A Blood Survives in Prison
The diary of a street gang member who wants to get out of the game: This is the story of Général, a Blood (Rouge) who changed his life. Reflet de Société recounts what life is like in a gang through the story of Général.
Général was a member of the Montréal North Rouges (Bloods) gang. He has made his way up in the world through violence and crime. Esteemed by his peers for the time he’s served behind bars, Général has found the will to change his life.
Général celebrated his 18th birthday in grand style. The fearless gang boss with his bottomless wallet deserved a fest fit for a king. In a hotel rented for the occasion, he and his friends promised themselves a party no one would soon forget.
He got his birthday cake via some uninvited guests: the police SWAT team.
“We heard a helicopter,” Général recalls. “Then the special forces pointed their lasers at us.”
Outside the hotel, Général was welcomed by a crowd of curious onlookers. Journalists from TVA, TQS and other media were present to mark the occasion for posterity. Général and his friends had become stars in their milieu.
A Red among Blues
Général was arrested for an armed robbery that happened in 2002. He would spend 3 years behind bars. While awaiting his trial he was sent to Bordeaux Prison. He cohabited with criminals from all over the place. But members of his own clan were rare. He was in enemy territory, with the Bleus (Crips).
“I was always on alert,” he recalls. “I didn’t sleep well. My people weren’t in control.”
Général was lucky. His cousin, a Bleu who lived in Saint-Michel, was also at Bordeaux. With his buddies of African origin, he took Général under his wing despite his enemy affiliation. “That’s what saved me. My cousin and the African Crips.”
Though he stayed on the lookout at all times, Général let his basic nature express itself. A leader on the outside, he observed who exerted power in this sector of 180 criminals. He noted who the President of the Inmate Committee was, and entered into his good graces.
“When I arrived, I proved my worth to the president. When there was a problem with the prisoners, I was there with him, behind him.”
Général ingratiated himself with everyone and was elected to the Inmate Committee himself. He received advantages that made him feel like a chief again.
“Since I was on the Committee, everything went well for me. People gave me cigarettes, and I was served first in the cafeteria. If there was an event, or some frictions, I would get involved. At one point I organized a meeting. Everyone came. Skinheads, blacks, bikers, Italians. I had a song. We did a disco dance! I had everyone singing. All 180 guys!”
But his peaceful days at Bordeaux would soon come to an end. One of his gang brothers, a Blood, ended up in jail. This time, his cousin and the other Bleu Africans didn’t want to protect him. They wanted his hide: “The Crips were after him. But it was one of my friends. I didn’t want that. So I fought against them to help my cousin. I had the Bleus and the whites against me. The skinheads were happy to see black people fighting against each other. And the Italians, they didn’t care. Prison is prison. A criminal is a criminal.”
Général found himself alone against the majority. His survival instinct moved him to violence – which earned him a five day stay in isolation, or “the hole,” as he calls it.
A Blood among his Own
The young criminal was transferred to the Rivière-des-Prairies prison, a maximum security facility. There, he was housed on a wing with the Bo-Gars (handsome boys in English): eight men of his own clan.
“I was with my guys, at home. Except that we were in prison… There’s always stress. Even if there were problems among us, I knew that they represented Montréal North, the Bloods. So because we were all members of the same family, we solved our disputes more easily. But if an inmate arrived who wasn’t a member, it’d be more difficult for him. He had to do the cleaning in the morning, clean all the tables. If he didn’t, we’d rough him up.”
Prison life runs with rules. Those who didn’t respect the rules would be brought to order severely. “Some entered prison without having that prison mentality. They thought they had to make a name for themselves. But you can’t when you’re isolated with the Bo-Gars. There was one guy, super muscled, who wanted to show that he wouldn’t be intimidated. That he wasn’t afraid of anyone! He went after the smallest guy on our wing. But the little guy was one of ours. He was attacking us! We all went after him. He was big and strong, but he couldn’t make a name for himself, carve out his own place. Lots of people have been beaten up over that.”
What was true in Bo-Gars territory was also true for the Bleus, the bikers, and the Mafia. “Inside,” explains Général, “bikers would get beat up. Just because you’ve got a patch doesn’t mean you can’t get beaten up. And just because you’re an influential member of a gang doesn’t mean you won’t get corrected on your behavior. In prison, it’s the law of the strongest. And the strongest is the greatest number.”
Général got out of his prison world every week. Four times a week he got hour-long visits: from his parents and his older sisters as well as from his girlfriends. “I had a lot of girlfriends! They came to see me. If you’re in jail it’s just the girls that will come to see you. You can count the number of guys who will be there for you on the fingers of one hand. It got me out of my wing. That’s what I appreciated the most. Especially when my girlfriends would come. The toughest thing was when my mom came to visit me. She’d cry all the time. Why have you done this to me?”
After visits with his mother, Général would return to his cell with a heavy heart. At first he didn’t realize the effect that her tears were having on his willingness to change his life. Despite the difficult moments he spent with her he considered himself privileged to have such a supportive family. He compared himself with his fellow inmates who never got any visits.
“In the gang world, a lot of people don’t have a family. That’s one reason why this phenomenon is hard to stop. Kids find the family they never had. In Montréal North we were a good group. At least 30 of the guys had no family or had been repudiated by their parents. They slept in the streets or squatted at friends’ places. They didn’t have a cent. All they were looking for was a place to belong. They were the first ones to bring someone down who posed a problem. They were more dangerous because they had nothing to lose. For them, prison time was a break.”
If his family visits had brought him to begin questioning his lifestyle, Général wasn’t yet ready to change his ways. He was as business-oriented on the inside as he had been on the outside.
“I dealt drugs in prison. I tried to sneak some stock in through a girlfriend. I got a friend to bring her some shoes, and asked her to wear them for her visit. She got caught… and she didn’t know what was going on! She still hates me for that! I admitted everything. There were no consequences for her. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. The guards were used to it!”
His girlfriends were put under heavy surveillance. Général developed another strategy for furnishing other inmates with pot. “I’d go and see prisoners who had nothing to eat, who had no money. I’d get them to get people to bring in my stock. And if they got caught, they’d owe me the value of what was seized!”
Général got stronger. The other inmates owed him plenty for their improved lifestyle. And if they wanted to not lose it, they’d better do what the young crime boss wanted.
Général sold drugs for cigarettes, which replaced the dollar as currency in jail. Or an inmate customer would ask a friend on the outside to deposit money in the young Blood’s account. “I smoked a lot! But I also made a lot of money. I had my whole wing smoking!”
With this money and the cigarettes, Général offered food from the canteen on the black market: rice, Gattuso noodles and tuna.
Every night Général and his friends would get together for a group supper. “Even the bikers would eat their rice and their Gattuso with us! I made a lot of contacts in jail. Especially with the patches. We protected them on our wing. They became brothers. And that helped me once I left jail. When my people had problems with stock, when we couldn’t find suppliers, I personally went to see my contacts. You certainly trust people more when you’ve been inside with them.”
That glorious day finally arrived. After three years, Général was released. He was 21, and knew nothing but the hard reality of the street. “I went back to my old life pretty fast. As soon as I was released, 10 of my old guys were there waiting for me. We celebrated that! But we almost got arrested for making too much noise.”
Général returned to his family. But subconsciously, prison life had changed him for good. He didn’t yet understand how. Looking back, he realizes that that’s when his questioning his lifestyle really began. Prison caused him to leave the Bloods. Even if it would take years to happen.