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This was in 1983. I was the youngest inmate there, and all the black prison organizations tried to recruit me. They targeted young guys with career-criminal potential, so that they would always have members in prison to carry on their legacy. I was first approached by the Vanguards, a semi-militant black-awareness group that aimed to educate and organize black inmates.

I also spoke with ranking members of the notorious Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), a militant and politically motivated black-power prison organization. They were founded in 1966 by incarcerated members of the Black Panther Party, and they were arch-rivals of both the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood white-supremacy gang. They routinely engaged in wars.

I eventually became the sergeant-at-arms for the newly founded Consolidated Crip Organization (CCO). It was an organization where all the Crips in California united as one. The Bloods had a similar organization called the United Blood Nation (UBN). They operated under the same general rules and guidelines that we did.

I was released in December of 1985 but suffered major adjustment problems with supervised parole. It’s rule-breaking, not law-breaking, that gets you back into trouble. The rules were so easy to break, eventually I gave up on conforming. There were violation charges for things like failure to report, drinking beer, and smoking weed. My first violation charge was for moving in with my new girlfriend (changing address without approval). I got 90 days.

I later realized that parole violations were my responsibility. But at the time, I didn’t want to be held accountable, and I minimized my failings by complaining about how petty it was every time I got busted for not doing what I was supposed to do. As a result, for the next few years, I was in and out of jail, serving small terms for petty violations.

This cycle continued until my parole ended in 1988. By then, I had lost a few fellow Crip gang members to drive-by shootings and felt a personal responsibility to make up for it. On one occasion, I went across town on foot with a two-piece assembled shotgun and fired upon a large gathering. The crowd frantically dispersed, and I heard screams and screeching tires, people hauling ass. As I hid behind a small truck to disassemble the gauge, the vehicle’s owner ran straight toward it. He was ducking and looking in all directions in an effort to avoid more potential gunfire. “Get me outta here! They’re shooting!” I yelled. “Where you headed?” he asked, fumbling to unlock the passenger door. “I’m going to 47th and Market Street!” I said. The location I gave him was the heart of our gang’s territory. I would be safe there.

We had a few words on the way, but not much. When we arrived, I had to readjust the shotgun while climbing out, and he saw it. His eyes got big, as if he’d sighted a UFO. “Thanks for the ride, cuz,” I said, casually walking off into the night.


My first trip to prison made me tougher. All I did was gain more weight and muscle. My attitude stayed the same because I was still around the same crowd. It was all I knew. As a result, it only took me a year to be recommitted for another weapons-possession charge. But this time, things had changed.

In 1989, when I returned to prison, the order of the black-inmate structure had been lost. I was at Chuckwalla Valley Prison this time, and there were no more Vanguards, no more Consolidated Crips. The Black Guerrilla Family now operated more as a private sector. This was a result of the new-generation gang members who refused to follow orders. Even the Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood took hits by their new generation, but not as bad as the blacks did. As a result, black inmates became the target of unprovoked racial attacks, which were previously unheard of. Race riots were previously declared by council, but now they were random, and they always involved the blacks versus others. I eagerly took part in every war that I could. On one occasion, I attacked five Southern Mexicans alone. It wasn’t intended to happen that way, but the control-tower guard failed to electronically open the cell door of the Black Guerrilla Family member from Oakland, California, who was going to help me. I was shot three times with a riot gun and drenched with pepper spray by guards who ran in to break it up, but I felt good that I had made a statement.

After an early-1990s race riot, I was deemed unsuitable for general population and sent to open the new Pelican Bay maximum-security prison for incorrigibles. I spent my time in isolation, working out to maintain my sanity and reflecting on my past. This prison trip ended my gang life.

The race wars had given me a stronger sense of black awareness. Whether Crip or Blood, I would always be judged first as a black man. At this point, I knew I could never return to the community as a Crip fighting my own people. So I never committed another gang act. I would like to give special thanks to the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia for enlightening me.

When I was released from Pelican Bay in 1992, I returned to San Diego homeless. I didn’t go back to my old neighborhood because my business was done there. Instead, I remained in downtown San Diego among the street hustlers. I didn’t have long-term plans because my homeless situation didn’t allow me to think past the day. I started smoking crushed crack cocaine in cigarettes, to numb my reality. They call these “primos.”

These drugs made me approach my situation more aggressively, with no regard for anyone. I tried selling drugs, but the users annoyed me. They never had enough money to buy, so I sold everything below cost and then smoked the rest after realizing I couldn’t meet the quota necessary to re-up (buy more).

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Comments

Hiyellared Nov. 7, 2012 @ 7:23 p.m.

Curtis is someone I knew of back in the day. As well as Kenny Davis and Alvin Smith "Capone", used to see them around the way and some of same people that he named.

Curtis although you been through the things (All on your accord/admittance) that you have. Glad to see that you have changed your life for the better, sometimes it takes some longer than others, but NO MATTER the length of time you did it/made it through.

Every day is a struggle, but without them you can't Move Forward. Keep your head up and keep pushing Forward.

Carolynn

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Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 7, 2012 @ 9:13 p.m.

Powerful and riveting story -- could be the Reader's best cover feature this year --

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jenjen Nov. 7, 2012 @ 10:42 p.m.

Should be required reading for high school kids. No glamor here.

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LosPlumasHombre Nov. 8, 2012 @ 9:39 a.m.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 8, 2012 @ 10:12 a.m.

Author has a story to tell, a good story, and tell it he did.

Should make this into a book, it would work.

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Elizabeth Salaam Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:36 p.m.

Wow, Curtis. What an amazing transformation. I'm inspired by your fortitude. I know it can't be easy out there. And your candid, self-reflective storytelling makes for a seriously compelling read. Nice work.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Nov. 8, 2012 @ 1:57 p.m.

Excellent job, Curtis. Congratulations for taking control of your life and responsibility for your actions.

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maria52 Nov. 19, 2012 @ 11:13 a.m.

Curtis: glad you showed mainstream just exactly what phenomenol odds you were up against... and you made it! Wow! This story gripped me and did not let go...I even cried. I've seen many, many in your situation, and most don't make it. You told this story beautifully: sweet poingnancy coupled with pierciing reality. You should write a book. You've got talent up the ying-yang!

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curtis Nov. 30, 2012 @ 9 p.m.

Hi Maria, it's me Curtis! Glad you read the article with an open mind. I appreciate your review. I have in fact written four(4) books. I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 1, 2012 @ 3:57 p.m.

I received great news the other day from someone who is willing to sponsor me on having my latest book self-published! It's called "Cellmates & Cellouts". It's basically an extended version of the article with many more episodes, trials, and tribulations. If you enjoyed the article, you will love the book. I'll sign it for you when it's done. Thanks again! Curtis howard

That's weird, I was thinking the exact same thing, expand the article into a book by adding in some more stories from the hood and/or the Joint. Great minds think alike.

I'll buy a copy too. As long as you don't jam me for more than a C-note.........

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MsSunshine Aug. 23, 2013 @ 10:59 a.m.

Hello Mr. Howard your story had me in tears to hear the struggle you went through to get to where you are today. I hope things has gotten even better for you. I have a 63 year old uncle who is going through similar situations out there in San Diego as your were in the beginning. I'm praying he surrenders and gives it all up. I am looking forward to reading the book. Blessing and Peace to You!

None

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