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La Pinta

La Pinta
Chicana/o Prisoner Literature, Culture, and Politics

The first scholarly study of the interplay between Chicana/o prisoner culture and political activism from the nineteenth century to the present.

January 2010
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336 pages | 6 x 9 | 31 b&w illus. |

In this groundbreaking study based on archival research about Chicana and Chicano prisoners—known as Pintas and Pintos—as well as fresh interpretations of works by renowned Pinta and Pinto authors and activists, B. V. Olguín provides crucial insights into the central roles that incarceration and the incarcerated have played in the evolution of Chicana/o history, cultural paradigms, and oppositional political praxis.

This is the first text on prisoners in general, and Chicana/o and Latina/o prisoners in particular, that provides a range of case studies from the nineteenth century to the present. Olguín places multiple approaches in dialogue through the pairing of representational figures in the history of Chicana/o incarceration with specific themes and topics. Case studies on the first nineteenth-century Chicana prisoner in San Quentin State Prison, Modesta Avila; renowned late-twentieth-century Chicano poets Raúl Salinas, Ricardo Sánchez, and Jimmy Santiago Baca; lesser-known Chicana pinta and author Judy Lucero; and infamous Chicano drug baron and social bandit Fred Gómez Carrasco are aligned with themes from popular culture such as prisoner tattoo art and handkerchief art, Hollywood Chicana/o gangxploitation and the prisoner film American Me, and prisoner education projects.

Olguín provides a refreshing critical interrogation of Chicana/o subaltern agency, which too often is celebrated as unambiguously resistant and oppositional. As such, this study challenges long-held presumptions about Chicana/o cultures of resistance and proposes important explorations of the complex and contradictory relationship between Chicana/o agency and ideology.


NACCS Book Award: Honorable Mention

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. La Pinta: History, Culture, and Ideology in Chicana/o Convict Discourse
  • Part One: Land and Liberty
    • Chapter 1. Toward a Materialist History of Chicana/o Criminality: Modesta Avila as Paradigmatic Pinta
    • Chapter 2. Chicana/o Archetypes: Jimmy Santiago Baca and the Pinto Picaresque
  • Part Two: Embodied Discourses
    • Chapter 3. Declamatory Pinto Poetry: The Masculinist Poetics and Materialist Politics of Ricardo Sánchez's Poesía de Chingazos
    • Chapter 4. The Pinto Political Unconscious: Tattoos, Abjection, and Agency in Raúl Salinas's Convict Body Altars
  • Part Three: Crime and Commodification
    • Chapter 5. Hollywood Placas: Semiotics, Spectatorship, and Ideology in American Me
    • Chapter 6. The Pinto as Palimpsest: Fred Gómez Carrasco and the South Texas Culture Wars
  • Part Four: Storming the Tower
    • Chapter 7. Judy Lucero's Gynocritical Prison Poetics and Materialist Chicana Politics
    • Chapter 8. Writing Resistance? Academic Institutions, Ideology, and "Prison Work"
  • Conclusion. Pintos, Human Rights Regimes, and a New Paradigm for U.S. Prisoner Rights Activism
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

B. V. Olguín is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is a poet and co-translator, with Omar Vasquez Barboza, of Cantos de Adolescencia/Songs of Youth by Américo Paredes.


This is personal. A fight is always personal. It is also political. Too many people I know, and millions of people I do not know, have endured much worse than my own encounters with corrupt and brutal police, lawyers, jailers, and judges for me to engage in an exercise of scholarly revenge. Someone is in prison tonight and will be tomorrow, and they need our solidarity.


While this is, fundamentally, a scholarly book, the indictments and insights are culled from experience: incessant police harassment of me and friends in the lower east-side Houston barrio of Magnolia for suspicion of one thing or another; a father beaten by White cops in Fort Worth for having a photograph of a White girlfriend in his wallet; women relatives subject to double standards and domestic violence who found the courage to fight back and rebuild lives for themselves and their children; uncles caught in the crimes of poverty who served time with convict intellectuals who became famous behind the walls and beyond; personal friends and mentors who turned a life of crime into revolutionary praxis.


Yet I cannot, nor do I wish to, simplistically celebrate any and all criminal acts. Rather, I seek to historicize the racialized and gendered nature of criminalization in the United States, and the broader effect this exercise of juridical power has on extended families and communities, specifically my own Chicana/o community. I seek to responsibly map the constructions of Chicana/o criminality, from the petty to the pathological, to the immanently as well as maturely revolutionary. My overarching goal is to situate Chicana/o criminality in relation to broader constructions of crime and the exercise of punishment in the broad history of U.S. imperialism. I also seek to humanize prisoners even as I critique them alongside the political economy that often overdetermines their crimes and, even more so, their punishment.


This book is an attempt to examine the construction of crime as an organizing principle for society, and, as such, to some this very book itself will seem criminal. At a time when civil liberties and the essential humanity of dark brown men and women are under siege yet again—this time Muslims—any attempt to critique institutions of power is seen as aberrant. I want to be this type of deviant. At the same time, this book represents many negotiations of power and privilege. I am, after all, a college professor.


This textual performance of privilege nevertheless has come at a heavy price. My refusal to compromise on the integrity of the stories, and my active solidarity with the people who are the focus of this study have led to attacks on me in the otherwise privileged academic institution where I earn a relatively comfortable living. I dared to treat the voices of dark people as legitimate, and subsequently was marked as an illegitimate academic by Euro-centric and outright racist colleagues. This book's decade-long publication delay was in large part due to persistent racist attacks and retribution by most of my White colleagues in the Department of English, Classics, and Philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Those who were silent in the face of the persecution and differential treatment of me and other minorities are equally complicit. J'accuse!


Indeed, if this book has any value at all, it arises from my attempt to attack institutions and the complex processes of institutionalization that render otherwise decent people complicit in abusive power relations. Yet this study is not just about bigotry. It is about boys and girls, men and women, and also legions of elders who have learned about themselves and, more importantly, about the true nature of our society by enduring its prisons. This is about them, and it is an attempt to learn from them.


Still, as a book, it certainly is not enough of an intervention to disrupt the prison industrial complex to the degree necessary for us to herald a new order. After all, it is just a book. In many respects, this study is overly textual and burdened by academic jargon and esoteric vocabulary. I did my best to make it accessible to the people on whom it is based, many of whom have not had the opportunity of a college education, but I felt compelled to use the tools of vocabulary necessary for the issues and concepts at hand. Sometimes a hammer is called for; other times a sickle is the best tool for the job. I nevertheless apologize for being didactic and elitist in my language.


This is a book about people who ran, fought, spoke back, and wrote against attempts to contain, occupy, and oppress them. It is about criminalized people who became something else in the balance of the doing and the writing. There are murderers and sadists, but also bandits and sediciosos, hustlers and true Pinta and Pinto revolutionaries. Some I am happy never to have met. Yet I also count myself honored to have had the opportunity to know and write about some of the most brilliant and righteous rebels this world has ever known. May we all continue to transgress against injustice. ¡Hasta la victoria, siempre!

The production of the terrorist as a figure in the American imaginary reflects vestiges of previous moral panics as well, including those instigated by the mass fear of the criminal and the communist. Willie Horton is the most dramatic example of the former. Anti-communism successfully mobilized national—perhaps I should say nationalist—anxieties, as does the so-called war on terrorism today. None of these figures are entirely new, although the emphasis has been different at different historical conjunctures.

Angela Davis (2005)


I. Crime, Terrorism, and the War on Dark Brown Men


The spectacular September 11, 2001, attacks on the principal symbols of U.S. economic and military might in New York City and Washington, D.C., are transforming U.S. society like no other time in history. Yet some of the ongoing transformations were foreseen by critics of the draconian 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, who warned against the erosion of civil liberties—especially for ethnic and racial minorities—under the guise of yet another war on crime that extended and intensified former President Reagan's "war on drugs" in the 1980s and former President Nixon's "crusade against crime" in the 1960s. The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill dedicated over $28 billion for law enforcement, including increased prison construction, fifty thousand new police officers, an expanded list of death penalty offenses, a circumscribed death row appeals process, and mandatory sentencing guidelines for select offenses. Ironically, the war on terror—ostensibly inaugurated to combat international terrorism—has had an even more severe impact on domestic law enforcement than the Omnibus Crime Bill. In the relatively short time since the September 11 attacks, the country has been transformed into a carceral apparatus by the 2002 passage of the "USA PATRIOT ACT" (the Orwellian acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") and subsequent PATRIOT ACT II as well as the 2006 Military Commissions Act. These laws collectively curtail constitutional freedoms of speech, association, and information; infringe on constitutional rights to legal representation, a timely public trial, and protection from unreasonable searches; and allow for the use of extrajudicial imprisonment and secret military tribunals for citizens and noncitizens accused of aiding or abetting terrorism. PATRIOT ACT II initially included provisions that made it easier for law enforcement surveillance and even allowed for review of a person's library book-use record. These initiatives were complemented by the establishment of the Information Awareness Office, charged with collecting and processing surveillance data in search of potential threats to U.S. security. Its inaugural motto was "scientia est potentia," or "knowledge is power," and its logo featured an all-seeing eye atop a pyramid spying upon the figure of a globe in the foreground; it was later changed following public outcry over its totalitarian overtones. Worse, within a year of the September 11 attacks, a new office—the Terrorism Intelligence Prevention System, or TIPS—was created to serve as a nationwide surveillance network that effectively would have deputized civil servants and ordinary citizens as domestic spies. The plan was to have neighbors watching neighbors.


Under the USA PATRIOT ACT I and II, as well as related 2006 legislation extending their provisions, anyone in the United States or abroad is susceptible to government surveillance, arrest, interrogation, and indefinite detention without legal representation or access to U.S. or international courts. Predictably, in the first year after the September 11 attacks, more than a thousand "foreigners" studying or working in the United States—primarily Arab, South Asian, and African Muslim males—had been detained and held incommunicado in U.S. prisons. Most of the detainees were arrested on visa violations but later were imprisoned under suspicion of having terrorist links. The U.S. Department of Justice, which conducts the detentions through its various subordinate agencies, refuses to release the names of most past and current detainees, and also occludes details surrounding their alleged offenses from the public, legal representatives, and even detainee family members. In the first two years of this pogrom, at least fourteen U.S. citizens were caught in the dragnet and detained in civilian prisons and military brigs with limited or no access to legal representation. All but one were racial minorities. The demographics of this subversion of habeas corpus—a foundational U.S. legal right guaranteeing a defendant access to the courts—not only confirms that the country is at war, but also reveals how the country's leaders initially constructed this war as a battle against a perceived "enemy within": he is a home-grown (or immigrant) "religious radical" who is overdetermined by law enforcement practices and mass media reportage as a Muslim male with dark brown skin.


The racial and religious profile of this twenty-first-century villain demands a broader meditation on racialized constructions of difference in the history of crime and punishment in the United States. Indeed, September 11 introduced not only a new enemy—the dark-skinned Muslim male—but a new way of understanding the old racial minority "menace to society" who, historically, has been figured as a Black male and/or, with increasing frequency, a Latino male. Today, the two villains—the international and the domestic—have become indistinguishable. The convergence of the new specter in the war on terrorism and the old antagonist from four decades of the wars on crime is underscored by the differential treatment of U.S. citizens detained and classified as "enemy combatants" for their alleged membership in al-Qaida, the organization that the U.S. government holds responsible for the September 11 attacks. This new classification is unique in U.S. jurisprudence because it situates its designee in the interstices of domestic and international law. An enemy combatant is denied access to U.S. courts and international tribunals precisely because they are American citizens accused of engaging in or planning bellicose actions against U.S. civilian or military targets. They are enemies of the United States, yet have no formal nation-state patron, which would make them eligible for international protection. An "enemy combatant" is distinct from an "unlawful combatant," who is a foreigner charged with engaging in combat for a third party that is not recognized as a legitimate combatant by the U.S. government. (The U.S. detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the broader war on terror that spans the globe, have been classified as "unlawful combatants" as well as "enemy combatants" and denied legal representation, even though most nations throughout the world—including U.S. allies Britain and France—maintain they should be eligible for international protections as guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions. In response to this worldwide outcry, new U.S. president Barack Obama issued an executive order on January 22, 2009, closing all U.S. prisons in foreign territory and also ordered a hearing on the legal status of detainees previously classified as "enemy combatants." However, while he pledges to discontinue the use of this category, President Obama still has not eliminated the practice of "extraordinary rendition" by which these formerly classified "enemy combatants" are hunted, captured, and transported to a third country for unrestricted interrogation, which includes the possibility of torture.) Regardless of their new classification, the treatment afforded these detainees continues to be distinct from that of prisoners of war, who are afforded the rights outlined by the Geneva Conventions and have access to legal defense by military attorneys. Even a person charged with sedition or espionage is allowed access to legal representation. Guantanamo Bay detainees, on the other hand, exist in a legal limbo as new "anti-citizens" of the world.


The fourteen U.S. citizens detained as enemy combatants in the first two years following the September 11 attacks came from vastly different ethnic backgrounds: Arab, East Asian, African, African American, (mixed-race) Latina/o, and even one White American. They also included one woman, the African American wife of an accused al-Qaida cell leader in Oregon. Rather than diversify the image of the new twenty-first-century menace to society, however, the circumstances surrounding the detention and prosecution of these U.S. (anti)citizens further reinforces the prejudicial racialization of this new antithetical American. John Walker Lindh is a case in point. Born into a White upper-middle-class family in upscale Marin County north of San Francisco, Lindh was captured in combat against U.S. troops in Afghanistan in December 2001. Despite being classified as an enemy combatant, Lindh gained access to a federal court in San Francisco with the assistance of his father, a wealthy corporate attorney. After accepting a plea bargain that enabled him to escape a possible death sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to lesser crimes than the initial charge of terrorism, the younger Lindh apologized for his actions and pledged to help the government capture his former al-Qaida colleagues. (Hearst Washington Bureau reporter Stewart M. Powell [2002] suggests that Lindh may have provided information to federal investigators that led to the arrest of six Yemeni Americans, all of whom received training at the same time as Lindh in a base in Afghanistan and therefore could be visually identified by Lindh.) Initially denigrated as a traitor in U.S. media reports, which dubbed him "Jihad Johnny" and "Johnny Taliban," Lindh symbolically reclaimed his White American identity by turning on his darker former allies and affirming "I love America" before a judge sentenced him to twenty years in prison, with the possibility of parole and early release for "good behavior."


In contrast, Yasser Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana to Saudi Arabian parents during his father's employment in the oil industry, was held incommunicado for three years in a U.S. Navy brig in Norfolk, Virginia, after his capture in the same Mazar al-Sharif battle against U.S.-supported Afghan troops in which Lindh participated. Hamdi was released in 2005 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld (2005) against the government's right to hold enemy combatants indefinitely and incommunicado. The aforementioned six Yemeni Americans arrested in New York City in September 2002, along with four African Americans and one Saudi Arabian American arrested in October 2002, also remained in detention without access to legal representation or a courtroom hearing for over two years. Puerto Rican José Padilla—an ex-convict and reputed former gang member born in New York City and raised in a low-income Latina/o neighborhood in Chicago—was another U.S. citizen charged and detained as an enemy combatant. Several years after converting to Islam during a prison stint in Florida, Padilla was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002, on suspicion that he was scouting targets for a uranium-loaded "dirty bomb" attack on U.S. territory. Padilla was held incommunicado in a military brig for over four years. The U.S. government avoided the application of Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld by applying new charges to Padilla. He was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment under domestic criminal statutes in 2008, with the potential for an enemy combatant war crimes trial still lingering.


These detentions suggest that not all enemy combatants are created equal. Indeed, while all the detained enemy combatants are Muslims, the only one who gained expedient and full access to federal civilian courts (without the threat of summary expulsion from the country) is a White American male. Furthermore, less than a month after Lindh's classification as an enemy combatant was superceded by his conviction and sentence in a civilian court, the classification of the remaining racial minority enemy combatants was upheld by a secret tribunal of federal judges and subsequently ratified in January 2003 by President George W. Bush. But this should come as no surprise. As critical race and legal studies scholars have long argued, both formal and informal legal practices in the United States are undergirded by prejudice against racial minorities. Data by the Sentencing Project, an independent criminal justice policy institute that advocates alternatives to mass incarceration in the United States, confirm that minorities, especially Black males, continue to receive prejudicial treatment from the police, courts, and prison officials. The classification, extended detention, and differential judicial treatment of twelve racial minority males, and the African American wife of one of them, as enemy combatants is significant because it illustrates that race—further "darkened" by a religion deemed by some to be "foreign"—continues to undergird the construction of abjection in the United States. In the U.S. war on terrorism, the quintessential, viscerally repulsive anti-citizen is an American with dark brown skin. As Angela Davis notes in the epigraph to this introduction, U.S. government foreign policy at the turn of the twenty-first century has rendered the local neighborhood, dark brown, American male into a villain of global proportions.


This convergence of the racialized domestic criminal of the war on crime with the new anti-American terrorist is enabled by the alarmist and racially coded reportage that has accompanied the detention of enemy combatants who are ethnic and racial minorities, especially Padilla. Following former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft's initial proclamation that Padilla was a "dangerous terrorist," journalist Dan Freedman's syndicated report, ominously titled "Prison system could be terror breeding ground," added that the recent arrest of ex-convict Padilla "could be evidence that prison systems here and overseas have become inadvertent breeding grounds for militant Islamic terrorists" (2002: A19). Freedman cites Charles Colson, an aid to former president Richard Nixon, and the architect of the inaugural war on crime in the 1960s. (Colson later served a prison sentence for his role in the Watergate cover-up, and upon his release he founded the nonprofit evangelical Christian organization Prison Fellowship, which targets prisoners for conversion.) Colson observes "alienated, disenfranchised people are prime targets for radical Islamists who preach a religion of violence, of overcoming oppression by Jihad" (2002: A27). After noting the growing numbers of disenfranchised racial minorities in prison, Colson warns that "it's no accident that Islam's influence is growing behind bars" (2002: A27). While Colson's alarmist report carries problematic racial and religious overtones, it does coincide with statistics indicating that Latina/os are the fastest growing population of Muslims. Hisham Aidi (2002: n.p.) suggests that this trend may be as much a political phenomenon as a religious one: "by embracing Islam, previously invisible, inaudible, and disaffected individuals gain a sense of identity and belonging to what they perceive as an organized, militant, and glorious civilization that the West takes very seriously." Aidi cites a Chicano ex-convict convert to Islam, who extends the political linkages: "the Palestinians had their homeland stolen and were oppressed in much the same way as Mexicans" (2002: n.p.).


Regardless of their varied ideological trajectories, such mass media reports accentuate the abjection of the U.S. prisoner population by invoking a neo-crusade discourse that pits the Christian West against a potentially expanding Islamic East—all of which is purportedly taking place within the borders of the United States. In the wake of September 11 attacks, the specter of the criminal masses reproducing their abjection in U.S. prisons is not just a domestic crisis; it has become a matter of national security. However hyperbolic this representation of a mass uprising of prisoners-cum-Islamic terrorists may be, it nonetheless foregrounds how domestic law enforcement practices and U.S. foreign policy have begun to converge at the site of the penitentiary. In fact, under provisions of the PATRIOT ACT, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the government agency responsible for compiling national crime data, is now under the purview of the same office responsible for fighting the new war on terror: the Office of Homeland Security.


The coup de grace in this linkage of the war on crime, the war on terror, and the American penitentiary appears in a June 24, 2002, Time magazine feature by Amanda Ripley titled "The Case of the Dirty Bomber: How a Chicago Street Gangster Allegedly Became a Soldier for Osama Bin Laden." The article is introduced by a full-page close-up of Padilla's darkened face framed by a checkered red and white kaffiyeh, enlarged from a photograph of him outside a Florida mosque.


The semiotics of this layout become even more significant given that editors of The New Republic, the purportedly liberal alternative to Time, admitted darkening Saddam Hussein's complexion and cropping his mustache (reminiscent of Hitler's) during the first Gulf War to make him appear more ominous. Time's photo of Padilla as a dark Muslim male "international terrorist" is framed by a smaller black-and-white mug shot of Padilla from a previous stint in jail after being convicted for firing a gun in a "road rage" incident. The substance of the story revolves around Padilla's evolution from petty thief to prisoner to alleged international terrorist:


It must have been one of Jose Padilla's proudest moments. He had spent his life chasing respect but rarely earning it—marking a dreary passage from a Chicago gang to juvenile detention to grownup prison to a Florida fast-food job and, finally, to a new life as a Muslim in the Middle East. (Ripley 2002: 28)


Described as "unsophisticated" and even "ordinary," Padilla becomes a metonym for a new type of domestic-cum-international enemy: he could be as recognizable as a neighbor, yet his willingness "to kill his fellow citizens" with a nuclear weapon situates him beyond the pale of human decency. The term "dirty" thus not only serves as an adjective that describes the type of bomb Padilla is accused of preparing, but also modifies the noun "bomber." It identifies Padilla as a distinctly different type of dark and dirty American who is a danger to us all. He, in effect, is a postmodern permutation of the Latino bandido: the terrorist next door.


Bandidos and Terrorists, or Insurgents and Revolutionaries?


The post-September 11 linkage of Latina/o criminality to international terrorism is not new. There are historical antecedents dating to the early nineteenth century in which Latin American and U.S. Latina/o anti-imperialist insurgents were classified as common criminals, international terrorists, and sometimes both simultaneously. In Prisoners of Colonialism: The Struggle for Justice in Puerto Rico (1994), Ronald Fernandez provides extensive case studies of imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists and insurgents, or independentistas, from the early twentieth century to the present. He demonstrates how each falls under the rubric of the United Nations definition of legitimate anticolonial "freedom fighters," despite the U.S. government's classification and prosecution of them as "terrorists." "It must be recognized," Fernandez writes, "that the label terrorist is as much a political term as it is a characterization of groups who violate internationally accepted moral and legal norms" (201). The prosecution and detention of independentistas as terrorists has enabled the U.S. government to obfuscate its neocolonial relationship with the island nation of Puerto Rico, a reality underscored by the fact that Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, cannot vote in federal elections unless they permanently reside in the continental United States. The ambiguous status of Puerto Rican prisoners was further complicated by the Special International Tribunal on the Human Rights Violations of Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, held in New York in 1990, which recognized the political and military status of more than a dozen Puerto Rican prisoners who had been incarcerated since the 1980s; former president Bill Clinton pardoned and released most of them in 1999. A political prisoner, this tribunal noted, includes: (1) someone who has been imprisoned for overt political acts, or (2) someone already in prison for "common crimes" who subsequently is subjected to retribution for their political activities in prison. While this does not necessarily render all Puerto Rican and Latina/o detainees as political prisoners or prisoners of war, it raises the possibility of their development as such.


This reassessment of the nomenclature of criminology and penology has a salient resonance for Chicana/os, whose histories of crime and punishment share significant colonial legacies with Puerto Ricans despite distinct contemporary trajectories. Indeed, members of both groups became U.S. citizens (or residents) as a result of U.S. imperialist wars of conquest. In Gringo Justice (1987), Alfredo Mirandé provides a diachronic examination of primarily male nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mexican American and Chicana/o criminality to argue that their outlaw conduct must be historicized in relation to the disruption of the "pastoral economy" and attendant communitarian "world view" that followed the U.S. occupation and annexation of the Mexican northeast at the end of the U.S.-Mexico War in 1848. He argues that "Chicanos have been labeled bandits and criminals because they have not passively accepted their economic and political exploitation" (236). For Mirandé, Chicana/o criminality is always anticolonial agency, and all past and present Chicana/o prisoners are a priori political prisoners because of their status as colonial subjects.


Mirandé's linkage of nineteenth-century vigilantes Tiburcio Vásquez and Joaquin Murrieta with nationalist insurgents Juan Cortina and Catarino Garza—as well as members of modern prison-based drug cartels, the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia (Our Family), and even ordinary street gangs—could be seen as nostalgic cultural-nationalist dogma. However, Mirandé's analysis remains useful for understanding the volatile political context of U.S. prisons in the 1970s, an era renowned for its prison uprisings. The competing characterizations of these prison rebellions as lawless or revolutionary is the subject of much debate. Yet no one disputes that many of the racial minority participants in these events were informed by the various domestic "power" movements and by third world liberation struggles outside the walls that, to a large degree, deemed the disproportionately high racial minority incarceration rates as symptoms of colonial oppression.


Mirandé's examination of the political status of Chicana/o prisoners even intersects with some government assessments of minority criminality, and together they raise important questions about crime and punishment in the United States that provide new opportunities for theorizing racial minority criminality. In a special California state legislative session on "Gang Violence in Penal Institutions" held in Los Angeles on March 15, 1974, for instance, witnesses reported that gangs in prisons run by the California Department of Corrections were "connected with revolutionary groups and are concentrating on the recruitment of inmates for radical purposes" (4). More alarming to these California state senators was the existence of Venceremos (which roughly translates as "we will win"), a Chicano-led prison group described as "a Third World revolutionary organization whose goal is to unite all prison gangs" (6). Its "Principles of Unity," which was read into the official record, proclaims:


We are a small organization in the embryonic stages of a protracted war, waged by the peoples of the world, against a monstrous enemy. We have no long history with mounds of experience to speak from, but the significance of Venceremos is that it is a multi-national organization, collectively engaged in day-to-day practice and struggles. (83)


Venceremos, whose rank-and-file membership was largely Chicano and racial minority, is described as being particularly dangerous, and not merely for its alleged links to groups such as the American Indian Movement, Mexican Mafia, Black Liberation Army, Black Guerrilla Family, the Weathermen, and the ominously named Vanguard Suicide Squad. Venceremos is described as an imminent threat to the state and nation at large for its efforts to recruit membership from all "minority" groups, including "poor whites," "females," and even high school students (86). More threatening was the fact that Venceremos drew its membership from prisoners incarcerated for "common crimes," and theorized crime as a symptom of the a priori disenfranchisement, marginalization, and outright oppression experienced by the poor of all races, especially Chicana/os, Blacks, and women in general, all of whom they sought to organize into an insurgent army.


The California state legislature's alarmist characterization of this small prison group suspiciously coincided with the rise of a very profitable prison construction boom, which raises questions about potential ulterior motives. This hearing is especially suspicious since Venceremos apparently had become defunct several years before the proceedings. These facts notwithstanding, this report posits the radical potential—and also the persistent ambiguity—surrounding the definition of criminality in the United States, and especially Chicana/o criminality. In the California Senate testimony report, the Chicano prisoner leadership of Venceremos serves as a scapegoat (and economic opportunity) for capitalist profiteers at the dawn of the prison-industrial complex, while simultaneously functioning as an immanent challenge to a capitalist economy that relies on a surplus, permanently unemployable, criminal-cum-prisoner population. This is not to say that Venceremos, as well as the dozens of other multiracial and Chicana/o prisoner organizations, did not pose a significant challenge to the racist, sexist, capitalist status quo. Alán Eladio Gómez (2006a, 2006b) and Louis Mendoza (2006) have presented concrete evidence of Chicana/o participation in prisoner revolutionary consciousness-raising activities, insurrections, and coordinated linkages to "freeworld" revolutionary organizations and political parties.


The liminal yet highly politicized nature of Chicana/o criminality is illustrated by Alvaro Hernandez Luna, who is classified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as a convicted murderer but recognized by grassroots and international nongovernmental organizations as a Chicano political prisoner. Beginning with an arrest as a youth for burning the police cars of abusive White officers in his hometown of Alpine, Texas, he later was convicted as an adult for a triple murder he claims he did not commit and served over a decade in the Texas Department of Corrections. While incarcerated, Hernandez Luna founded a Chicana/o cultural nationalist organization, the National Movement of La Raza, and used his considerable rhetorical and artistic skills to form alliances with various student, civil rights, and even revolutionary organizations in prison and out. He subsequently was accused of being a member of the Mexican Mafia and subjected to extrajudicial punishment that included solitary confinement and physical attacks by guards. With the assistance of community activists, he nonetheless succeeded in his effort to gain parole in 1990. He was incarcerated anew in 1996 after being involved in a shootout with the same Alpine Police officers who had participated in his earlier persecution. These police confronted him during a visit to his mother's home in Alpine and sought to arrest him, with charges never specified. As he withdrew into the house, the police began firing at him and accidentally inflicted a nonlethal wound on their own sheriff. Hernandez Luna was subsequently charged with attempted murder of a "peace" officer. Prior to his 1996 reincarceration, Hernandez Luna was one of two Chicanos recognized as political prisoners by the Special International Tribunal on the Human Rights Violations of Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, and he continues to be recognized as such. There is now an Alvaro Hernandez Defense Committee.


Hernandez Luna's early life, criminal case history, prison transformation, and continuing persecution thus complicate the conventional image of Chicana/o and other racial minority criminals and prisoners, which has been largely shaped by the proliferation of prime time television crime programming and media saturation coverage of notorious figures throughout U.S. history. One contemporary subject of this legacy of sensationalist media coverage is Ramsey Muniz, the former Raza Unida Texas gubernatorial candidate convicted of drug smuggling in 1976 on dubious charges. Another is Richard Herrin, the Los Angeles barrio boy who murdered his White girlfriend in a fit of rage while both were students at Yale University, and who later became the subject of a true crime bestseller. Herrin is often compared to José Razo, the Los Angeles Chicano Harvard undergraduate who committed a string of armed robberies during visits home from school in the 1980s. They both have become, as one headline noted, "proof" that affirmative action is a "danger" to the country. Richard Ramirez, the infamous Los Angeles "Night Stalker" who committed a string of rapes and murders, serves as the quintessential Chicano villain, and his courtroom flash of a palm tattooed with a satanic pentagram remains an enduring and recurring image in popular television, print, and Internet accounts of "criminal monsters." Moreover, violent turf wars by prison-based gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, and the Texas Syndicate, as well as spectacular shootouts by drug cartels on both sides of the Texas-Mexican border, frequently are represented in mainstream media as "confirmation" that the nation is under a state of siege from "Latino terrorists."


This mass media fetish on Latino, and especially Chicano, criminals-cum-potential terrorists is especially evident in the sensationalist coverage of Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz, an unemployed thirty-seven-year-old Mexican American who made front-page headlines after his April 14, 1972, hijacking of a U.S. jetliner from New Mexico to Los Angeles. But Chávez-Ortiz's stated motives complicate the mass media fetish. Wearing the pilot's cap and waving a pistol from the cockpit of his commandeered jetliner, Chávez-Ortiz demanded airtime on two Spanish-language radio stations, from which he delivered a thirty-four-minute speech decrying the discriminatory treatment of "Mexican Americans and poor people everywhere."


Chávez-Ortiz became a cause célèbre in the Chicana/o community, which raised his bail of $300,000 in an initiative lead by CASA (Centros de Acción Social Autónomo [Centers for Autonomous Social Action]), a Marxist-Leninist immigrant rights organization that also set up defense committees for other Chicano political prisoners throughout the 1970s. In fact, such mass media preoccupation with purportedly drug addicted, diabolic, or "mentally disturbed" Chicano criminals also produces profound slippage that ultimately undermines itself: as revealed by the Chávez-Ortiz coverage and attendant mass mobilization for his defense, Chicana/o criminality—a "terrorist" airplane hijacking, no less!—can also be a catalyst for multiracial alliances, anticapitalist diatribe, and even insurrection.


Towards a Critical Chicana/o Criminology and Penology


Despite the complicated legacy of these and other Chicana/o "criminals," Chicana/o criminality, along with various representations of it, have been grossly undertheorized. Even though social scientists have long debunked the eugenicist impulse that inaugurates criminology in the late nineteenth century, many contemporary attempts to theorize Chicana/o criminality have inadvertently replicated racial binaries. Foundational studies of Chicana/o history such as Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004); Américo Paredes's With His Pistol in His Hand: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958); Julian Samora, Joe Bernal, and Albert Peña's Gunpowder Justice: A Reassessment of the Texas Rangers (1979); and Mirandé's aforementioned Gringo Justice (1987)—as well as related cultural nationalist studies such as Pedro Castillo and Albert Camarillo's Furia y muerte: Los bandidos Chicanos (Rage and death: Chicano bandits) (1973)—all propose Chicano (and no Chicana) fugitives and prisoners as modern permutations of Eric Hobsbawm's "social bandits." For these scholars, early Chicano lawbreakers were populist rebels fighting against prejudice, exploitation, and the unjust political order established during the U.S. imperialist occupation of northeast Mexico. Despite necessary and incisive critiques of the colonial context and racist exercise of police and judicial authority in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, these studies ultimately fail to examine the more common and controversial forms of criminality such as rape, murder and violent nonproperty offenses, which occur with alarming frequency among all demographic groups, including Chicana/os. These early Chicana/o historiography and criminology studies also neglect to provide a more candid assessment of the ideological limitations of social banditry, populist rebellions, and nationalist insurgencies. Hobsbawm himself observed that "social banditry, a universal and virtually unchanging phenomenon, is little more than endemic peasant protest against oppression and poverty: a cry for vengeance on the rich and the oppressors, a vague dream, of some curb upon them" (1969: 5). Social bandits are populist champions of the peasantry who emerge at times of intense pressure on their traditional life and economy. Hobsbawm situates them between common thieves, whom he characterizes as individualist opportunists, and revolutionaries who seek to transform an entire political economic order instead of simply seeking redress and reform.


These foundational studies in Chicana/o historiography and criminology also fail to differentiate the many types of criminal acts or provide a convincing general theory of Chicana/o criminality. Nor do they account for the reification of the Chicana/o lumpen segment for whom crime—from common property offenses to various types of vice and crimes of violence—forms an integral component of prisoner subcultures. These crime-based subcultures are not always empowering and, to be honest, rarely revolutionary. On the contrary, crime-as-subaltern agency can be as repressive as, and integral to, colonial domination. Frederick D. Homer (1984), a proponent of the state terrorism studies movement, notes how law enforcement neglect of minority-on-minority crime is part of a broader network of containment practices that limit the threat to middle-class, primarily White, Americans in stratified capitalist societies. He adds that the deliberate use of a containment policy is constitutive of government terror on the poor, who are disproportionately racial minorities. Crime, that is, can also be counter-revolutionary.


An alternative and growing body of literature about Chicana/o criminality has sought to explore the complex historical material context of crime as well as the equally complicated relationship between crime and incarceration in the articulation of new Chicana/o subjectivities. James Diego Vigil's Barrio Gangs: Street Life and Identity in Southern California (1988), a multigenerational survey of Chicana/o youth delinquency and gang activity as "a partial substitute for family" and identity formation in Los Angeles in the 1980s (12), is one of the most important contributions to this growing field. So, too, is Marie Keta Miranda's Homegirls in the Public Sphere (2003), which explores the highly gendered inflections of power in Chicana barrio kinship networks that function as organic feminist self-help organizations. Vigil's and Miranda's research was preceded by Joan Moore's Homeboys: Gangs, Drugs, and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles (1978) and subsequent follow-up study (Going Down to the Barrio [1991]). Moore's research is noteworthy for her collaboration with Chicana/o gang members and prisoners pursuant to collective explications of the contexts and contours of Chicana/o criminality. Martín Sánchez-Jankowski's Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society (1991) draws on field research with Irish, African American, Puerto Rican, Chicana/o, Dominican, Jamaican, and Central American members of thirty-seven gangs in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston in the late 1980s to argue that gang structures, and even illicit gang activity, essentially are "criminalized" vernacular analogues to modern American capitalism (312). Despite their different methodologies, these scholars collectively mark a profound shift in Chicana/o criminology away from nostalgic cultural nationalist diatribe, towards complex historical materialist analyses that have begun to map in-group conflicts and contradictions.


Moore's collaboration with the Chicano Pinto Research Project in the 1970s, based in Los Angeles (and later expanded to northern California), inaugurates Chicana/o penology. Her research is particularly significant because it recognizes the uniqueness of Chicana/o prisoner life and culture, even if her study only offers a preliminary assessment of the contours of this culture. Moore also collaborated with Chicana/o prisoners in developing alternative policy recommendations based on (primarily male) Chicano prisoner self-help organizational models that further distinguish her work from standard, detached sociological studies. Contemporaneous with, but separate from, this initiative, R. Theodore Davidson's Chicano Prisoners: The Key to San Quentin (1974) represents the first sustained study of Chicano life inside prison. Davidson's case study of Chicanos behind bars in San Quentin Prison in the 1970s provides a useful introduction to the vast prisoner lexicon and the attendant social values in Chicano prisoner culture. Davidson's emphasis on Chicano prisoner sexual mores and traffic in contraband, however, tends to pathologize this subgroup. He also privileges male prisoners and therefore is limited in his ability to provide comprehensive assessments of Chicana/o prisoner cultures. Even more troubling is Davidson's explicit admission that his research was conducted with prison administration support in exchange for a pledge to inform the warden if he discovered "that the prisoners were going to destroy the prison in some manner" (1). In her exploration of the disciplinary linkages between the academy and the penitentiary, Barbara Harlow critiques Davidson's pledge as a "complicit compromise" that enabled the prison administration to usurp his research (1992: 25).


As Harlow notes, academic complicity and the ever-present threat of co-optation by carceral regimes have transformed Chicana/o criminology and penology into a field wrought with contradictions, controversies, and conflict. It would be an overstatement to suggest a binary division, yet current scholarship illustrates a bifurcation. On one hand, there are studies apparently driven by less altruistic motives that fetishize prisoners and prisoner culture within preexisting (and, in some cases, neo-eugenicist) theoretical, cultural, and political agendas. Other scholars are inspired by an activist impulse to influence policy in solidarity with the populations from which most prisoners emerge. Prime examples of the latter include Yvette Flores-Ortiz's case studies mapping the social geography of Chicana incarceration patterns. In "Pintas: Policy Implications of Chicana Inmates" (1995a), she summarizes data from personal interviews with Chicana prisoners, all of whom report sexual abuse as girls and young women, and also domestic abuse as adults, to demonstrate that the incarceration of Chicanas oftentimes is presaged by their own victimization by men. She militates for alternative treatment programs, sentencing practices, and other forms of statutory and community interventions. Juanita Díaz-Cotto further substantiates Chicana claims of systematic abuse in her collection of testimonios and sociological analysis, Chicana Lives and Criminal Justice: Voices from El Barrio (2006). She also maps the cross-racial and highly gendered inter-institutional prisoner agency in her preceding work, Gender, Ethnicity, and the State: Latina and Latino Prison Politics (1996). Díaz-Cotto's research shifts attention from a pathological model of prisoners towards an assessment of the material context, cultural specificity, and political significance of Latina and Latino prisoner agency in the highly nuanced settings of male and female prisons.


Chicana/o criminality, as well as their prison-based agency, has undergone provocative revisionary treatments beyond pathological "culture of poverty" models, especially in more recent multidisciplinary cultural studies paradigms. Although I engage many of these scholars throughout this study, it is important to foreground a few salient issues and debates in prisoner literary and media studies. In Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano Culture and Legal Discourse (1995), for instance, Carl Gutiérrez-Jones extends Mirandé's cultural nationalist theory of crime by surveying select contemporary Chicana/o literary and cinematic texts. He argues that these expose and contest the racist imperialist conceits inherent in the objectivist claims of the Euro-American jurisprudence that facilitated and consolidated U.S. imperialist designs on the Mexican northeast. Eclectically drawing upon critical race theory, critical legal studies, and postcolonial and cultural nationalist methodologies, Gutiérrez-Jones attempts to explicate the "process by which historical events and historiography itself are rewritten by Chicanos" (6). While Gutiérrez-Jones's characterization remains over-celebratory, it nonetheless succeeds in illustrating how legal discourse is rendered sous rature, under erasure and partially rewritten, by alternative Chicana/o narratives. This shift in attention to the creation of Chicana/o criminality as a network of contestatory discourses enables a broader and more incisive analysis of Chicana/o criminality as potential counterhegemonic agency. Despite this important contribution to the field, however, Gutiérrez-Jones fails to examine any prisoner-produced texts, resulting in an inadvertent effacement of the conflictive and contradictory dimensions of Chicana/o prisoner discourses.


Other scholars err by overinvesting in undertheorized profiles of select Pinta and Pinto authors. Juan Bruce Novoa's early work on Raúl Salinas and Ricardo Sánchez, for instance, was important for identifying a potential subcategory—Chicana/o convict, or Pinta/o, literature—in the growing canon of Chicana/o literature, even as it was inspired by a New Criticism framework that failed to make broader historical materialist connections from the close readings of select poems. In Chicano Timespace: The Poetry and Politics of Ricardo Sánchez (2001), Miguel López Rojo presents a literary biography intent on resituating Sánchez within the Chicana/o and broader U.S. literary canon. Yet his celebratory genealogy of Sánchez's ancient and modern philosophical "influences," and mimetic restatements of previous scholarship of Sánchez's poetics, actually obfuscates the complexity of Pinta/o discourses by effacing Sánchez's highly controversial masculinist signifying practices, an issue I address in Chapter 3.


In contrast, Harlow (1992) resituates the highly local inflections of Judy Lucero's prison verse by locating this Chicana prison poet in broader postcolonial contexts, specifically women's cultural and political agency from prisons throughout the Western world. Harlow's linkage of the prison-industrial complex with the broader militarization of U.S. society (1991) informs my broader explication and contextualization of Lucero's entire corpus in Chapter 7. Ironically, while Harlow has since qualified the notion of "resistance literature"—a category she helped create with her eponymous book (1987)—Raúl Homero Villa proposes in "Of Corridos and Convicts: Gringo (In)Justice in Early Border Ballads and Contemporary Pinto Poetry" (1996) that Chicana/o and Latina/o prisoner poetry presents modern permutations of the anticolonial resistance that the epic heroic corrido performed in the southwestern United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While Villa's genealogy provides a compelling map of the overlapping oppositional tones in Pinta/o poetry, and the corrido form it allegedly mimics, this framework ultimately is too teleological in its insistence on the corrido as a "taproot," or master narrative. María Herrera-Sobek (1990) illustrates the limits of such readings by underscoring the neofeudal masculinist conceits of various corrido genres.


Adding to the dissensus in Pinta and Pinto literary studies, Cordelia Candelaria argues that despite the large corpus of Pinto poetry, its topical unity, and the recurrence of a unique Chicano prisoner patois, "it is a mistake to consider it a distinct, stylistic school identifiable by a unique poetics" (1986: 54). She further effaces the coherence of a subcategory or subgenre by proposing that "in style and theme, pinto poetry was like any other protest poetry" of the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In his contemporary analogue to Candelaria's survey of Chicana/o poetry, Rafael Pérez-Torres (1995) provides a more viable topography of the various themes in Chicana/o prisoner verse through short explications of familiar Chicana/o prisoner poets: Ricardo Sánchez, Judy Lucero, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Luis Omar Salinas. While the virtue of Pérez-Torres's short section on Pinta and Pinto poets arises from its insistence on a mapping of the divergent trajectories in this body of verse instead of overdetermining a presumed "essence," he nonetheless concludes by privileging the various shifts from the declamatory aesthetic of Pinto poets of the 1960s and 1970s to the meditative asceticism of writers such as Jimmy Santiago Baca, whom he describes as exemplary, a position I contest in Chapter 2. Moreover, Pérez-Torres is far too introductory and leaves out too much of Chicana/o prisoner poetry and the vast number of other genres found within the Chicana/o prisoner population, which is renowned for its prolific production of prison-based newspapers, literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, as well as a vast corpus of multimedia artwork such as tattoos, embossed leather work, glossed envelopes, paños (handkerchiefs), and hand-drawn postcards.


The most provocative of the literary-based studies of Latina/o and multiethnic U.S. prisoners is Michael Hames-García's Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice (2004). Hames-García examines the extratextual resonance of Latina/o prisoner literary agency beyond poetry by paying particular attention to manifestos, autobiographical essays, and mixed-genre anthologies of prison literature. This study historicizes prisoner agency by mapping how Latina/o prisoners have followed Black slaves and ex-prisoners such as Fredric Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. to interject themselves into foundational debates in the nation's history. Hames-García argues for the centrality of the prison—and prisoners—in the articulation of U.S. notions of justice and broader epistemological concepts such as ethics and human freedom, thereby potentially raising the counterhegemonic resonance of Chicana/o prisoner discourses. In Gang Nation: Delinquent Citizens in Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Chicana Narratives (2002), Monica Brown extends this trajectory in Latina/o criminology and penology by examining the commodifications of Puerto Rican and Chicana/o gang life in Latina/o literature as well as in film. Brown proposes that the literature by former Latina and Latino gang members is the manifestation of an alternative "national symbolic," or counter-nation (xx). She argues that this corpus implicitly militates for Latina/o inclusion in the American polis and symbolically creates its own avenues for this inclusion in the wake of the increasingly more intense carceral apparatus that systematically targets Latina and Latino youth for exclusion. Unfortunately, Brown fails to examine the cultural production of prisoners, who, as I will show throughout this study, variously position themselves within and without the ideological state apparatus through complex extra-textual negotiations of culture and power.


Los Pintos de América: Recentering Chicana/o Prisoners


While the aforementioned studies provide crucial insights into jurisprudence, minority criminality, and the cultural economy of crime, they often suffer from their own virtues: they are circumscribed by disciplinary boundaries and localized case studies that yield limited data; are undergirded by undertheorized linkages between, and differences among, male and female subjects or different ethnic communities; or are hamstrung by omissions of prisoner art and culture. What is needed for the study of Chicana/o criminality and prisoner cultures are nuanced assessments of the local and global significance of their agency in prison and out. Several scholars point the way. José Luís Morín (2005) has provided concrete diachronic statistical analyses of Latina/os in the U.S. criminal justice system that conclusively link this justice system to imperialism, colonialism, and internal colonialism. Studies that further globalize the criminalization of Latina/o communities include David M. Hernández's research on the uses of immigrant detention centers to "disappear" Latina/os. Louis Mendoza (2006) chronicles the 1970s radical multiracial revolutionary prisoner movements in the United States, and Alán Gómez (2006a, 2006b) presents a broader expansion of prisoner revolutionary politics beyond the United States. Dylan Rodriguez (2006) presents provocative insights on the prison-industrial complex and prisoner challenges to it that also include Latina/o prisoners. David Brotherton and Luis Barrios's The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang (2004) provides an equally insightful case study of the potential for prisoners and gang members to become radicalized agents of revolutionary change, while still responsibly marking the failures of this particular movement.


These scholars reveal that prison research and activism today must be informed by the disciplinary frameworks unique to individual case studies, yet not bound by disciplines or master narratives that force a teleological reading of unique prisoner subcultures. This has been the goal of Chicana/o counter-criminology studies since the Chicana/o cultural nationalist and immanently internationalist journal El Pocho-Che, which is a fusion of a local and global model of Chicana/o identity—the betwixt and between cultural hybrid Pocho coupled with internationalist allusions to Che Guevara's internationalist foco model of revolution. The December 1970 special issue of the journal was dedicated to Chicana/o prisoners and temporarily retitled El Pinto (Pocho) Che (Figure I.3). It helped foreground the sociohistorical and culturo-political contexts of the Pinta/o situation through a blend of testimonios, poetry, sociological accounts, and urgent appeals for grassroots interventions into the neocolonial practice of imprisonment throughout Aztlán and beyond. This special issue, as well as the subsequent 1976 special issue of the Chicana/o interdisciplinary journal De Colores subtitled "Los Pintos de América," foregrounded a multigenre, multidimensional, and multinational—even internationalist—Pinta/o discourse. In El Pinto (Pocho) Che, this incipient discourse included meta-critical explications of prison culture and Chicana/o identity, including a special column called the "Convict Report" that discusses prison vocabulary among other issues that informed free-world Chicana/o culture.


Pinta/os and their "freeworld" Chicana/o community thus signaled the integrity of an entire subculture that, in many respects, also assumed the status as the "folk base" of Chicana/o culture.


In "What is Cultural Studies Anyway?" (1987), Richard Johnson articulates a prescription for a materialist interdisciplinary cultural studies methodology that provides an appropriate critical framework for extending this meta-critical enterprise to the present. Johnson argues that one must interrogate the formal features of a text proper as well as the circumstances of its production and the highly subjective forms of consumption, which include an assortment of readings and "mis-readings" that often take lives of their own. Each moment of a text's life in this circuit, Johnson notes, is embedded with different and oftentimes competing power relationships that must be seen in tandem to get the "big picture" of a text's cultural, political, and historical significance (46-47). I propose to complement and extend the scholarship on Latina/o and multiethnic criminality through a cultural studies examination of Chicana/o prisoner (and ex-prisoner) identity and culture across time, place, and genre. I offer case studies of the political and cultural economy of Chicana/o prisoners from the nineteenth century to the present alongside explications of renowned and little-known prisoner-produced and prisoner-themed literary, cinematic, and multimedia visual and aural texts. This focus on Chicanas and Chicanos enables me to ground the study in a specific community with its own history and cultural idiosyncrasies. Chicana/os are the largest subgroup of Latina/os in the United States, and their culture has been thoroughly explored and well-theorized by Chicana/o scholars. The wealth of secondary material provides an excellent resource and opportunity to ground the analysis of Chicana/o prisoner agency within an interdisciplinary Chicana/o cultural studies project that, as Angie Chabram-Dernersesian (1999) and José David Saldívar (1991) have demonstrated, eclectically adapts the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies to the unique vernacular context of the southwestern United States.


The evolution and inevitable reification of Chicana/o prisoner identity and culture is a complex process that is grounded in the racial economics of penology at different times in U.S. history, and also is informed by popular Chicana/o cultural forms and signifying practices. This study thus is grounded in prison or, more precisely, the political and cultural economy of the prison. But my attention to prisons and prisoners also is an attempt to map the intersections between the inside and outside. I am guided by Mary Pardo's Mexican American Women Activists: Identity and Resistance in Two Los Angeles Communities (1998), which examines several groups, including the Mothers of East L.A., a grassroots organization of primarily Mexican immigrant and Chicana women who initially formed to protest the construction of a jail in their neighborhood. They built upon their successes to take on broader social and political causes. As a central character in Edward James Olmos's 1992 prison film American Me notes, "the inside and outside go together."


Extending and problematizing Monica Brown's claim that Latina/o gang members express a "love/hate relationship" with the United States, I argue that Chicana/o criminal and prisoner agency is complex: it is hegemonic and counterhegemonic—and sometimes both simultaneously. Chicana/o criminality cannot be understood as simply a figural substitute (or mechanism) for Chicana/o inclusion in the polis. It is historically contingent and actually far less coherent than Brown, Mirandé, and others allow. There is a broad range of Chicana/o criminal conduct and prisoner agency, from revolutionary politics to problematic mimetic performances of the commodity fetish that involve everything from drug peddling to various types of assault. This study not only maps their complicated critiques of power but also their equally complex and problematic claims to power from the margins. Following the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group's recognition that scholars have not fully recognized or theorized the way that subaltern subjects from the margins have "spoken back" to the center (1995), I submit that any attempt to map the contours of Chicana/o prisoner culture inevitably must attend to the very vocabulary of the Chicana/o prison, which in the unique patois of Chicana/o prisoners is known as la pinta.


II. La Pinta


La pinta is the Chicana/o vernacular Spanish term for prison. It is a truncated alliterative abbreviation for penitencia, the Spanish word for "penitentiary." Social and cultural linguists have argued that such Chicana/o Spanish abbreviations or deliberate "misspellings" are complex signifiers that enable users to symbolically claim something as their own while simultaneously signaling how the object itself is transformed by this Chicana/o claim to it. This is especially true of the lumpen Chicana/o slang known as Caló, which was popularized by Pachucos and zoot suiters in the 1940s and is still widely practiced today among prisoners and other sectors of the Chicana/o community. For example, Califas (Kah-lee-fahs), the Caló term for California, refers not so much to the southwestern state as to the Chicana/o experience in it and, more importantly, the symbolic Chicana/o ownership that enables them to rename the state. Similarly, the Chicana/o linguistic truncation and transformation of the U.S. penitentiary to la pinta also problematizes the original eighteenth-century Quaker idea that posits the penitentiary as a brutally "altruistic" institution that facilitates a prisoner's repentance and reformation. La pinta is quite distinct from the "pen," the popular English abbreviation of "penitentiary." The "pen" preserves the etymological root of the standard English spelling of penitentiary—the penitent—thereby alluding to the problematic model of penology that reductively presumes prisoner pathology and guilt. In contrast, la pinta is part of a counterhegemonic Chicana/o prisoner linguistic system, culture, and worldview that arises from a uniquely racialized incarceration experience. This Chicana/o vernacular term also suggests the existence of a distinct Chicana/o outlaw subjectivity that challenges the authority of the penitentiary and the positivist theories of criminology and penology buttressing it. That is, la pinta represents the prison as a site where coercive state authority confronts its antithesis.


Like most Caló terms, la pinta is dialogic: it is embedded with the political unconscious—specifically, the popular memory of past and present power struggles. Indeed, la pinta is a term whose meaning is defined at the intersection of competing historiographies of the U.S. penitentiary system. Noted scholar Luís Leal (1996) claims the first appearance of the term can be traced to a popular Mexican corrido in 1882 that decried the hardships of incarceration. But la pinta is best understood in relation to more recent reassessments of the history of U.S. criminology and penology. In fact, it forms the basis of a Chicana/o prisoner discourse on power that pressures Michel Foucault's (1979) archaeology of the prison in Western civilization. Foucault is recognized for mapping the role of the penitentiary in the exercise of state power across time and place, paying particular attention to Europe. Yet feminist, critical race studies theorists and critical legal studies scholars such as Monique Deveaux (1996), Adrian Howe (1994), and Angela Davis (1998, 2005) have argued that Foucault's archaeology of penology is predicated on an androcentric body that dismisses the gendered and racialized subjectivity of prisoners and, subsequently, their differential status in prison and out. They note that nineteenth- and twentieth-century penological and criminological theories have facilitated the exercise of power through uniquely patriarchal and racist presumptions. Davis aptly notes that "the political economy of prisons relies on racialized assumptions of criminality" that raise the specter of racially marked abject bodies (1998: 1). I add that the Caló term for the penitentiary similarly signals the racial, cultural, and also gender difference of Chicana/o prisoners through the use of a unique linguistic register that is embedded with its own epistemology. La pinta thus serves as a racially nuanced nodal point in the wave of revisionist histories of U.S. penality that link early U.S. criminology and penology to U.S. colonialism and imperialism: it postulates that the construction of Chicana/o difference and subsequent criminalization and containment of this difference is inalienably linked to U.S. capitalist imperialist hegemony in the Southwest and beyond. That is, la pinta introduces an alternative global Chicana/o prisoner theory of crime and punishment as well as power and counterpower, from the eponymous margin.


Similar to other Chicana/o translations and transformations of institutional terms and discourses that scholars such as Rosaura Sánchez (1983) and Alfred Arteaga (1994) identify as fundamental to the evolution and definition of Chicana/o poetics, la pinta not only signals a Chicana/o prisoner discourse on power, but also suggests a coherent Chicana/o prisoner culture. One of the main objectives of this study is to illustrate how Chicana/o prisoners develop unique practices that illuminate what cultural anthropologist Américo Paredes (1979, 1993) has called the "folk base" of Chicana/o culture. Stripped to the bare essentials of human existence, all prisoners are forced to make due with limited resources, and Chicana/o prisoners are particularly accomplished in their vernacular, hybrid productions and performances of visual art, literature, and other forms of popular culture. They are renowned for their rasquache sensibility—that is, their ability to create coherent cultural artifacts out of scarce and disparate materials. This poetics of improvisation, as Tomás Ybarra-Frausto has argued in "Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility" (1991), involves contestatory reclamations of Chicana/o subordination through an appropriation and aesthetic elaboration of their very lack of material resources:


In an environment always on the edge of coming apart (the car, the job, the toilet), things are held together with spit, grit, and movidas. Movidas are the coping strategies you use to gain time, to make options, to retain hope. Rasquachismo is a compendium of all the movidas deployed in immediate, day-to-day living. Resilience and resourcefulness spring from making do with what is at hand (hacer rendir las cosas). This use of available resources engenders hybridization, juxtaposition, and integration. Rasquachismo is a sensibility attuned to mixtures and confluence, preferring communion over purity. (156)


The limited and even restricted access to art materials in prison does not stifle the production of art or the performance of unique cultural identity. Rather, these sparse conditions necessitate and ultimately distinguish Chicana/o prisoner art and subjectivity as oppositional and potentially counterhegemonic. As Frausto argues, "rasquachismo is an underdog perspective—a view from los de abajo [the underdogs], an attitude rooted in resourcefulness and adaptability, yet mindful of stance and style" (156).


This resiliency, however, does not necessarily imply that oppositional Chicana/o prisoner culture is revolutionary or fully actualized counterhegemonic agency. Following Antonio Gramsci (1971), Raymond Williams (1978) has identified "hegemony" as a social relation in which domination is exercised with the complicity of the ruled through a flexible absorption of dissent. The hegemonic incorporates its natural constituents along with its antithesis. Within this relationship, the dominant episteme, which is always already embedded with residual culture from the ancient to the more recent past (e.g., folk forms such as epic ballads), attempts to co-opt expressions of oppositional agency. The dominant simultaneously attempts to prevent this oppositional emergent culture from consolidating itself as a coherent paradigm that could develop into a new counterhegemony. Williams adds "the 'residual' and the 'emergent,' which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the 'dominant'" (122).


Ramón Saldívar (1990) and José E. Limón (1992) have deployed Williams's notions of the "dominant," "residual," and "emergent" to argue that the epic heroic corrido both chronicles and contests the transformation of the semifeudal agrarian society of the southwestern United States by the incursion of capital in the mid-eighteenth century. This study seeks to map how Chicana/o prisoners use residual and emergent cultural forms to articulate a discourse on power and, moreover, propose contestatory, albeit inchoate, interpretations of and interventions into material history in the southwestern United States at the site of the prison. While the epic heroic corrido eventually lost prominence in the new hegemonic capitalist order (for which the bourgeois novel can serve as a metonym), I submit that Chicana/o prisoner culture persistently refuses to cede to the dominant despite its inevitable co-optations. Eclectic Chicana/o prisoner performances of culture through a polyphony of hybrid forms and genres illustrate the contours of the incessant struggle between the hegemonic and the incipient counterhegemonic in the southwestern United States and beyond. For instance, even as Chicana/o prisoner dress and style (e.g., cropped hair, baggy denim pants, and prison footwear such as Brogan boots or Converse All-Star sneakers) have become veritable fashion statements among working-class and middle-class youth, these garments continue to serve as emblems of marginality that can be seen as pre-critical forms of dissent by some bearers. Chicana/o prisoner culture is always in a struggle against the dominant (as well as against its own conflicting trajectories), and towards the consolidation of a new counterhegemonic order, but this emergent episteme is not without its limits.


Despite being distinguished for its residual rasquache folk forms and emergent new critical consciousness, Chicana/o prisoner culture inevitably is inchoate and profoundly contradictory. Like much of prisoner discourse in general, Chicana/o prisoner culture—or rather, cultures—are inflected through highly gendered performances of power that sometimes are antithetical to each other. Much of the scholarship in Chicana/o studies over the past three decades has shown how Chicana/os occupy overlapping yet vastly different social locations, which inevitably undergird uniquely gendered performances of culture and negotiations of power. Angie Chabram-Dernersesian (1992), Norma Alarcón (1989), and Sonia Saldívar-Hull (2000), among many other feminist scholars, have noted how Chicana writers and artists problematize the masculinist conceits of Chicano cultural nationalism from the 1960s and 1970s. Chicanas rearticulate misogynist archetypes such as La Malinche, which is predicated on circumscribed models of women's sexuality and agency, and also reclaim symbolic spaces such as the "barrio" and the "family," which had been equally restrictive for women. While many Chicana artists are concerned with the same issues of racism and colonialism that motivate male writers of the era, Saldívar-Hull notes that Chicanas quite simply are speaking from different social locations and, accordingly, make different claims about power and different claims to power (27-29). Accordingly, this study not only seeks to attend to the similarities and differences between and among Chicana/o prisoners. It also seeks to map how these different inflections of an oppositional culture and identity—which are simultaneously embedded with residual norms and emergent new sensibilities—ultimately may illuminate the tensions in, and facilitate the potential transformations of, broader social and political relations. Williams has noted that "in our own period as in others, the fact of emergent cultural practice is still undeniable, and together with the fact of actively residual practice is a necessary complication of the would-be dominant culture" (1978: 126). I add that Chicana/o prisoner cultures mark the complex nature of power in modern society. Indeed, Chicana/o prisoner elaborations of their marginality enable them to emerge as contestatory, albeit ambiguous, subaltern agents who inevitably complicate the hegemonic and, equally as important, conventional theories about the counterhegemonic contours of Chicana/o cultural and political agency.


As I will show in the various case studies that comprise this book, Chicana/o prisoner culture extends across a wide range of discourses—from their advocacy of revolutionary violence to intensely misogynist and homophobic rituals to, ironically, the same commodity fetish that initially animated the modern penitentiary. For instance, the masculinist rituals of agency such as cross-racial rape by Chicano prisoners and the reproduction of hierarchical heterosexual family kinship networks by Chicana prisoners (which I will discuss in Chapters 3 and 7, respectively) inevitably problematize the "culture of resistance" paradigm that has been so prominent in Chicana/o Studies.13 Despite its contributions to the study of the conflicted relationship between popular culture and capitalist power, the resistance paradigm simply is too ahistorical in its proposal that Chicana/o culture is inherently oppositional. This is especially so given the complex history of class in Chicana/o history and also because of the mimetic nature of rasquachismo. But neither is Chicana/o prisoner culture-of-improvisation simplistically reactionary. On the contrary, postcolonial and materialist feminist scholars such as Homi Bhabha (1984, 1994), Michael Taussig (1993), Luce Irigaray (1985), and Judith Butler (1990) have shown how mimesis demands a constant reassessment of the relationship between popular culture and the exercise of power and counterpower. While Bhabha's argument that pidgin speech disrupts the hegemonic narrative of nation is over-celebratory, Taussig, Irigaray, and Butler provide more plausible accounts of how mimesis enables subaltern subjects to negotiate power in ways that sometimes are as empowering as they are disempowering. "The very mimicry corrodes the alterity," Taussig notes, even as it continues to be mimicry (1993: 8). I submit that Chicana/o prisoner uses and transformations of root forms, paradigms, and broader tropes of intercultural communication demand and also enable a complex model for reassessing conventional theories of Chicana/o art and culture. Chicana/o prisoner cultural practices and related political agency reveal the provocative yet problematic nature of the exercise of Chicana/o counterpower.


Towards a Pinta/o Ontology


The term la pinta, then, is part of a distinct Chicana/o prisoner vocabulary and culture that undergirds an ideologically ambiguous discourse on power. The term also implies the existence of an immanently counterhegemonic Chicana/o prisoner subjectivity. Davidson (1974) has offered a preliminary mapping of this subject in his discussion of prisoner nomenclature. He notes that those prisoners who conform to prison rules and regulations are viewed as subordinate and therefore earn the prison epithet "Inmate"—the official prison administration term for prisoners. Those who resist assume the vernacular accolade "Convict," which alludes to their criminal convictions and also their defiant refusal to being subordinated. These observations coincide with many contemporary prisoner accounts. However, Davidson fails to recognize that the more popular terms for Chicana/o Convicts are "Pinta" and "Pinto." Some anecdotal etymologies posit that these unique nominatives refer to the striped prison uniforms that American prisoners were forced to wear in the early nineteenth century.


These neologisms also have a more modern metaphysical and politically salient bilingual resonance that enables Chicana/os to reconfigure positivist (and incipiently eugenicist) definitions of criminality in general, and Chicana/o prisoner subjectivities in particular. The masculine noun "Pinto," as well as the corresponding feminine form, "Pinta," both function as a bilingual play on penitencia (penitentiary), as well as the Chicana/o colloquial past participle pintao (or estar pintado), which means to be painted, tainted, or otherwise marked (e.g., by skin pigmentation or a courtroom conviction). Like all Convicts, Pintas and Pintos are defined by their convictions: both their legally sanctioned imprisonment by a court of law, and the certainty undergirding their defiant attitude. Moreover, as the bilingual resonance of their unique nominative suggests, Pintas and Pintos are distinguished by their vernacular theorizing about the intersections between the broader social abjection of racial minorities and the oppositional agency this phenomenon ultimately predetermines. While Chicana/os share a more or less common experience with other racialized minorities in prison and out, Pintas and Pintos are constituted through their counterhegemonic appraisal of the source and significance of their uniquely racialized and gendered prison experiences, their various complex performances of counterpower, and, more importantly, their belligerence. Indeed, for many Pintas and Pintos, crime, incarceration, and resistance to authority constitute a unique individual and group identity. These specific nominatives thus function to indict the processes by which Chicana/os as a whole are figured as abject in a racist society, while also serving as defiant signifiers of their oppositional posture.


But not all Chicana/o prisoners seek to be identified as Pintos and Pintas. In the aforementioned 1970 special issue of El Pocho Che dedicated to Pintos, Chicano prisoner Rudy Espinosa makes an appeal to the journal's readers to send educational materials and supplies to the Chicano self-help organization EMPLEO (Work). He begins the piece "A Word Para Los Pintos" by first noting, "I am not a Pinto and I do not ever want to be one" (57), and then articulates a materialist critique of U.S. colonialism in which he argues that the prison functions as the last stage in the planned underdevelopment of the Chicana/o, Native American, and Black communities. The term "Pinto," Espinosa notes, marks a schism from the freeworld communities he wishes to rejoin, not only out of a desire to be released from prison, but also as an ontological need. The terms "Pinta" and "Pinto" thus are the subject of much debate.


Furthermore, even as these nominatives may connote a counterhegemonic posture or, as with Espinosa, anomie, the subjects to whom these terms refer are part of a diverse and ideologically inchoate prisoner population that occupies a profoundly ambiguous space in the Chicana/o community and in society at large. As noted above, not all Pintas and Pintos are social bandits, and Hobsbawm reminds us that even those who are may in fact be counter-revolutionary. Pinta/os are comprised of a diverse group of Chicana/o Convicts who range from conscientious social bandits to internationalist revolutionaries, but also include petty property and drug offenders, rapists, murderers, and exploitative crime syndicate members. This broad range explains, in part, their ambiguous status: they are alternately the objects of shame, fear, resentment, and hatred, yet they also elicit feelings of desire, pride, and familial affection since they are fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, family friends. Sometimes they are celebrated as bad-man heroes, while at other times they are simply denigrated as very bad men or women.


Therefore, just like it would be inaccurate to characterize contestatory Chicana/o prisoner cultures as being uniformly opposed to capitalism or other forms of exploitation, so, too, would it be incorrect to situate Chicana/o prisoners simply as victims of coercive social and historical forces such as imperialism, racism, and sexism. Critical legal and critical race studies explications of the social and cultural construction of deviance—as well as feminist, postcolonialist, and Marxist accounts of the material conditions of crime—necessarily involve incisive critiques of exploitative acts such as rape or narcotics dealing, for example, which are destructive and antirevolutionary even if some may claim they are counterhegemonic. This qualification is clearly illustrated in feminist rebukes of Eldridge Cleaver's proposal in his infamous prison memoir, Soul on Ice (1968), that Black-on-White rape is an appropriate "revolutionary" praxis for subverting White power. Yvette Flores-Gonzales (1995a, 1995b) and Juanita Díaz-Cotto (2006) underscore that many female offenders were victims of abuse by older men prior to their own lawbreaking activities. Joy James (2003) thus emphasizes that for "those who (continue to) prey on others in physical and sexual assaults on children, women, and men, 'political prisoners' would be an obscene register; for they do not manifest as liberatory agents but exist as merely one of many sources of danger to be confronted and quelled in a violent culture" (2003: 11). As shown in several chapters of this study, similar critiques apply to some Pintos.


A fundamental goal of this book is to historicize the use of the penal apparatus in the disenfranchisement of Chicana/os, while also assessing the different localized Chicana/o prisoner negotiations of power as part of the complex dialectical interplay between hegemony and counterhegemony. Several fundamental questions emerge. What, for instance, is the relationship between Pinta/o culture and power across time and place? Moreover, what is the significance of the differences and similarities between various Pinta/o performances of counterpower? What model of subjectivity is associated with Pinta/o cultural and political praxis? How are Pintas and Pintos functioning as vernacular Chicana/o permutations of Gramsci's (1971) model of the "organic intellectual," as well as various revisionist accounts of this figure, such as Bhabha's (1984, 1994), Taussig's (1993), and Irigaray's (1985), and Butler's aforementioned "mimic" (1990), Gayatri Spivak's "subaltern" (1988), Renato Rosaldo's "vernacular interpreter" (1989), Gloria Anzaldúa's "mestiza/o intellectual" (1987), and Norma Alarcón's "interstitial" agent (1989 and 1990)? Even more precisely, where might Pintas and Pintos fit into Joy James's model of the "prisoner intellectual" in her study, Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation and Rebellion (2003), which inexplicably excludes Chicana/o prisoners? What is the status of this Pinta/o intellectual in the history of the U.S. prison, the Western prison in general, and, more broadly, in post- and neocolonial history overall? Finally, how has September 11 changed the significance of Pinta and Pinto agency?


Pursuant to an exploration of these questions, this book is divided into four parts, each with two chapters. Part One, "Land and Liberty," historicizes Chicana/o criminality, especially the complicated link between incarceration, the loss of sovereignty, and competing land claims in the southwestern United States. In Chapter 1, I draw upon Lizbeth Haas's (1995) historiography of Mexican American identity formation in California following the U.S. colonization of the state to further explore the significance of Modesta Avila, a twenty-two-year-old Mexican American woman who was imprisoned for obstructing railroad tracks built across her family land without her permission. I reread the original court transcripts of Avila's two trials in 1889 to uncover the complex interplay between sexist gender norms, criminalization of racial minorities, and Mexican American peonization. I pair this performance of colonialism with the neo-imperialist opera by Hungarian-born and California transplant George Siposs titled "Modesta Avila: An American Folk Opera," which premiered at the Westminster Auditorium on October 10, 1989, as part of the Orange County Centennial Celebration. I close by mapping how Avila, who died in San Quentin Prison, subsequently became a touchstone in contrapuntal Chicana historiography. In Chapter 2, I examine how former prisoner Jimmy Santiago Baca's neo-picaresque corpus of poetry and prose further renders the prison, and the southwestern land upon which it is built, as contested liminal zones. I am particularly concerned with Baca's tropes of identity that replicate troubling racial and gender archetypes. While his lyrical meditations on Native American and Chicana/o dispossession introduce the figure of the counterhegemonic Pinto intellectual, I show how his use of hegemonic genres and archetypes simultaneously illuminates the limits of mimesis in Pinto discourse.


Part Two, "Embodied Discourses," re-centers the Chicana/o body in the practice of imprisonment and, indirectly, the Chicana body in masculinist models of Pinto "resistance" discourses. In Chapter 3, I explicate the masculinist conceits undergirding Ricardo Sánchez's unique declamatory prison poetry. While Sánchez's verse symbolically harnesses violence in order to prescribe a proto-revolutionary praxis for Chicana/o liberation, I show how his use of misogynist and homophobic rhetoric fails to synthesize the very contradictions he identifies, further rendering the Pinto intellectual as an incompletely actualized oppositional subject. In Chapter 4, I continue this examination of Pinto poetics by mapping how Raúl Salinas performs a complex Chicana/o claim to place and ontological space in his prison poetry and tattoo art. I show how Salinas and fellow prisoners use homosocial tattoo rituals in prison that involve the symbolic exchange of women to articulate a vernacular and collectivist poetic and political meditation on, and claim to, power in prison and out. Through his problematic though transgressive vernacular theories of praxis, Salinas ultimately comes to embody another model of the Pinto intellectual: the internationalist revolutionary.


Part Three, "Crime and Commodification," further explores consumptions of the Pinto as a "bad-man hero" and "social bandit." Chapter 5 focuses on the mass media commodifications of Pintos in Edward James Olmos's Chicano prison gang saga, American Me (1992). I show how this film attempts to revise the exoticist Hollywood "gangxploitation" and prison sagas by cultivating and exploiting various types of resistant and resistance spectatorship. The film uses didactic tattoo rituals and visceral verité cinematography to trope color as race, and race as sociopolitical critique. I close with a critique of the film's contradictory call for Pinta/o and homeboy self-erasure as necessary for Chicana/o self-actualization. Chapter 6 further examines the problematic yet contested mass media commodifications of Chicano prisoners, specifically Fred Gómez Carrasco, the notorious South Texas drug baron who in 1974 staged a bloody prison break attempt from the Walls Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville. While he became a negative reference point and catalyst for various prison staff and guard memoirs, as well as mainstream newspaper reporting, I show how Carrasco and his wife, Rosa, have been recuperated by the Chicana/o community through vernacular counterhegemonic forms such as the narco-corrido, declamatory poetry, actos (or agitprop drama), and grassroots journalism. Carrasco becomes a palimpsest in the South Texas permutation of the racialized culture wars.


Part Four, "Storming the Tower," focuses on institutions, institutionalization, and proposed counterhegemonic challenges to institutional containment. In Chapter 7, I show how Chicana prisoner Judy Lucero intervenes in the masculinist regime of prison and, more importantly, in the violent and misogynist Pinto forms of agency that have posed problematic challenges to it. Lucero's poetry not only anticipates foundational Chicana cultural nationalist gynopoetics and materialist feminism of the 1970s and 1980s, but also introduces a collectivist politics free of the violent overtones that undermine Pinto performances of counterpower. Lucero thus introduces an alternative to previous articulations of the Pinta/o intellectual. In Chapter 8, I explore how these prisoner interventions inform and challenge the problematic nature of "prison work"; that is, volunteer educational and social service activities by academics, activists, and former prisoners. I examine several Service-Learning projects I organized in juvenile detention facilities and maximum-security prisons in upstate New York in 1996, alongside other prison education projects in Canada and the United States. The goal of this chapter is to resist a celebratory treatment of prison research, including this study, by exploring the complicated power relationships that emerge from the workshop designs, selection of canonical versus noncanonical materials, and inadvertent instructor complicity with institutional regimens of control.


In the conclusion, I examine past and ongoing models of prisoner activism and advocacy, especially 1970s Chicana/o prisoner invocations of human rights discourses, to call for a new paradigm for prisoner advocacy. I show how the convergence of various wars on crime with the war on terror—a convergence accompanied by deliberate, legally justified subversions of international treaties and standards to which the United States is a signatory—ultimately demands and enables a recourse to human rights regimes and a relocation of U.S. prison work onto an international sphere.




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