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Ruling by Fear

Enriquez is escorted by FBI agents after arriving in Long Beach following his defection from the Mexican Mafia in 2003.
Photo courtesy Rene Enriquez

American RadioWorks: How can a man who is locked up in virtual solitary confinement enforce his will on someone who is in the general prison yard or on the streets?

Rene Enriquez: We capitalize on our notorious reputation for revenge. Respect to us is fear. It's fear. We base our organization's success on terror. We understand that the utilization of terror pays money. And for people to be afraid of us is respect. For example, say four Mexican Mafia members murder four other inmates. And I'm an active Mexican Mafia member in a different state prison or on the streets. I benefit from those murders. They're going to travel like wildfire. And it becomes prison lore and street gang lore. It's just the way it is. You tally up all the murders committed by the Mexican Mafia, 1000 easy, maybe 1500 murders, attributed to the Mexican Mafia, directly or indirectly, those are incorporated into our lore now.

They still tell stories to this day about murders that were committed by the Mexican Mafia and other groups 20 years ago, 25 years ago. They still speak of these things. So that is power ... in a prison setting.

You have to understand that our status mobility system, how we move up, is through violence. Unfortunately, that's how it works in prison. You have to understand that violence begets respect. And it's not true respect. It's fear, and through that fear comes hatred and resentment.

Enriquez says he did not see himself as especially violent until he went to prison for robbery. He quickly learned that violence "is like a language in prison." He started doing favors for Mexican Mafia members in San Quentin State Prison. Before long, he was using homemade knives-known as shanks-to attack gang rivals.

Rene Enriquez: One of the biggest rushes I understood there to be was doing the hits. And watching them go down. I know that sounds sick but it's a high. You get strung out on that. You get as addicted to that as anything else, the violence. The more notches you have on your belt, the more ferocity people see you as possessing, the greater you become. I remember as a pastime we would sit back and ask each other, "Who's getting hit today? Oh, the guy over there in the yellow slicker. Don't go by him because he's going to get stabbed." And we'd all gather around, get our soda and cigarettes, and we'd watch that guy get killed. And it was a form of entertainment.

Rene Enriquez says locking gang leaders down in isolation cells didn't stop them from continuing to order hits.

Rene Enriquez: We took pride in saying, "You know, I'm going to die here. This is my home." And we took pride when we did our hits. We didn't care about these residual effects, the consequences. Give me the death penalty, I'm dying for the cause. You kill not for money, you don't kill for status. You kill for the glory of killing for the organization.