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Sheriff Gangbanger

This ornery oriole gags over the way most of the P-town press plays cocker spaniel to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Take, for example, the myth that he's the roughest, toughest lawman since Wyatt Earp, despite Arpaio's dismal record handling the two main jobs of his office — process server and jailer.

For example, the other day, Arpaio posted details online of 70,000 arrest warrants outstanding in the county, demanding that fugitives turn themselves in or that citizens report 'em. Um, 70,000 unserved warrants? Guess the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's a bigger joke than the faux cops of Reno 911!. But the media here — including the Arizona Repugnant — reported the item like it was some great crime-fightin' deal, rather than what it was: an admission of professional impotence.

There's also this popular notion promulgated by much of AZ's fourth estate that Arpaio's jails deter crime and dispense just punishment. But in reality, Tent City's a breeding ground for violent, race-based gangs, mobs that control the desert gulag 'cause of the ineptitude of Joe and his underlings.

One cat this parakeet's known since first flappin' its way into the PHX did a monthlong stint in Tent City recently, and was forced to join the Aryan Brotherhood, known in the pen as The Woods. Tent City's run by four major gangs: The Woods, encompassing the joint's whiteys; The Kinfolk, black inmates; The Pisces, Mexican prisoners from Mexico; and The Cholos, or Mexican-Americans in Joe's stir.

The Bird's bud told this bug-eater that on his first trip to chow, he unthinkingly sat at a Kinfolk table, and was advised to sit "with his own kind." Post-chow, he was visited by six big white doods who told him he had to report to The Woods council, made up of Aryan Brotherhood members whose seniority derived from previous stints inside.

"They told me, 'You disobeyed the first rule; you sat down with The Kinfolk,'" related The Bird's pal, a slight guy who's far from the most intimidating fella on the planet. "'You have any contact with The Kinfolk, and we beat you down.'"

Being that he was a newbie, they let him slide on his initial Kinfolk contact. And eventually, he was given a job within The Woods guarding a stash of tobacco. The punishment if his stash was discovered? First time, you skate. Second time, The Woods clobber you.

(Note: My pal's description of life in the tents goes for the regular stripe-wearin' Tent City population, not for those on "work furlough," who maintain their civilian garb, and are segregated from the regular population. Those on work furlough spend days on the outside, and nights sleeping in the canvas concentration camp.)

Opting out of a gang assignment is not an option. If you're white and you get forced to join, you're in the Aryan Brotherhood for the duration. You have to live by The Woods' code, or get your ass kicked daily. While he was there, he was in three fights, two with Mexicans, one with a black guy. Each time, he was made to mix it up.



"I was in the chow line, and this big Mexican dude cut in front of me," peeped the former prisoner. "The white guy behind me said, 'What're you gonna do about that?' I said, 'Nothing.' He said, 'You're gonna let that fuckin' beaner get in front of you? You better do something or when we get back in the tent . . .' So I had to shove the Mexican dude and be this fucking tough guy I didn't want to be. Three or four punches, and the fight was over. And no, I didn't win."

The Woods operate with ruthlessness, bringing in all kinds of contraband, from cocaine and marijuana to cigarettes and coffee, mainly by "keistering it in" via a "mule" who has a daytime job on the chain gang, or elsewhere. The mule sticks the stuff far up his anus, at which the Tent City staff only gives a cursory glance. Contraband's hidden and sold with the assistance of the guards, who generally steer clear of Tent City's yards.

Gangs "sell" contraband such as coffee and cigarettes by bartering them for commissary items, like chips and candy bars, which they purchase with the $100 each prisoner's allowed to keep on his commissary account per week. They keep excess items in lockers, for which they can buy combination locks.

The Aryans and other gangs have a complex distribution system. More expensive goods like crystal meth or coke are bought through intermediaries outside Tent City, and transferred to prisoners who work outside jail walls. These inmates then mule in the contraband under direction of the gangs.



Woe be it to the jailbird who doesn't follow The Woods' rules.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons