Things became tense early on between me and Joker Mendoza, one of Cadena’s assassins. He was aggressive, walked with a chip on his shoulder, always tried to stress how important he was. Tiny Contreras, who was the leader of the assassination, had contempt for him, but always stressed to me how dangerous he was.
His prison blues were impeccable, razor sharp crease in the trousers, mirror shine on his shoes. When we first met he commented on my baggy trousers. “Can’t you afford nothing more stylish?” “I may not be stylish, “ I said, “but I won’t be spending the rest of my life in prison.” He shook his head in disdain.
Later, during his first class with me, he said: “I spent seventeen years in the hole. Could you do that?”
“I think so,” I said, a foolish comeback.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“I like being by myself. It would give me a lot of time for reading and writing.”
“Two weeks and you’d be climbing walls,” which was probably right.
The men had asked me to bring in one of my novels. I brought “Paradise Road”, my second novel. Joker had come into the library where we held class early. He picked the book up from the table and looked at the back, which had my picture. “You look like a fag,” he said. He dropped the book on the floor.
“Pick it up,” I said. We were alone in the room.
“What’re you going to do, call a guard?”
“Pick it up.” And then I did something so foolish and dangerous that to this day I wonder at it. We were a foot or so apart. I stared into his eyes, dark, menacing. “I’m not afraid of you,” I said quietly.
In my head something suddenly went wild: Not afraid of him! I was very afraid of him! He had killed eight men in prison, according to Tiny! What was I doing? “Pick it up.”
He stared at me for a long moment, then bent down and picked the book up and put it back on the table.
At some point, Joe “Pegleg” Morgan, who had been Cadena’s right hand man, died of liver cancer. I read about this and came into class and told Tiny and Joker about it. “Maybe now things’ll go easier for you,” I said.
“They’ll never go easy,” Tiny said. “As long as we’re alive, there’a a price on our heads. It’s only a question of when.”
Tiny and Joker were in the class for two years or so. They eventually were transferred to other institutions. I’m not sure where Tiny went. Joker went to Mule Creek, I believe.
His cellie was the son of an old friend of his. One evening one of the guards approached me on the yard. “They finally got Joker,” he told me. “His cellie stabbed him to death and cut off his balls and shoved them in his mouth.”
For some peculiar reason I was moved when I heard this. You work with men who are the most despicable and dangerous men on the planet and yet you see them as humans with all their pathetic ambitions, poses, flaws, and you get to know them well. Even Joker Mendoza, bully and monster that he was, held some shred of sympathy from me. Astounding, no?
Anyone deeply interested in La Eme, Cadena and what happened to his assassins should download my one-man show Murderers Are My Life. In it I go into great detail about my relationship to the assassins and how the assassination went down.