Photograph:  Original BGF Prison Leaders

Welcome again to Perplex News.  The following episode will focus on one of the Big Four California Prison Gangs known as the Black Guerrilla Family. This series will take you into the world of the BGF in what was probably the most turbulent period in United States penal history.

(NOTE:  For an AUDIO VERSION of this story, Click onto the following link ….

The 1960’s and 70’s were unprecedented in terms of sheer violence and mayhem as the Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia prison gangs were already in existence and wrestling for control of the Hispanic convict population.  The next of the Big Four prison gangs, I like to call them California’s version of the Axis of Evil, was the Black Guerrilla Family.  Two of their founders were George Jackson and W.L. Nolen who were housed together in 1967 at San Quentin prison.  They began as an African-American revolutionary group with an anti-establishment ideology.

During the formative years of the BGF some of the hard core members were Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, James “Doc” Holiday, W.L. Nolen, and George Jackson, just to name a few.  The incident to me that highlights the BGF’s vicious fury was ignited at Soledad Prison by Sargeant R.A. Maddix, who was also known to the inmates as “Mad Dog” Maddix.  He was notorious for often placing greater numbers of Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood members on the Soledad Adjustment Center exercise yard giving us a decisive edge against our rivals.  On one occasion, we decided to draw the line when he released BGF member Alfred “Eat ‘em Up” Dunn, to exercise with five Mexican Mafia members, including me.  Alfred was a convicted offender from Los Angeles I had known since my Juvenile Hall days in the mid 1960’s.  Although the playbook called for us to take him out, I hated the idea of a prison guard using us like this.  After conferring with my Carnales, I walked up to Alfred, who was ready to rock and roll, and I remember telling him, “This ain’t gonna happen, brother.”  I also said something about us doing our thing when the numbers were right.  He said, “Cool, man.”  It was his macho way of thanking me.  He was a get down warrior but there was no glory in doing it like this.  Pitting rivals against one another was commonplace within the California Department of Corrections during those years.  Preparing for mortal combat was considered a daily part of our program, and some of us, I must admit, relished the prospect.  In this case, the deranged minds of a few racist prison guards elected to project their personal prejudice against a particular group of inmates.

Having once participated in many prison rumbles on Adjustment Center and Segregation exercise yards, I can tell you one of the worse things a guy can do, especially if he is committed to the possibility of dying while engaging in yard combat, was to even think about who was working the gun tower or gun rail even though the gunner officer was potentially much more dangerous than our combatants.  Nevertheless, many of the yard warriors would make a mental note of the gun officer manning the fort with the carbine as there were some unbalanced correctional officers who enjoyed taking target practice on us.  Bullets certainly did not discriminate.  A direct shot or a bullet ricochet could surely end it for you right there and no one knew which bullet had your name on it.   But our macho would block it all out when we hit the yard and went to work.  Looking back, it was sort of like playing Russian roulette.

For those of you who saw the movie “American Me,” there is a prison scene where a Mexican Mafia member, played by Edward James Olmos, is leading a group of Hispanic inmates.  His Black counterpart is referred to as “Doc.”  This was supposed to be “Doc Holiday.” one of the longtime BGF leaders.  So before they go to war, Doc has second thoughts on the racial confrontation and says, “I’m not going up against the guns”  or something to that affect.  First of all, that incident in the movie never happened; the real Doc Holiday did not fear the guns so I just thought I would separate Hollywood drama from real life stuff.  Nevertheless, many Black inmates did have a valid reason to fear some of the armed correctional officers.

On January 13, 1970, at Soledad state prison, under the watch of Sgt. Maddix, who was well aware of the inmates he was releasing onto the O-Wing Adjustment Center yard, over a dozen rival prison gang members walked across the asphalt yard in an area that measures 40 by 150 feet.  Gun officer Opie Miller was assigned to man the gunner position on that day and none of the inmates knew that the deck had already been stacked against the BGF.  No one could have predicted the connected series of events that would explode following this shocking day.  A group of Aryan Brotherhood members and some of their associates were released along with a similar-sized group of BGF convicts and there were also two Mexican Mafia members.  Joe “Colorado” Ariaz and Ray “Cabezon” Guerrero,”  two EME members who themselves were veterans of racial confrontations versus the BGF, almost immediately started a handball game and sat this one out.  The AB and BGF had an equal number of participants and were primed for this particular clash.  Because no one had weapons at their disposal, they would be getting down from the shoulders with some foot action whenever any openings would present themselves.

Both groups ignored the vocal warnings of Sgt. Maddix and gunner Opie Miller.  The BGF and AB inmates began to square off and shots rang out.  When the smoke cleared, three BGF members lay dead or dying and one AB member, “Buzzard” Harris, was screaming F-bombs at Officer Miller as writhed in pain clutching his crotch.  But he only lost a testicle.  BGF members Cleveland Edwards, Alvin Miller, and W.L. Nolen died on the O-Wing yard that day.  In the following 19 months, 40 people were killed in the California prison system; over a dozen attributable to the initial shooting of BGF inmate W.L. Nolen and his BGF brothers.  The repercussions had a domino effect that began three days later.

On January 16, 1970, Officer John Mills was beaten to death inside the Y-Wing housing unit of Soledad State Prison Central Facility.  His body was thrown from the third tier and found on the ground floor.  Mills would be the first to pay for the O-Wing incident.  BGF members George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette were charged in the officer’s death.  The three inmates were charged for first degree murder.  Drumgo and Cluchette were tried and acquitted in March of 1972.  Evidence later revealed that George Jackson was the actual killer.  Jackson and W.L. Nolen were the two founding members of the Black Guerrilla Family.

On July 23, 1970, Officer William Shull was beaten and stabbed to death at Soledad Prison’s North Facility by BGF members in retaliation for their fallen comrades on the O-Wing yard.   Officer Shull, who was often seen patrolling the North Facility grounds on a bicycle, was stabbed more than 40 times with a metal file which had been sharpened into a prison shank.  The killing occurred as Officer Shull distributed athletic equipment to the inmates.  Through the prison grapevine I learned that BGF member Alfred “Eat Em Up” Dunn was one of the members charged with this homicide.

On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, younger brother of BGF co-founder George Jackson, assisted in overpowering courtroom security officers in Marin County to secure the escape of James McClain, on trial for the stabbing of a San Quentin guard, and Ruchell Magee, a character witness.  As the inmates and their rescuers attempted to drive away in a rented panel truck, prison guards and police officers opened fire.  James McClain, Jonathan Jackson and another San Quentin inmate were killed in the firefight.  The presiding judge was also killed by a shotgun blast taped to his neck.

On March 4, 1971, at Soledad Central Facility’s old X-Wing lockup unit, Officer Robert McCarthy was stabbed and killed by BGF member Hugo “Yogi” Pinell.  On the pretext of mailing out a letter officer McCarthy made the mistake of bending down at the tray slot and Yogi managed to strike through the tray slot opening with an edged weapon severing a major neck artery on the officer’s neck.  After closing the tray slot, Yogi then successfully flushed the weapon down the toilet and claimed ignorance.  Yogi was charged with murder; he was convicted, and sentenced to life.

On July 21, 1971, Officer Leo Davis was stabbed to death at San Quentin by BGF members Earl Gibson and Larry Justice who were attempting to get at another inmate who was a witness to Officer Shull’s murder at Soledad Prison.  Officer Davis was guarding the door to the prisoner’s hospital cell and refused to surrender the key to the inmates attempting to gain access to the cell to murder the protected prisoner.  Eyewitnesses said Officer Davis began blowing his whistle and continued while he was being stabbed, the whistle sound becoming weaker and weaker until he could no longer continue.  Officer backup arrived in time to save the inmate witness but not Officer Davis.  Earl Gibson and Larry Justice were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life on June 21, 1973.  The degree of fanaticism and commitment, the magnitude of sheer hatred for law enforcement from the BGF during this period was something that couldn’t be measured.

The killing of innocent white correctional officers was surely not condoned by society in any manner; but neither should the conduct of Sgt. Maddix and his gunner Opie Miller on the O-Wing yard.  In my opinion, they bear a heavy load of the blame for their fellow officers’ deaths.  But the carnage wasn’t quite over yet.

On August 21, 1971, the San Quentin Adjustment Center experienced an event that rocked the prison world.  By the end of the day, three prison guards and three inmates were either shot, strangled, or stabbed to death in this uprising.  Two other officers who were thought dead had their throats slashed but survived.  George Jackson, the notorious Black Guerilla Family founding member, was the primary instigator of the takeover of the Adjustment Center and was fatally shot by a prison gunner.   Following an attorney visit, Jackson succeeded in smuggling in a firearm which was believed to have been concealed in his Afro hairdo and produced during the return shakedown in a holding cell inside the Adjustment Center.

During this particular period of time, the Mexican Mafia and Black Guerrilla Family were mortal enemies in the California prison system.  Despite this deeply rooted hostility, two EME soldiers (Luis “Bala” Talamantes and Louie “Rock On Lou” Lopez) participated in this incident and stabbed several prison guards, some who survived after their bodies were stacked atop each other in an empty cell and left for dead.

Later we learned that Bala and George Jackson had developed a friendship whiled holed up in the Adjustment Center and shared certain ideological views.  Make no mistake about it; this was definitely a Black Guerrilla Family operation so in no way am I attempting to steal their thunder, so to speak.  But they were actively aided and abetted by Bala and Rock On Lou who stabbed, strangled and slashed some of the officer’s throats.  Bala was also responsible for saving the life of Little Ray Carriger, a white inmate who was a close associate of the Aryan Brotherhood.  Only the friendship between George Jackson and Bala Talamantez prevented his death.  This type of mutual collaboration between the Black Guerrilla Family with the Mexican Mafia is/was extremely unique and I consider it an isolated incident.  Never before and never since have these two groups joined hands in such an undertaking.  As you can see by the posted slide, only BGF member Larry Spain was convicted of murder.  Yogi Pinell and David Johnson were found guilty of lesser charges and Fleeta Drumgo, Luis Talamantes and Willie Tate were acquitted on all charges.

Luis “Bala” Talamantes is from Los Angeles and is also known as “Bato” by his current revolutionary confederates.  The fact he is still alive means his Mexican Mafia brothers have no problem with Bala pursuing social disruptive issues with his older BGF confederates and he maintains close ties with the surviving San Quentin Six BGF members. 

The final chapter in this 19-month prison saga unfolded on September 6, 1971, at Folsom Prison.  Laundry Supervisor Ronald Turner was stabbed to death by BGF Supreme Commander Jeffrey “Khatari” Gaulden.  In this instance, I don’t know what the laundry supervisor had to do with the revenge killings against correctional officers.  The only common denominator was, he was white and worked for the California Department of Corrections.  Khatari and Yogi, two BGF warriors, represented death and destruction, the career criminal mentality, the suicide pilot, and the commitment to their cause all rolled up in one.

On August 1, 1978, Khatari was playing football on the San Quentin Adjustment Center secure yard below death row.  He tripped and fell hitting his head on a pipe protruding from a brick wall and died at San Francisco General Hospital.

On August 12, 2015, Yogi Pinell was stabbed to death at California’s New Folsom State Prison.

The 60’s represented the formative years; the 70’s represented the violent and most turbulent years in the history of California’s prison gangs with each of the Big Four contributing in a mighty way to the madness.  Only the Good Lord knows the final destination of all these souls.  God bless you all.

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