Photograph: Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza booked for Murder in 1969
The following episode is a Perplex News Exclusive that takes you into the world of a former prison gang member and hit man. A regular contributor, Mundo Mendoza gives us a firsthand account of life inside the Mexican Mafia.
My name is Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza and I was born in the Estrada Courts Housing Projects in the Boyle Heights section of East L.A. I’d like to begin by saying I don’t believe anyone is born a criminal. The course of my life has been a series of junctures where I constantly made decisions and choices as I traveled my life’s journey. God knows I made some horrible choices. As a 14-year old teenager I made the choice of rebelling against my father’s authority and I hit the streets. From joining a street gang, I became “state raised” and did time in almost every California Youth Authority facility that existed. As a 19-year old gang member from VNE, Varrio Nuevo Estrada, I committed the ultimate crime for my street gang by killing a rival gang member with a machete. Robert “Bobby Loco” Lopez from White Fence was his name and they said I nearly severed his head.
On that same night, the home boys threw a celebration party in Pico Rivera and I was the main attraction. Everyone was drunk and excited about preparing for White Fence to hit us back. There was a .45 caliber machinegun in a bedroom lying seductively on the bed which I admired with absolute unabated lust. Someone said it would be used to defend the neighborhood against White Fence. Almost immediately, in a cold voice I didn’t recognize, I said, “Why wait. Let’s hit them first!” We went back that night, the crime scene tape was still draped around the crime scene and I started blasting from the moving car. Drive-by’s in those days were virtually unheard of but there I was, firing at my rivals. I hit two of them in the legs and somehow they survived. As a result, I earned the street nickname “Machine Gun Mundo,” the first and last time I would use such a weapon as I learned firsthand it was not easy to control.
Many of my neighborhood buddies had gone to Viet Nam and I wanted so bad to fight in the war. Two of my cousins had just returned and my best friend Tony Sandoval, another Viet Nam vet, was actually with me smoking a joint when the L.A.P.D. Homicide guys knocked the door down and arrested me in May of 1969. I never forgot the question he asked me just before the detectives raided his house. He knew they were looking for me for the machete slaying. He asked me, “So what war are you fighting?” A few weeks later, I’m in the L.A. County Jail charged with murder, my mom came to visit and brought a telegram instructing me to report to the induction center in downtown L.A. for my armed forces physical examination. But it was too late! During the trial, I often glanced over at the mother of Bobby Loco, my victim. A part of me wanted to reach out and hug Mrs. Lopez, ask for her forgiveness, and console her. But that wasn’t gonna happen.
Instead of becoming a war hero, I decided I would indeed fight a different war. I joined the Special Forces of the prison world, determined to be the worst that I could be. In 1970, after just turning twenty the Mexican Mafia prison gang came knocking at my door at San Quentin. From that day forward my life spiraled out of control. It was an honor to join this exclusive fraternity of elites. I made it a point to perform at the level of the worst and I became a specialist at taking lives. Not only did I personally murder six inmates behind bars, I was a co-conspirator in at least a dozen more, and I got away with each one! And, I slept like a baby. I tell you this not to impress anyone but to give you a sneak preview into the mindset of a demented career criminal heading toward an inevitable certain death.
One day, sometime after my fifth prison homicide, a San Quentin IGI, short for Institution Gang Investigator, by the name of Sergeant Hankins, decided it was time to throw away the key on a handful of us. We were locked up and quarantined from the general prison population, like a communicable disease that should not be infecting the inmates who just wanted to do their time in peace. We learned how to run things from our long term confinement cells utilizing attorneys, visitors, other inmates and guards for facilitating our prison business.
In July 1975 I was the beneficiary of a Senate Bill-sponsored law that affected dozens of prison gang members allowing us to receive RUAPP’s – Release Upon Approval of Parole Plans. Sgt. Hankins and the CDC had no more control over me and I was now free to pursue my criminal career on the outside. From serving Satan in prison, we turned our attention to the outside. In Los Angeles I teamed up with a group of Mexican Mafia characters who were as lethal as they come. I labeled us The Inner Circle and it was our job to lay the EME’s street foundation for heroin distribution. We murdered dozens of people in the furtherance of our enterprise and it was easier to kill anyone who resisted or objected to our demands than to administer a disciplinary beating. “Thumbs down” was our favorite expression and gesture when discussing the fates of anyone who was a problem or an obstacle. We even timed some of our hits to take place in time for us to catch the opening pitch at Dodger Stadium. We joked about our murder victims while munching on Dodger Dogs. We had adopted an abnormal value system in which human life had no meaning. This was “the life.”
For those of you who saw the movie Goodfellas, we had the true life “goodfella” on our team of assassins in the person of “Alfie” Sosa, a monster I am accused to this day of having created. One day, Sailor Boy and I had just shot and killed two people and we headed to the getaway car with Alfie sitting behind the wheel. So we’re expecting him to start the car and instead he’s sitting in the driver’s seat, head down, arms folded across his chest and he has this resolute look on his face. I’m urging him to drive and he tells me he’s tired of driving; he wants me, right there, to give him my word next time he would be the pistolero, the triggerman. For a split second I felt like blasting him, but I looked at Sailor who was almost laughing at the comic scene, I turned to Alfie and assured him next time he would be the shooter. Alfie was happy and we drove away with police sirens in the background. When Alfie completed his homicidal street career, he made Joe Pesci look like a choir boy. Alfie has been in custody for over 40 years.
On October 9, 1975, Sailor Boy and I were arrested by what seemed like an army of California Highway Patrol officers and L.A. Sheriff’s deputies as we drove back to L.A. from Bakersfield and were coming off a steep grade known as The Grapevine. We were transported back to Kern County where we were charged and would await prosecution for the residential executions of two rival gang members from Bakersfield. My fiancée, Sailor’s sister, was expecting me the following day as we were supposed to be heading to Las Vegas to be married. But our plans were rudely interrupted by this late breaking development.
There is no statute of limitations for some crimes and for this obvious reason I refrain from touching on certain actions in my life that could cause me some grief in my older age. But I think at this point you get the drift. Unless you subscribe to the Father Flanagan theory, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.” I believe any sane person understands what someone like me deserved in life. L.A. Sheriff’s Sergeant Valdemar weighed in with his opinion and I agree I was once the poster child for the Death Penalty.
But something unbelievable happened to my wretched soul while I was sitting in the Kern County Jail awaiting trial. Keep in mind at this juncture in my life I’m looking at life in prison and that didn’t faze me. Guys like us are at home when we are behind bars so my brothers were ready to give me the Red Carpet treatment upon my return. Sailor Boy was right there with me. Every Sunday, the church people entered the jail to witness to the heathen and I always ignored them and pretended to be asleep until one day I was bored and decided to interact with an 80 plus year old gentleman named Nathaneal Elrich. One thing led to another and one day I began feeling remorse for my victims, a word that was not in my vocabulary. From remorse I began to think about this forgiveness thing they were talking about. I had a hard time understanding how a man of my evil makeup could deserve such a blessing. I wrestled with this until one day, in the solitude of my jail cell I got on my knees and asked the Lord to forgive me. I unloaded what seemed like a lifetime of darkness, I cried silently where no one but God could hear. Suddenly I felt free, like something had left my body. This experience had nothing to do with my criminal case and I did not share what had happened to me with anyone outside my family. Then everything happened very rapidly. Both murder charges were dismissed against us on a Speedy Trial Denial technicality. My next move came totally out of left field.
Usually when a person from the gang underworld makes a decision to turn against his criminal confederates, it revolves around 1) he’s in trouble with someone; 2) he’s trying to work off a serious case; and 3) he has a wife or girlfriend threatening to leave him. Those are the big three. In my case, none of those applied. I was in the highest possible standing with La EME, was about to walk on two murder beefs with no cases pending and was simply waiting for my parole discharge telegram to arrive, and I had no wife or girl threatening to leave my sorry ass. The day I decided to roll against my former partners in crime surprised even me and it certainly shocked the members of the Task Force who had a distinct “hard on” for me (their words). At first, they were trying to figure out what I was up to. No one really saw this coming. This wasn’t something I planned. I would go on to work fourteen months undercover with the Task Force. My resolve was to effectively remove from society the people who were doing what I used to do – kill people. That was my motivation, saving others from death.
Example: There were two female eyewitnesses to the Gilbert Roybal hit in Fresno I learned had been targeted by the fellas. Based on my intel, the Task Force was able to intercede and relocate them. There were an uncountable number of future murder victims I assisted in preventing. How do I know this? Remember, I was once one of them, and then some. I influenced many of the movers and shakers. I knew the mind of Black Dan Barela because I trained him on the streets and brought out the worst in him. In the same manner I was an instrument of death and destruction, I was well aware of the untold number of deaths these men represented. Remember, the number one solution to almost any Mexican Mafia problem was, “Kill him.” It was that simple.
Since I couldn’t bring any of my victims back from the dead, I felt the only way I could repay society was by doing the right thing. Am I suggesting a guy has to debrief or cooperate with the cops to be right with God? Not at all. In fact, you can be right with the Law and still not know the Lord. Letting God transform you is more important than talking to the Man. For me, because I was the epitome of evil and searching for absolution, ridding society of people like myself, my old self, was like a bar of soap washing away the filth, darkness and sins that once permeated my entire body and soul. As a born-again Believer in Jesus Christ, I later matured in my faith and realized there was no magical soap; only the blood of Jesus could completely wash away my sins, and that He did.
With that said, I am totally secure in my decision to turn against my former associates. I will live, and die, with that choice and God will receive me in His Kingdom. The only person not pleased with what I did is Satan himself and I’m not concerned with winning his approval. You are endowed with a free will from the Creator, therefore the choices are yours ….. always. You were not born to be a criminal, no one is. That inevitable appointment with death? I canceled mine. You can do the same. The question at hand is, “What will you do with your soul?” Will you continue to surrender it to Satan? My prayer is that every Mexican Mafia member, every prison gang member, considers that no matter where you go and what you do in life, you will never be happy without the Lord. Like He forgave and forgot my sins, He offers the same forgiveness to you and, unlike your Carnales, He will never forsake you. May He break the shackles of your bondage; may He touch and melt your hearts in the name of Jesus.
“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
God bless you and just remember that God’s Word never comes away void.