hung up your balls. now you have to rely on the administration to handle things as opposed to handling them in the way you're taught to. now i play sports with people i was once enemies with. it's a big step. due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.
msnbc takes you behind the walls of america's most notorious prisons, into a world of chaos and danger. now, the scenes you've never seen. "lockup: raw." >> they tell me i should feel safe living with another individual who's maybe been convicted of murder, rape, or whatnot. >> i said i'm going to rip this toilet off the wall. i'm going to drag it down the tier and i'm going to bust --
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