The Divide

I have my father's lips, full and pouty, and my mother's nose—a Roman nose that's roamin' all over my face, she'd say jokingly. I also have my mother's dark eyes and hair which, at the age of 25, is already beginning to show that familiar horseshoe pattern that preludes baldness, a trait I inherit from my father.

This doesn't necessarily bother me since I've taken to shaving my head in prison. Not only is it easier to maintain, it also saves me a trip to the Barber where I've heard gruesome stories of inmates contracting infections from unsanitary equipment. One such story included a set of clippers with a bloody guard.

I fit in well with my shaved head, and with my mother's dark Mediterranean features, people often mistake me as a fair-skinned Mexican which isn't so bad. Mexicans, I've decided, have a slight advantage in prison over the other races.

On my second day here, an older white man in my unit took me aside and presented me with the following advice: Mexicans are alright, but stay away from blacks.

No further explanation was offered, but as I become more familiar with the profound racism that exists in prison, I wouldn't be surprised if the blacks shared a similar view: Mexicans are alright, but stay away from the whites.

Therefore, when I think about racial relations in prison, I imagine race as a spectrum that graduates from black to white with Mexicans and Hispanics occupying the gray space between the two polar ends—an immense gulf symbolic of hundreds of years of segregation, slavery, and resentment.

Consequently, most prison riots occur between whites and blacks while Mexicans and Hispanics generally fight amongst themselves. This is why you'll never see a white and black man bunk together in the same room, yet Mexicans and Hispanics within that neutral divide are free to bunk with whomever.

Adding to the complexity of racial relations is gang affiliation, a subject which I'm alien to. The only thing I know for certain about gangs is that they are all facades, and none offer any real security or brotherhood.

Their actual purpose is to control, manipulate, and keep people in line like wolves nipping at the heels of sheep.