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Behind Bars With MS-13

Updated: Dec 7, 2019

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BEHIND BARS WITH MS-13


Sept, 2018. Nassau County Jail. Long Island NY


If you've ever been to long Island you've heard of a Latin gang called MS13. Once a week the local news would be inundated with reports of executions, bones found, missing young people. The gangs methods were quite brutal. Sure there were guns involved but a majority of their victims have been stabbed or beaten the death by blunt objects. Three high schoolers discovered bound and shot execution style. Apparently without any motive.

A teenage body unearthed in a shallow grave. Warring with rival gangs their own age. Finding multiple bodies (None being a former member of MS. only rival gangs). It was like these guys had two goals in life. To be members of MS-13, and to kill.


It's difficult to picture teenagers not only formulating a plan to kill. But also carrying out the plan, by luring their victims to a secluded place. Killing them, then burying them in shallow graves. My first question would be... who's giving those orders.


In the cell house. Guys would pause from their card games. Or stare at the television with their arms crossed whenever a news story would come on about them.


And with every capture, the DA. or some chief or some other 'big time' law enforcement official, stand behind a mountain of microphones flanked by other cops and snitches in plain clothes from the DAs department. Would appear in front of the cameras and share details about its investigation in catching these dangerous criminals. Then start giving thanks to all of the local and outside departments that had contributed their services.


Thanking individuals for their hard work and dedication. And reporting to the citizens of L.I. that another 'bad guy' has been taken off the streets. And vowed to the good citizens of L.I.' that law enforcement will never give up the fight against those who break the law. And this 'vicious street gang'.


After a few months of being bombarded with this type of news, I noticed that not only were all the victims young, but the perpetrators were as well. The shooters and the ones getting shot, are all around the same age. Most of whom (But not all) being illegals from mexico.


I noticed these MS guys never seemed to kill anyone older than teenagers. And that they also did not discriminate when it came to gender.

I live in the city. And within the 5 boroughs, we have our own gang problems. But these boys were different. Other than the fact that they are teens, they are basically non existent here with-in the five boroughs.


Why this particular gang decided to set up shop in Long Island? IDK. Whatever the reason, this location they have chosen is not doing well for them. Long Island holds one of the if not the wealthiest districts in the U.S.. Expensive neighborhoods like East Hampton. Expensive homes with wealthy occupants who's money, prestige as well as influents go back generations. And these occupants pay good money to keep themselves as well as their property safe. By maintaining an ample police presents and keeping the blacks and other minorities on specific parts of the island. Which is where all of these attacks and murders take place.


It could be that MS-13 had no idea that Long Island Is over 80% white. 90% percent conservative. And although wealthy, spends less on food and maintenance of its detention centers than any other district in the state. And is also the Headquarters of the Federal Courthouse. Along with a plethora of prestigious D.A. and prosecutor offices who have a long history of winning case after case against gang crimes whether drug or violents, sending the convicted ‘up north’ to prison, with more time than a bottomless hourglass.

Nevertheless. The gang has made this strong hold of American justice their base of operations.

Scaring old, rich white folks is never a good idea. Particularly in their own backyard. In-affect, the result was a full mobilization of law enforcement with an endless budge. Released upon this new threat and began locking up dozens of these gang members exponentially over the course of a year.

Myself. I had a money order that I had needed to cash. Since Far Rockaway did not have a Wells Fargo Bank. A quick glance on google maps shown me that there is one 2 miles away in Long Island. So, Me and a buddy of mine wave down a cab from Far Rock away Queens to my bank just inside Long Island. Long story short. After a scuffle at the bank. I am arrested and taken the Nassau County jail. Hit with three felonies, I knew id be laid up for a while.

The name and rep. of MS-13, not only rang bells out on the streets of L.I., but here behind these jail bars as well.


When you first go into any city or county jail, you are not immediately housed. We all must suffer through the tedious, exhausting, excruciating, in-take process. which consists of you and all the other inmates being moved from holding cell to holding cells and will spend several hours in each.


To get ask questions about you criminal history by the guards. The removal of any contraband from your person. Like belts or jewelry. And of course there is the full strip down, as well as the infamous ‘bend over and cough routine’.

Of course you are not alone. There are guys who get arrested the same day. Men who were already there, guys going or coming from court, or on the V.I.. Needless to say, it gets crowded in those holding cells. Will eventually get loud. Even violent. Depending on the topic being discussed.

Naturally to pass the time we talked. And one topic that came up was the massive presence of MS-13 with-in the jail.


The main chatter was about a housing unit called E2. The entire unit was said to be on lock down cause supposedly E2 was ground zero of a war taken place between MS and the bloods. I was not impressed. I had seen these wars before.

While going through the intake process, each inmate is anxious and a bit nervous about which housing unit they'll be sent to. Housing Units can be anywhere from a bunch of laid back old guys, to a savage jungle, full of young knuckleheads who will force one out of his character. Just to survive.

Once the C/Os opened the steal gate to hell. I was able to get a sense of the vibe of the housing unit. What inmates did to pass time. There were guys working out. Doing laundry out of buckets. Doing push ups, watching TV, talking on the jack. It was loud. With all eyez on me.


My unit, F4, was somewhere in between. Alot of youngins. And a few old men. I walked into my new home the same way I've walked into countless other jails. Standing tall, looking cats in the eye. Held my sheets, towel and blanket loosely to appear relaxed. No hesitation in my movements. Head high, like a veteran. I even stopped at the television. To catch the tail end of a news update about my guy Colin Kaepernick.


Nassau County jail has a two tier layout. 25 cells at the top and 25 cells at the bottom.


I was given cell 21. Bottom tier. The very last cell at the end of the dorm. After making my bunk and straightened up a few things. I stuck to the unwritten jailhouse rule of taking a shower the moment you come into a new dorm.

When I got out, I didn't think it smart to retreat to my cell. So I walked around the dorm a couple of times. Just To let everyone get a good look at me. Size me up. While I sized them up too.

I didn't know anyone. And didn't expect to. I had been to Long Island a couple of time. But never long enough to make any acquaintances. After my stroll around the unit, I sat down in front of the television with a few other guys until count time.


A few weeks go by.


One of the first things I learned about NCJ is that unlike Rikers Island, there were no classification dorms. So a murderer can cell with the booster.

But like Rikers. The jail held an impressive list of violent criminals to the likes of which I had never seen in any jail that I've been in before. In my house alone, at-least 4 guys were in for murder. Two of those guys killed multiple family members using coincidentally the same weapon. A hammer.


When I tried to talk to some of those cats about their gruesome crimes, they'd talk freely and willingly until they got to the 'good parts'. Then they would always say, 'I don't remember what happened next'. Or simply clammed up all together. Unwilling or unable to relive the grisly details.

Then there was this white boy I got cool with. He was there on some BS theft charge. After a few weeks he made bail. 3 days later he came back on a murder charge. Turns out, he had an open warrant for running over and killing some 19 year old chick.


They brought him back to the same unit. A couple days later. I'm standing right next to the guy watching his perp walk on the television. And a couple days after that. Around ten of us were circled around him while he read the newspaper about his crime. His perp walk and full story graced the entire second page of the New York Post.


The first time that I saw members of MS was about a month or so into my sentence. Because of the war with the bloods. The guards transferred several of them from E2 to my unit F4. We knew they were coming because C/Os got big mouths.


Early one morning after breakfast. Four of them walked into F4. They all had their standard white sheet and green blanket. One way to tell a newbie, os if his blanket and sheet are folded. Cause that's the way they hand them to you at intake. But these guys had been here for a while. Everything they had was packets into their green blankets. Like a santas bad. Draped over their shoulders, or balled up in front of their chests. Plus. Two of them had those long brown paper commissary bags.


We were all still locked in our cells. But I was still able to get a good look at them through the window on my cell door.


My first impression of them was that they were young. Really young. They all had to be at least 18 at the most. Being in the big boy jail an all. There is a juvenile section in Nassau County. So I knew they had to be of age to be in here.

All 4 of them were really slim. one was taller than the rest. Kinda hunched over as he walked. One of them had a tattoo on his face. But I could not see what of.

They didn't speak. Only the voice of the guards could be heard that early morning. guiding each of them to the cells they were to occupy. I could tell by the trouble in which the guards were havin, that English was definitely not the boys first language. It took a lot of finger pointing and hand motions, broken Spanish, and broken English from the Mexicans just to get each of them into their right cells.


We were all still locked in our cells when MS arrived. But I was still able to get a good look at them through the window on my cell door.

Ten o'clock was the whole units lock out time. All the cell doors would buzz open one tier at a time. Then inmates would start pouring into the day room.

During this time. We’re allowed to watch TV, hop on the jack, take a shower. It was that time of day when the entire unit came alive with the sound of water running, C/O calling inmates names or instructions on the loudspeaker from the 'bubble'. Sounds from the tv and of course the talk of the inmates filled the dorm. A feeling of Relief to be free of our cells after another long night.

It was during this time that I noticed none of the MS guys came out of their cells. Matter fact, their doors remained locked.

The same thing had happened at breakfast. But I didn't think much of it. A Lot of guys skipped breakfast every morning. Depending on what we were having.

I figured that they were all on lock-down as punishment for their part in the war with the bloods.


But when everyone else locked in, they were allowed out of their cells for an hour. They spoke to each other in Spanish. And never talked to anyone else. The first problem came when they refused to change the television from a spanish speaking tv show. Even though guys are locked in their cells, inmates could still watch thanks to the small windows on the cell doors.

Because my cell was so far back in the unit I could not watch. But I could here it very clearly because it was so near to my cell.

Several of the long timers had formed a routine with the TV. Shows that they watched every day at the same times for months. Sometimes years. These inmates began yelling at the MS guys to change the television to a different channel. At first the Latinos just ignored them. But then, one of the inmates who spoke Spanish told them (I'm guessing) to make the channel change.

Now the gang members spoke. Saying something in return that didn't sound agreeable.


A loud, back and forth ensued. With half the unit VS. the four MS's yelling back and forth at each other. I thought to myself. “For these new guys. This sure ain't the way to be accepted or stay off the radar.” They were breaking jailhouse rules.

It went on this for the next few weeks. Each day, all inmates would be locked in our cells. Then, MS-13 would come out. Then some commotion would start about the television, or some other thing. In a short amount of time. MS had made themselves the most hated quartet in the cell block.

But honestly, by the way they moved, and never budged on doing what they wanted to do, no matter how many inmates yelled at them. I honestly didn't think those guys cared at all if the whole unit hated them.

Weeks marched on. Everyday the same thing. The only thing different was the amount of knowledge that I'd accumulated over over the past couple months...like PC.


‘Protective Custody’ was offered to any inmate who thought that their life was in danger. There is involuntary PC (Forced by the system). And voluntary pc. (When an inmate signs a piece of paper saying that they wanted to place themselves protective custody for some reason or another).

For the most part. Snitches, guys charged with sexual assaults, and men who were simply afraid to be in general pop for some reason or another. They are the main cats on voluntary PC.

When prisoners are placed on involuntary PC. however. That meant they have been deemed by the jail admin. as serious threats to other inmates and could not be trusted in general pop. These were the tough guys, riot starters, manipulators and organizers.


It is a big no no to be on voluntary protective custody. And the inmate let them know about it by saying lil things behind your back and treating you like a second class inmate or worse. But they could never get a hold of them. Because voluntary pc's are escorted by at least one C/O at all times once they are out of the cells. If someones on voluntary PC, they're either scared, done something sexual to kids of chicks, or are a witness in a case against someone.

The difference was extremely important when it came to invol. or vol.. Where as the vols. were made fun of and treated like second class inmates. The invols. always had general pop. inmates at their cell doors talking to them, doing favors for them. Basically being paid homage to by the inmates.

The invols. came out at 9 in the morning for their rec. But when they were out. There was no yelling to change the TV.. No arguing or name calling going back and forth of any kind. Matter of fact. The invols. rarely didn't give a fuck about the box. The few of them that were out of their cells during that time, were out doing the same things that many of the general pop. inmates did. Going from cell to cell of the guys they knew. Politicking, Choppin it up, runnin lil errands like placing their mail in the box before the post office C/O came. Passing messages from one inmate to another. Easy breezy.

But come night time with MS, it be an entirely atmosphere.


I also learned...

Once an inmate signed on to vol. PC.. He could not sign himself off for thirty days. And after that month, a high ranking C/O (usually a lieutenant in charge of the housing unit). Would make his rounds, yellow p.c paper in hand. And go to all the voluntary guys and ask each of them. 'Do you want to join general pop? or another month on pc.?

At the end of the LTs. rounds. I noticed that the only cells he approached, were the four cells of the guys of MS.

I wasn't the only one who put two and two together. Cause the next day, all the house could talk about was how can these big bad MS-13 mu fuckas, be on voluntary PC.?


The feeling of feeling in any jail on voluntary PC. is highly negative, highly suspicious and untrustworthy.

The cell house already held animosity against the pc’s. Because general population was on in their cells because pc’s had to have their time out. If not for them. We’d be out of our cells till eleven. Instead, at 9 we were locked in for the rest of the night.


That night at 9. Once they came out for their mandatory 2 hr. rec.. Those (and many other) questions were asked. In English and Spanish. Dozens of inmates locked in their cells began to make fun of the group because of their vol PC. status. The taunts were loud, funny, and unrelenting.

The reaction from MS was that of complete calm. They quietly went about their normal routine. Playing cards, sharing snacks, changing the tv. As if they were oblivious to the questions and jokes.


Several days later I had a physical altercation with a C/O. After talking seeing medical. And speaking with the jails version of 'Internal Affairs'. It was mandatory for me to be switched housing areas.

On the same day as the incident I was transferred to another part of the jail called 'The Main'. It was the first part of the jail that was build. It still had bars instead of electric doors.


But luckily I was sent to the new part of 'The Main'. So, the layout of my new housing unit wasn't much different than my old one. Two tiers, though It was smaller. Holding 25 cells instead of 50.


Once again I was placed against the last cell against the was. Next to BMU. BMU is basically 'the hole'. It's were inmates who fight, caught another charge within the jail, or as punishment for violating some rule.

BMU was totally isolated. A unit within a unit. No rec., no TV, no V.I.s, only rec.. 5 at a time. and only outside. Never in the unit. There was a tall glass box near the entrance to the unit. It had small holes drilled in all around it. And it had gangs of chains that hung on several hooks screwed into thick see through glass.

It turned out the be their show. One at a time. And they had to be chained while showering.


My new cell house was far more laid back and quiet than F4. There were a lot of old heads in there. The inmate fighting and causing havoc days, were long over.

A few days passed.


Inmates always knew when new people walked in. There would be an alert from the inmates. Someone would yell. 'Fresh meat'! Or. 'New fish'! Commotion among the guards insured as well. Announcing to the new guys, 'Gentleman, find your I.Ds on the guards desk! You are to keep them on you at all times! Whenever you are outside of your cells'!


We were all 'locked in' when the new guys came. So we were all forced to pier out of our small cell windows to see the action.


The news guys were 5 more MS guys. Most had teardrops on their faces and blue gang signs on their arms. Some looked scared. Which surprised me. Due to the news coverage about these guys, I'd always picture them as stone face killers. And just like the ones from my old dorm, they were all young. 18 to 19 at the most.


It didn't take long for me to recognize the same pattern with these guys to the ones at my old 'house'. One lock in was over everyone came out of their cells to watch TV, wash clothes, play cards, hop on the jack, or just to conversate.

Everyone but me that is. Because of my fight with the guard in was on what they call 23 hr. lock down. So I had to stay in my cell for 23 hrs a day. Only being let out once the other general population inmate were out. I was not PC. So I was still able to congregate with the regular inmates.


As for MS. As like before. None of them came out of there cells until all the other inmate went in theirs.


And the same BS happened like before. Those guys would come out. Fuck with the TV. Putting it on a Spanish station which nobody liked. Which caused all the old heads to yell at them from behind their cell doors to 'Change the fucker back!'


Except these MS's guys were worse than the ones before. Most of them did not speak English. And they would taunt the guys locked in their cells. They'd flip through the TV channels. Wait until they found a channel that everyone wanted to watch, then the guys in their cells would yell, 'Yeah yeah yeah! Keep it right there! right there! leave it on that!' MS would then walk around the tier for a bit. Only to come back to the television and change it back to whatever they wanted to watch.


The worst thing that pissed pissed the guys locked in off more than that. Was that MS would even watch what was on the tube. They'd be on the phone. Or conversating amongst themselves. While ignoring any calls from the guys locked down to change the channel. After an hour or so, they'd give up and lay down or do something else. Then the cell block would get real quiet.

The guys locked in and the MS guys would go back and forth the whole time that the Mexicans were out there. They would call the guys names in Spanish. The few who understand would then tell their non Spanish speaking comrades what was same. And the barrage of insults would start all over again. Each back and forth grew louder and louder. Threats were made. Fights were scheduled. But it was just a lot of bluster. Because just like the MS-13 gang members at my old housing unit. I learned that these guys too were also on voluntary pc. And would not be left alone with other inmates.


There was one fight between an MS member and an old head who'd been pocked down for a while. One of the guards made a mistake during medication time. and opened a cell that held a member of MS. One of the guys who was always going back and forth with them over the tv. But I didn't get to see the fight. My cell was at the very beginning of the top tier. And the fight took place on the bottom tier. However I did see the guards spray both men with mase and break up the fight. They put the old head back in his cell. But moved the MS he was fighting with next door to BMU.


Each house has their own regular staff. So you would so the same C/Os on all three shifts. You'd get to know them after a while. Talk with them you know.

It had been several days after the fight. It was about 10, 10:30 at night. The second shift guard, who worked our dorm. On occasions would switch units with another C/O for some reason or another. Which is what our normal shift C/O had done the day before working in BMU. His shift was nearly over and he was basically killing time. He sat behind the wooden C/O desk in a big black swivel chair. All the thick padding in the chair made it look fat, and comfortable.

We were all locked in for the night. And half the lights in our unit were off.

The C/O was lounging and reclining as far back as the chair would go. Making half circle spins before coming back around again. BMU was making noise. Yelling across the tier to other inmates. flushing toilets over and over just to be a pain.


This is the moment an inmate in our unit, asked our C/O behind the desk. 'Yo, WTF is going on over there!

'Bullshits goin on! He said. Sitting up in his chair. I worked over there yesterday. Half those pussys over there are MS-13. All of them are on PC. Scared to go to a housing unit!' 'No shit?' the inmate replied. 'I'm tellin ya. all that noise they makin aint worth a damn. Alot of those MS muther fuckers were in general population. Then after a few days they get scared an sign themselves into PC. Its pathetic!'


'We ain't got enough PC. cells sos we puts a lot of em over there'. Pointing behind him toward BMU and all the noise.


'What the muther fuckers scared of'? the inmate asked,


'I have no idea. It's like they hard gangster in the streets. But when they come to jail they turn pussy!'


'Woow'. replied the inmate.


'How many MS you've seen in general pop since you been here?' The C/O asked the inmate.


The inmate thought for a while. let out a hiss. Then shook his head.

'Exactly!' The C/O said. Reclining back in his chair again.

'I know they do this shit in jail. But I can't imagine what they think they gonna do up north when they get sent to prison? Cause up there, it's a totally different ballgame.'


true story. written by -jonathan 'deez nuts' riley

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