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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Understanding Inmate Codes of Conduct

Inmates live by strict codes of conduct set out and enforced by prison gang leaders who maintain strict control.

April 25, 2011  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Sample of a Green Light hit list. Photo: Richard Valdemar.

Prison gangs ultimately control the criminal activity in most custody environments. Corrections officers control the containment and movement of inmates, but prison gangs and other security threat groups establish the inmate's code of conduct. Because custody staff members seek to disrupt this activity, gangs step in to enforce these inmate regulations and codes of conduct.

Contraband and drug debts are often collected by invoking the name and reputation of these gangs as an intimidation tactic. Drug debt "welchers" must be dealt with violently as an example to other inmates considering defaulting on their debts. The movie "An Innocent Man" includes a violent depiction of dealing with a "welcher" on the prison yard that introduces Tom Selleck's character to this reality. The movie gives the viewer an accurate glimpse of the inmate code of conduct. During the unfolding of this story, Tom Selleck's character makes a dramatic metamorphosis from an innocent man into hardened convict and killer.

There are hundreds of written and unwritten regulations that must be observed by inmates. Some are institutional regulations, but most are convict codes. Inmates learn these codes of conduct through extended schooling that takes place during periods of commitment, while serving sentences in juvenile hall (grammar school), youth authority (high school), and state and federal prisons (colleges and universities). This training is augmented by mentoring under gang "veteranos" (veterans) and OGs (Original Gangsters) in and out of custody. These systems vary, but most are dictated by the prison gang or threat group that represents the inmate's race.

I've always marveled at this irony. Young men who rebel against authority and parental control, who commonly hate school, hate memorizing verses and symbols, hate reading history, hate learning new languages, and hate participating in physical education, enjoy doing all these things for their prison gang leaders.

Some of these regulations can be compared to our own penal system. Among gang inmates, a gang member who acts or talks like a homosexual, dresses unacceptably or "sexually," or does any act in public that suggests a feminine side, will be disciplined by his peers.

I'll use this example to illustrate an inmate regulation. A Latino gang member sits with his peer inmates at the breakfast table in the mess hall. Bananas are served with his meal. The young unschooled Latino holds the banana with his left hand, peels the banana by pulling the peel down about half way with his right hand. He then raises the banana to his mouth and takes a big bite off the top of the banana. This is a misdemeanor violation of Latino etiquette.

In Latino gang culture, eating a banana or wiener by its end in this manner looks like the sexual act of oral sex. This unacceptable behavior in front of sexually supercharged inmates must be punished. The covert and underground inmate code of conduct has few fines, probation or demerit systems in place. Physical discipline is the general rule. The violator is rarely warned about his perceived mistake. He'll be treated normally until his peers have "held court" and determined a discipline appropriate to the crime. This system is sometimes called "marching," "check courting," or "discipline."

Without warning, the code violator will be "put in check" by several of his gang peers. This is sometimes called "showing love," because the parties doing this don't want the violator to go on shaming himself and embarrassing his home boys. If not corrected, the behaviors could result in more serious discipline. So he is beaten with love.

This could involve three or four home boys attacking him with saps made from socks filled with soap bars or batteries. Small shanks or broom stick clubs might be used to overcome any resistance. This is seen as minor discipline. Continued violations of this type might result in a "turn out." This discipline involves several gang members sodomizing the violator. He is then "excommunicated" from his street gang and considered an unprotected female. The gang might sell him, or one of the group might claim him as his "girlfriend." As horrible as this discipline might seem, it can get worse.

Serious violations of the convict code result in a death sentence. To ensure this, the prison gang or threat group produces hit lists to be circulated among inmates under their control. Child molesters (Chesters), defectors (drop outs), welchers, snitches and other enemies are "green lighted" to be murdered by any gang member loyal to the list makers.

On some occasions, a gang member betrayed his own group won't appear on a published hit list. Instead, his name will be passed around verbally within the inner circle. This is done to avoid warning the violator before he's killed. These lists come into a facility by telephone from a third party (three way) or by word of mouth and secret notes (kites) smuggled in by inmate transfers, visitors, and crooked lawyers. They are copied by inmates inside the facility and updated several times during the day. The lists are usually localized to the facilities where the intended victim might be housed.

There are generally two or three sections of these lists. The first section, called the "verdes" or "green lights," lists entire gangs that have disrespected the threat group or seriously violated prison gang edicts and codes of conduct. During the 1990-2000 probe into the Mexican Mafia in Los Angeles, investigators determined that Sureño and Paisa gangs who failed to pay tribute (taxes) to the Mexican Mafia or violated the ban against alliances with African-American gangs and violations of the "no drive by" shooting policy.

A second section on the list falls under the section called "personals" or "hard candy." This section was reserved for individuals who had personally offended the prison gang. Beside the violator's street gang affiliation, the list would give the gang AKA and sometimes the full name of the intended victim. The individuals on this list were singled out for special attention. Failure to move on these targets by any loyal Sureño in their proximity would result in that Sureño's inclusion on the Green Light list. The term "hard candy" derives from prison slang for the appearance of a jail-made knife that's been keestered and then removed. Inmates claim it looks like a chocolate candy bar.

A third section of the list might contain footnotes or special instructions.  Some inmates were listed as "passes." This would indicate that sentence was to be withheld because the intended victim's case was being appealed before the Mexican Mafia's leadership, or the listed member was currently on a "mission" benefitting the Mexican Mafia. This is sometimes called a "suicide mission," because the prison gang would often carry out the death sentence even after the listed member had completed the mission to redeem himself. Mercy is not a term in the prison gang lexicon.


VIDEO: Mexican Mafia Prison Debrief

Prison Shanks

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

Michael @ 4/26/2011 8:34 PM

Is it me or should these animals be locked up 24/7. No mail, no visits, no gang type clothing or wearing clothes in an unapproved manner, no weights, no phone calls, no BS........ unless you earn it.
Why, must we put up with this crap to the point we do. This is why the scumbags don't mind going to jail, its like a slumber part for gang bangers. Once again, we are letting these scumbags have to much lead way. Shut them down, not hold their hands and play musical chairs. I mean it is prison, right?

Morning Eagle @ 4/27/2011 9:53 AM

It has always been a puzzle as to why these gangs were ever allowed to gain such sway in the first place (not only in prisons but also on city streets). They should have been stopped using whatever means were necessary before they ever became so entrenched. It has gotten to the point where they practically run the prisons with impunity and now it would take very drastic measures to counteract their influence which would involve complete isolation of each one and keeping their crooked lawyers outside the gates. Oh my goodness, that would be cruel and unusual punishment! Well, so what? Aren't the crimes they continue to perpetrate even after incarceration cruel and unusual from the point of view of their victims? Out on the city streets where they breed and reproduce it would take much more than isolation to fix the problem.

The only language they understand is superior force and as long as the system keeps knuckling under to them, they will continue to run amuck and well beyond control by any standard means.

Wesley @ 4/29/2011 6:15 PM

Liberals who Run the State of California, Including Judges give Inmates in California Prisons Everything. if they dont get something, they sue and some Judges side with them. I know, I worked in a Prison for close to 20 years. Better Health Care than poor people who never commited a Felony. And People wonder why Gangbangers dont mind going to prison

ANGIE @ 8/18/2011 8:10 PM

First and foremost this is to all of the above comments. You all speak like belligerent individuals who are so disgusted with your own pitiful lives that you have to comment on others. You all were probably the kid nobody every liked or you always got beat up or picked on. I'd much rather live next to a Gangster than a Child Molester yes the majority of all you white people who live in your fancy houses all have a child molester in your family. You all are as sick as your secrets. You are nobody to judge look at yourself in the mirror and laugh at what you see cause you could never last to walk the footsteps of someone like me.

Emilie @ 5/31/2012 3:41 PM

I agree with Angie and Robin. Prison itself is dehumanizing, and every human deserves another chance at rehabilitation. What do you expect people to act like when they are put in a cage and watched over by cruel and uncaring guards? Saints? Criminals are not born they are made. By people like all the ones who posted judgemental and ignorant remarks above. And just so you know, in God's eyes you are worse than the murderer who repents his sins...ever heard of the prodigial son? Fuckin retards.

Tony @ 9/11/2014 3:00 AM

What year was this list confiscated - is it really old? Great article by the way.

Tony Lee @ 9/11/2014 3:01 AM

What year was this list from? is it really old or more current. Good article

Tony Lee @ 9/11/2014 3:03 AM

What year was this list from?

joaquinlopez @ 11/21/2014 7:43 AM

Everyone of you guys should go to prison and find out for your self what is prison about for real and stop your stupid coments all you bunch of rumorers

Anthony @ 12/27/2014 10:15 AM

Jail & Prison is a whole different planet and life style. Either get with the program or get checked, get your 13-seconds, or get green lighted. When you're a fish on the inside you better learn quick, stay strong, hold your tongue, sit on your feelings, earn respect. Most of all take the time to build a relationship with God while learning the Bible. Remember no one... no one does prison alone.

L Robles @ 1/14/2016 12:55 PM


loula @ 2/5/2016 10:14 AM

It's funny to me that people think that the prison code is somehow harsh but in truth it would make the world a better place if people lived and died by these rules.
The reality is that in prison you are exactly who you are (the deep down you, the you at your worst).

As they say, it takes one to know one.There's nothing to hide behind in prison. You can't be a closeted bigot, molester, or stand for weak minded morals.
I'm tired of people out here claiming to have morality and loyalty or claim to be citizens of this country. If you don't vote you're your voice isn't heard therefore not a part of the democracy. If, what you claim to stand for isn't worth dying for than why stand at all. I don't want to hear you've got my back, go into battle and find you you've retreated (or worse committed treason)

I am a 39 year old "white" woman and I've never even been to jail and I get it, why can't you?

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