tv Lockup MSNBC August 4, 2012 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT
more programs like c.l.i.f.f. at other facilities. that's our report. thanks for watching. i'm john seigenthaler due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised. there are 2 million people behind bars in america. we open the gates. lockup. >> i charge pelican bay with the following crimes. extortion, racketeering, police brutality. i charge pelican bay with racism, promoting inmate-on-inmate violence.
how it was in the beginning it shall be in the end. the righteous shall live and the wicked shall perish. >> ever since it opened in 1989, pelican bay state prison in northern california has always had a reputation as one of the most violent and volatile penitentiaries in the nation. when we first visited the institution in 2000, it was under lockdown, still reeling from one of the worst prison riots in u.s. history. five years later, we went back inside pelican bay, where the staff has worked to curb gang activity and prevent violent outbreaks. but in an environment simmering with bitter rivalries and racial tension, finding any long-term solution is a never-ending battle. >> inmates in the general population right now consider everything a state of war, so they are ready for everything. >> some guys gonna get their head blown off, some guys are going to get stabbed real good.
>> there's no hope. >> we are in the new alcatraz. >> isolated on the northern coastline, some 300 miles north of san francisco, there is a small community besieged by violence, incinerated by racial hatred. the community is called pelican bay, one of the most notorious maximum security prisons in america. pelican bay state prison was designed as california's new alcatraz, a single facility that would isolate and contain the state's worst inmates, inmates too violent and dangerous for any other institutions. >> i was involved in several fights on the tier.
>> stabbings, beatings, pretty regular occurrence around here. >> up here, they killing people. >> i seen people getting their throat cut. i have seen, you know, people get rat packed, you know, five guys on one, get their head smashed in. >> you can get stabbed anywhere. >> i'll never get out of here until i have parole, or die. >> richard kirkland has worked at pelican bay since 1992. in 2004, he became warden of the prison. >> we have approximately in any year, particularly over the last several years, somewhere between 700 and 800 reportable incidents. we end up using force of some sort, whether that's pepper spray, physical holds or otherwise in probably some 400 of those. >> inmates are assigned points based on the severity of their crimes and propensity to inflict violence on other inmates and staff.
pelican bay houses level four inmates, including some of the most violent offenders in the state's correctional system. >> pelican bay does have a high quantity of very assaultive inmates. due to our mission at pelican bay, we are tasked with housing the worst inmates in the state of california. >> we house inmates that had problems programming in other institutions. they have disciplinarians, staff assaults, inmate assaults, conspiracy to commit assault, drug trafficking, you name it, and then we get them. >> pelican bay houses the most dangerous individuals in the state, yet the majority of the violence that occurs here can be attributed to a predatory phenomenon that permeates california's entire correctional system, the prison gang. prison gangs are estimated to be responsible for up to 75% of all violent assault and drug
trafficking within the prison system. pelican bay's mission is to break the stranglehold of prison gangs throughout the state. in california, most convicts who are affiliated with prison gangs or are suspected of being affiliated with prison gangs are banished to pelican bay. inside this world, racial labeling and profiling is a commonly accepted practice among inmates and officers alike. >> right now, california department of corrections recognizes seven different gangs as being prison gangs. no ester familia is known as nf. or the family. the junior high school to their high school would be the northern structure. >> the northern structure is composed of california hispanics from north of los angeles. >> the nazi low riders, they refer to themselves as the nlr. >> the nazi low riders is a white supremacist gang formed in the '60s. membership can only be achieved by killing someone, and death is
the only way out. >> the bgf is the black guerilla family. >> the black guerilla family is the only recognized black prison gang. street gangs like the crips and bloods are merely regarded by prison officials as disruptive groups. but the most notorious gang in the california prison system is called the mexican mafia. >> the mexican mafia is known as m.a., la m.a. they will be recognized by the eme, which is the spanish letter m. >> the mexican mafia was born in california prisons in the mid 1950s. its members, who swear allegiance for life, are mostly mexican-americans from southern california. among gangs, the mexican mafia is considered the most disciplined and powerful within the california prison system. >> if you are an active gang member or an active hispanic
within the group, you are expected to be up at 6:00 in the morning when they go to the exercise yard together. they do exercises together in cadence. that's one of the rules. you have to. you don't have a choice. you have to participate. what they're told to do is expect to have a fight any time the cell doors open, with their weapons readily available. you notice when the cell doors open, whatever inmate's inside that cell will walk to the cell door immediately to see why the door's open. they will look up and down the tier to see if there's any enemies on the tier, and if there is, then they have to fight. if they don't fight, then they will be targeted for attack. >> warring factions will attack each other at any opportunity, yet they band together along racial lines. >> there's skinheads, there's woods. that's the definition of being a wood is just being white, being down for your race. >> all about respecting the black race here, because these are the people who are going to make sure you are all right. >> to talk to a black would cause problems with my own race, the whites.
>> for racial situation develops, my first obligation is to me and to any brothers that's around me, because that's just prison. >> the code for survival in pelican bay dictates that each and every inmate respect the color line, regardless of his individual nature. >> i grew up totally color blind, so it's a big adjustment. you know? but that's just how it is. >> i have never been a racist person and i will never be a racist person, but there are realities in each environment that dictates its own response, whether we like it or not. in a violent institution, i have to find a way to shelter myself from that violence or respond to it when it becomes necessary, not because it's my mentality, but it's necessary to survive. >> respect is a very big issue in prison. as i know it is in many of the communities on the streets where these men come from. >> you give what you want. you give respect, you get respect back.
>> you can say the wrong word and that can start a whole big melee. >> when an inmate of any race is deemed to be disrespected, pelican bay's powerful gangs band together by race. the slightest of rifts can trigger an institution-wide race war. >> the level of violence is not, you know, overly extreme at the moment but that can change any day. i can't say that it's on a downhill slide, uphill slide, just takes one thing to trigger it off and it's gone. >> next on "lockup," a look back at one of the worst prison riots in u.s. history.
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but as the b facility inmates were patted down for release to the yard, one difference went unnoticed. while it is typical for some inmates to stay in their cells, every southern hispanic in the facility went to the yard. >> i was in this exact spot and i noticed over here, some people started stabbing each other and i looked around and all over the yard, there was fighting and stabbings going on. >> the southern hispanics had launched a calculated and brutal attack on the black inmate population. >> i have seen over 300 stabbings myself, easily. been in lots of incidents and this was, by far, the worst one i have ever, ever seen. >> the riot persisted through tear gas, through pepper spray and through all orders to stop. for over 30 minutes, the inmates continued to attack each other in a frenzy of fists and homemade knives. it looked like the movie "braveheart" the fight scene in "braveheart" but it was the real deal. >> eventually correctional officers made the decision to
use deadly force. >> they started firing shots, so everybody that wasn't involved in the riot laid on the ground. >> guards opened fire with military assault weapons, killing one inmate and wounding 15 others. it was the largest riot ever at pelican bay and one of the worst in american history. >> after we were done, i was cleaning blood off the walls and off the floors and benches in here for a good hour. >> the riot made international headlines. in its aftermath, prison officials declared a state of emergency, placing the institution on lockdown, restricting all inmates' work programs and mandating strict segregation of the races. today, many of the same policies and restrictions are still in place. >> we have diminished the gang violence over the last five years, mainly because pelican bay has been in a state of virtual lockdown for most of those five years. inmates can only go places under escort.
general population is designed so that inmates are supposed to be able to move freely. well, most of the last five years, they haven't been. >> they took our yard from us, which is a discipline. then you turn around and give us a 115 for the same incident. >> yard is a privilege. it can be revoked at any time. >> on the one hand, if you keep the general population inmates locked in their cells and they don't get out to exercise and to do the things that they would normally do, it builds up tension. >> whites did not go last week. >> thursday. >> they said all black. >> thursday. you guys went. ask around. >> on the other hand, if we let them out, we know that there's going to be more violence. >> it's like a dog, you lock a dog up in a cage. as soon as you open the cage what are you going to do? run wild, right? >> as the lockdown continues today, pelican bay remains one of the most segregated societies in america and one that simmers on a perpetual war footing. >> that's a black bed move that they're letting me know is going to happen in a couple of minutes
and they are going to b yard. we have to make sure all of the other races are moved off the roadway or locked up in some manner. you would have this yard full of whites and southern mexicans and then trying to move these individuals here, which there is a race war. so, it would be too dangerous on our part as well. >> under pelican bay's state of emergency, much of the mainline facility was moved to administrative segregation, a jail within the prison. here, inmates are closely watched, their activities and movements severely restricted. >> inmates in here are handcuffed and walked everywhere in handcuffs. these inmates that you see on the yard right now are southern mexicans and they align themselves with the prison gang called the eme. we don't let them mix the race to come to the yard out here. they go with their own race, to the concrete yards. >> this is a camera that oversees the yard that i'm working on right now.
within a millisecond, these guys will stab each other and they will try to toss the weapon, so the camera comes into good play. >> every door in inmate housing is operated from the upstairs control level. the officers up here control every aspect of inmate activity. only the downstairs officers have physical contact with the inmates. their colleagues upstairs are their eyes and ears, and their protection. >> this is the l-88. it fires rubber rounds. it's an intimidating weapon. as you can see, it holds six rounds. it's ready to fire at all times. and the event that rubber rounds don't work, what we have is a cn gas gun that's ready to shoot cn gas in there. in the event the inmate won't stop and we have a mini 14, fires a lethal round, and there is no warning shots fired
with it, it is used to stop the attack, if it is deemed bodily injury would come into attack. >> pelican bay's general population housing units are designed to give the control room officers a 180-degree view of the inmate population. this design also gives the inmates a good view of them. >> the inmates are watching you constantly. they're watching me right behind, right now. they watch your every movement and that's where a lot of times they have the advantage on us they get to see us every day, check our weapons, use the same key in and out. >> you cross an imaginary boundary when you come in at that guard shack and now you are in their city. you spend time here, you know, several years, 10 years, 12 years, you start to get, you know, the concept of it is a mini city unto itself. >> i was sitting here thinking the other day, you know what, i'm in their neighborhood. you know, even though i'm just here for eight hours, i'm just in their neighborhood. i'm just johnny lawman. i came out prior military, i
chose this. it appeared to be a good career, and it is. it's what you make of it. this is a business that you can't pick up in a college. you can't go to four years and they will make you a qualified veteran in the department of corrections. it cannot be done. >> there really is no downtime when you can relax. so i mean, it's stressful working here, but it's more stressful because of -- you're responsible for what happens to them. it's what they do to each other. >> when "lockup" returns -- >> the first guy you come on out. >> -- how pelican bay security squad fights crime inside the prison walls.
to staff and inmates alike, they are known simply as the squad. >> we respond to every single incident that happens within this prison that ranges from a fist fight to a stabbing to a homicide to narcotics that are discovered on an inmate. >> if a prison can be considered a city, the security squad is
the police force within that city. pelican bay's nine-member unit responds to all crimes committed by inmates within the institution. working in pelican bay makes them one of the most active law enforcement units in the world. the squad performs random pat downs for weapons on the yard, confiscating an average of 12 per week. >> this was made by an aryan brotherhood member in the security housing unit. this was destined for an officer. you can see how he honed it down on concrete. i mean this is incredible. >> the squad is also responsible for screening any suspicious mail entering the institution. >> there's approximately 5,000 pieces of mail that come and out of our mailroom daily. that's not counting the newspapers and the magazines. the trafficker that prepared this particular envelope, they knew that all the mail that comes into the mailroom is opened by a machine. they cut the top of the envelopes. what this person did this they took small doses of black tar
heroin and put it along the glue fold of the envelope and simply sealed it with a greeting card. >> jim dejenet is a member of the pelican bay security quad. he has witnessed some wide range smuggling attempts, some nearly impossible to detect. >> okay. we will take that with us. >> the traffickers on the street, they took methamphetamine and they applied it to the paper. every place where you see color ink, that is all thick methamphetamine. and they let that dry. and then after it dried, they put food coloring on top of the methamphetamine so it looks like grass, a plant, the sun and then they write a little note here, like a kid would write. and it says, "con mucho amore," "with much love" and addressed it to the person who is supposed to receive a methamphetamine drawing. we received two of them just like this. you remember that commercial, trix cereal, trix is for kids? it was godsent for narcotic traffickers, and what they would
do, they would take the small colored cereal and they would carefully access the package. they would dump out some of the kernels and crush them up on a table. once they were crushed up, you take narcotic-laden balloons with glue on them and run them around the cereal. that dries and they put this back into the package, virtually impossible to detect. really a clever way to get drugs in. >> an investigation within the california correctional system found over 10% of all inmates to be under the influence of narcotics at any given time. >> if we didn't have drugs and alcohol inside prison, violence level would be very low. the department is going toward rehabilitation and that's a very good goal and long overdue, but you cannot have rehabilitation as long as you have drugs and alcohol inside of a correctional institution. it doesn't work. >> ready, mikey? >> yeah. >> let's do this. >> this one guy? >> in the ongoing battle against
drugs and contraband, pelican bay security squad has the authority to conduct cell searches at their discretion anywhere within the prison. >> all the way back? >> all the way back. >> the first guy, come on out. >> come back. >> like a s.w.a.t. team on the streets, the element of surprise puts them at an advantage. inmates are adept at concealing contraband in their cells as well as on their person. >> actually put it up their rectum. that is the best place to do it, unless we catch them in here quick enough where they can't get it up. behind this hollow, they'll put a razor blade on the spring, he will hang it way down here. might not see one little bitty tip of the string up here, just barely see it, but that will be -- that's where they keep their stuff. >> nothing anymore makes me raise my eyebrows. it's been too long. seen too much. >> where did you find that? >> in a male inmate's cell.
there's no such thing as crazy in prison. you know, i don't know, maybe you got to be crazy to work here, i'm not sure. we come here voluntarily every day. >> since the 2000 riot, the level of violence at pelican bay has dropped considerably, but numerous assaults still occur. when they do, the squad must respond like street detectives, carrying all the tools necessary to process the crime scene. when we last visited the prison, our cameras were rolling as one of these assaults occurred inside a cell block. [ yelling ] >> there is an alarm in that building right there. a3. staff responds. so, this is an actual alarm because nobody's waving us off yet. something is going on inside of the building. [ siren ] now someone is being escorted out of the building, cuffed up. in all probability, he was
involved in some type of an assault, either he was the aggressor, more than likely he was the aggressor because he is the first one out. >> one of them came out of his cell and was walking down the tier actually to go out to the yard, to the general population yard, and another inmate came up behind him and stabbed him several times. he received lacerations to the back of his neck, along with several puncture wounds. >> the evidence collected on the scene was later used to help build a felony case. while this particular incident happened inside the prison, many assaults typically occur outside on the yard. but in recent years, prison officials have implemented changes to make the yard safer. >> in order to try to hold down the large-scale incidents, we exercise either one building at a time or worker groups in a group.
so, even though they may be of a different group, if they are all in the same housing unit, we found that that drops the level of violence and maybe promotes a little bit more group understanding. it doesn't stop it entirely. [ "human" by the human league playing ] humans. we mean well, but we're imperfect creatures living in a beautifully imperfect world. it's amazing we've made it this far. maybe it's because when one of us messes up, someone else comes along to help out. that's the thing about humans. when things are at their worst, we're at our best. see how at libertymutual.com. liberty mutual insurance -- responsibility. what's your policy?
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as fierce as pelican bay's mainline housing can be, there is a place that inmates fear even more. in prison slang, it's known as "the hole." while pelican bay houses some of the worst inmate the state of california, the security housing unit or shu has always housed the worst inmates in pelican bay. >> now this might look concrete to you, but it is not comparison to the shu program. everything is concrete. >> no ground, no grass, it is all cement. lights all the time. noisy. the yard, you look up at the roof and it is like this. you don't see the sky, you still see bars, you know what i mean? >> you know, you can drive yourself crazy like that just sitting somewhere for 23 hours a day. i wouldn't want to see my worst enemy go back there. it's no place for any human being. >> in addition to containing inmates with a history of violence in the general population, the shu houses inmates who have been officially
confirmed by the prison as active, valid gang members. >> under current policy, if you are validated as such, then you have an undetermined shu term and you will be housed in security housing unit for an indeterminate amount of time. that means forever. >> in each section, there are eight cells. the way the cells are designed is to provide separation from their allies as well as from their enemies. there are corridors with crash gates. we have control over the cell, over the section, over the unit, over the hallways, as well as over an entire building. >> anything that happens in this unit is my responsibility. >> michael pitts campbell has worked at pelican bay since 1988. he has spent the past five years manning one of the shu's control booths.
what have we got right now? 43 inmates. in here i'm responsible for keeping them protected from one another. i'm responsible for keeping the staff protected from the inmates. if i open the wrong door at the wrong time, staff or inmates can be injured and that is -- becomes all my fault. i cannot blame anybody else. >> to prevent bloodshed, gang activity must be strictly monitored and documented by every correctional officer at pelican bay. one of the most notorious inmates serving time in the shu is raul leon, a reputed leader of the mexican mafia. >> whatever it is lockup, the violence or the madness to murder, that's just -- you grow up in that, so this prison has never affected me like that i don't think it ever will. i'm strong willed when it comes to that. >> leon has been locked up in the shu for more than 15 years. >> there is a lot of guys here that prison life is hard for them, period, and then to be stuck in shu, in solitary, you
know, i guess you call it sensory deprivation. >> 24-hour lights belie the shu's reputation as the darkest hole in pelican bay. inmates are confined to their cells for all but 90 minutes per day, which they are allowed to spend in a concrete exercise area located a few feet from their cells. >> you just got a dog walk they call it, 20-foot walls. very different atmosphere, you know? >> there's no one to talk to out there. you go in the yard strictly by yourself. the sky, that's mainly all you can see, hear all the sounds around you, but you don't see anything at all except for four walls and the drain. >> while pelican bay's general population is at war with each other, many in the shu are at war with the staff. >> i have been in hundreds of incidents with officers here. i don't care if you are a peace officer, if you are the governor or if you are the president. if you do something to me, it's on. >> we're going to pick up inmate hymes, one of the inmates here
that, from time to time, we have trouble with. he doesn't always cooperate. >> i have stated to numerous administration and supervisors, if certain people escort me, it's automatically on. there's no doubt in my mind what i'm gonna do. >> it all depends on his mood. we never know. >> they do that to make sure you don't have any type of contraband or something. damn thing don't work most of the time. you have people that are 5'2" officer call me, excuse the expression, a piece of s -- you know, but at the same time, if i didn't have these handcuffs on, me and him face to face and he didn't have gun coverage, he would not do that. >> escort coming in. >> inmates in the shu are escorted by a minimum of two correctional officers any time they leave their pod. this movement is the greatest threat to officer safety.
>> we are always told to watch our back, watch our surroundings when we are dealing with inmates, watch what they are doing, make sure there is no sudden movements from them, make sure their cuffs are right, because they are always looking for ways to beat us. >> for the most part, we wear the badge. we play by the rules. convicts don't play by the rules. they know the rules, but they make sure that you don't cross the line, you don't break the rules. the convict's job is to beat us, to find ways to beat us. they are gonna slide whatever they can under the rug every chance they get. we can't go under the rug. we have to be -- keep our hands on the table at all times. >> although violence in the shu is rare, officers are trained and ready to respond at the first sign of trouble. >> i have seen inmates who have been speared in the shu. i've seen cell fights in shu. i have never seen anybody killed in shu, but i've seen them seriously injured. >> it would take either a threat
of imminent death, you know, one inmate on top of another pounding his head against the concrete floor or a threat of great bodily injury. that's when i'm authorized to actually fire that weapon and in the security housing unit there are no warning shots because we've got all this concrete. >> the last injury i've seen in shu was an inmate, southern hispanic, speared by a northern hispanic in the chest and within centimeters from his heart. and he was rushed out by ambulance to the hospital. >> most dangerous time for correctional officer is after someone related to a gang has been executed. we get rumbles that the gang investigators pick up and say so-and-so is executed, they've sworn to get a peace officer. the mexican mafia is reputed to have a kid out on staff any time possible because in our big riot back in 2000, we shot and killed a southern hispanic, because he was attempting to kill somebody else.
so more so than normal there are just a lot of tensions in prison at the moment. >> this place right here, if you let it, it can suffocate the life out of you. >> steve castillo is also serving time in the shu, convicted in 1987 for first-degree murder, his sentence is 35 years to life. >> escort coming in. >> i think probably the main thing is staying busy, trying to find something positive to do. people start getting that rage. before you know it, they start disrespecting each other and it gets ugly. i seen a guy sitting down playing chess all by himself with chess pieces made out of his own feces. guys walking back and forth just pacing the cell, buck naked. get these little small plastic state cups, issued cups and they will sit and they will just bang on that on the sink hours on end, all day, all night. just totally lost their mind, you know?
>> some of us are stronger than others and i think that's what pelican bay is about. only the strongest are the ones that are going to make it, you know? so, this is it right here. everybody here is pelican bay but when it comes to doing time here, un-unh, nobody wants to be here, you know? >> next on "lockup," the hidden messages and secret codes gangs use to communicate inside and outside pelican bay. dark roast forest fresh full tank brain freeze cake donettes rolling hot dogs bag of ice anti-freeze wash and dry diesel self-serve fix a flat jumper cables 5% cashback signup for 5% cashback at gas stations through september. it pays to discover. has a facebook page these days. but where's the relationship status? well, esurance is now in a relationship...with allstate. and it looks pretty serious. esurance. click or call.
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inside pelican bay is that some of its most isolated prisoners are also its most powerful. many gang leaders, though exiled to the shu, still manage to exert control over their legions of followers. >> they would not survive as a gang if they were unable to communicate with one another. or be able to communicate their will to their soldiers. >> the prison gangs, even though they are isolated and all up here, they are a force to be reckoned with within the institution. they have tentacles to reach out and do damage to whoever they want to get. >> so, what they do is they find someone in the community. they will send a letter to that person in the community. that person will then rewrite the letter or place the original letter in another envelope and send it to the person intended. >> another way inmates communicate is by passing notes to one another. >> the cell next door. >> right before we got in here,
they were seen fishing something around that wall and into that cell and it was pulled into this cell. >> the messages are often written in very small writing, we call it mini-writing, on small pieces of paper, where they can be easily rolled and stored in some place that's undetectable. one inmate who was going to a visit a couple of years ago was discovered with notes inside of his jumpsuit for the purpose of removing them to show his visitor during the visit. we only allow them to have pen-fillers, but they will sharpen those pen-fillers to get a fine point on it and that enables them to write very small. they also do what is called ghost writing. that's when they indent onto the paper without leaving the ink impression. they will place a paper on top of the other paper and write
upon it, throw that one away and then just the indented message goes out. when we would find these indented messages in their paperwork, and they would hide it amongst their legal documents as well, then they would open up envelopes and do the ghostwriting on the inside of the envelope, reseal the envelope, place some insignificant communication inside the letter and send it out. >> officers in the mailroom review an average of 300 to 500 letters every day, looking for any clues of impending gang activity. >> one gang member down in a prison in southern california wrote to three different mexican mafia members, identifying people in that institution he wanted to kill. [ speaking in spanish ] which means "i want to take jimmy to the barber as soon as possible." we caught two of those letters,
but we didn't catch the third one. >> the communication, they cracked down on us as much as they can. but i can communicate through letters, cards, we send out cards. >> raul leon wrote over 1,000 letters in a six-month period of time. we uncovered at least 500 offenses that were committed through the mail. we cut off his correspondence for a period of one year, however, he used his associates around him to send letters. so then we moved him to another section where he would not be around his associates. then he paid his rivals to send mail out for him. >> they accuse me of a lot of things, you know, but i don't -- i don't ever say that i'm doing any of that, you know? it just -- it's irrelevant. >> gang members also rely on visitors to pass on important information. >> so they speak in code.
they use sign language and they pass along messages that get out to their associates in the communities as well as in other prisons. >> my visitors took off my approval list but when i can, i have people come up here, fly up here. just last year, my homeboys flew up, my niece and my sister. that is the first time me and her, 22 years, 23 years. >> in one case, a grandmother received a letter from her grandchild and sent it on to a gang member, not knowing that inside was a code describing gang activities. >> every word before the comma actually spells out the message. >> although the cat and mouse game between gang members and staff will likely continue, prison officials are confident their efforts have prevented numerous gang-related crimes. >> we often hear about those few circumstances that do get out
there, where someone gets killed but what we never take in account are the countless number of people who have been saved because the communication has been stopped. up next -- >> it's all a bunch of betrayals violence. itment by what's getting done. the twenty billion dollars bp committed has helped fund economic and environmental recovery. long-term, bp's made a five hundred million dollar commitment to support scientists studying the environment. and the gulf is open for business - the beaches are beautiful, the seafood is delicious. last year, many areas even reported record tourism seasons. the progress continues... but that doesn't mean our job is done. we're still committed to seeing this through. ♪ i want to go ♪ i want to win [ breathes deeply ] ♪ this is where the dream begins ♪
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in recent years, one of the top priorities of pelican bay officials has been to encourage gang members to flip, that is, give up their ties to gangs and leave the shu. for those inmates brave enough to make that choose, the transitional housing unit or thu is where they take the first step. epi cortina is one of the
success stories. >> i've been basically pelican bay-raised, going up here 14 years. >> core tina was once a prominent leader of nuestra familia and housed in the security unit. >> i was doing 16 to life and i knew if i was continuing the way i wasn't going to in the shu, i wasn't going to get out. so i wrote my brother in the navy. i told him what i want to do. i let my dad know, my other brothers know. their response was, it's about time. >> it's a big step when you come out here, because the first phase of it is, how do i act? >> walter farmer is a former member of the aryan brotherhood. serving a 23-year sentence for murder, he spent several years in the shu before making the decision to leave the gang. >> in some ways, you feel like you hung up your balls, you know, because you -- now you have to rely on the
administration handling your issues as opposed to you handling them in a way you were taught to handle issues. but now i play sports with people that i once was enemies with. >> the big issues that i wrestled with is, am i going to get killed by dropping out? is my family going to get killed by dropping out? i was in the nazi low riders and i joined basically out of self-preservation. what soured me on the gang life is they will call you brother to your face but then stab you in the back at the drop of a dime. >> it is all a bunch of betrayals and lies. >> miguel perez was one of pelican bay's top drug runners on the yard. since he moved into the thu, he has been instrumental in helping staff crack down on drug operations inside the prison. >> what soured myself on the gang life? in all honesty, i opened my eyes to see it for what it is. there's no honor, no honesty and
no respect. they can sell you on this. this it is not true. just because one of their family members was a part of it. i seen too many innocent people targeted that had nothing to do with the gang life. >> once a gang member decides to quit, he can leave the shu in one of two ways, remain inactive for six years or drop out all together. to drop out, inmates must go through a debriefing process which has three missions, first, to determine their sincerity to leave the gang, second, to identify the people who might be a threat to them, since leaving a gang is considered treason, and third, to gather information about the gang. after debriefing, the inmates learn basic education and coping skills in a 14-week program designed to ease their transition back into a mainline facility. >> what seems to be biggest problem in your life right now?
>> getting myself on track, keeping myself on track, once i'm there what is the biggest problem. >> you know, people i have known, families and stuff in the past, it seems like i have chalk it had up to the only way some people can feel good about themselves is by making others feel miserable. >> right. >> when i look out that yard every day, i see the talks going on, the way people are walking, their appearance, 'cause i was there once myself. and in some cases, i even have to laugh to myself, because i say, man, dude, you are not living your life, you're living somebody else's life. and you're going to have an end result. and it's either going to be six feet under or it's going to be back in that shu. >> so, if you're going to change, it's coming from within with. this might help bring out something that's got in you. but if it's not in you to change, it's not going to work. >> if i can learn from my mistakes, i've done them in the
past, confidence from me comes by experience because i have the knowledge and the wisdom to go with it. >> gangsters come in as youngsters. same reason military recruits youngsters, you are invulnerable then, you are immortal. after you hit 30 or so well, the picture is a little different. >> it's trying to start this program called mentors for mex it is about educating society and enlightening them on the criminal activity of the gangs. gangs are like cockroaches. they are always going to be around. but hopefully by having actual people who were actual members of these organizations, if we can enlighten them on some of these activities, hopefully we can help curb a lot of their activities and make our community safer. >> but while leaving a gang may be considered by many to be courageous, raul leon sees it as a despicable and unforgivable act of betrayal. >> i don't know how can they wake up in the morning and see themselves in the mirror, you know whatever excuse you use to get to the transitional housing unit to me is just a crock of -- it's just a stab. it's just individuals just trying to play the last card
they have, saying, hey, you know what? i got to get out of here. the only thing good about them debriefers and rats is that they can never return back to the neighborhoods. they are ostracized. >> how many will change? i don't know. but all i know is that there are men who are changing, who are wanting to make a different path for their lives, and we see it every day in the transitional housing unit. >> i have had a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders because i'm not constantly having to sit there and watch my back. i can sleep comfortably at night and i have a freedom i didn't have before. >> to this day, of the two years i have been away from it, i have no regret and i live with that decision, just as they have to live with the fact that i left them. well, i'm living for tomorrow, you know, but i'm making the best at it today. >> while the implementation of the transitional housing unit has helped reduce the violence at pelican bay, the very nat