"They say of the poet and the madman we all have a little." -- Sandra Cisneros
The cells babbled with the poignant tongues of despair licking the walls. Every now and then the air reverberated with gritos, the Mexican yell of a man who's drunk and angry, reaching as deep as he can to shout all his pain and glory to the world. Jail in the barrio is only a prelude; for many homeboys the walls would soon taste of San Quentin, Folsom and Soledad, the pathway through The Crazy Life.
From the age of 13 on, I ended up in cells like those of the San Gabriel jail house -- places like Pomona, Temple City, East L.A., Monterey Park, East Lake's juvenile detention hall and the L.A. county jail system following the Moratorium. Sometimes the police just held me over three nights and then let me go at the start of the week to keep me off the street. But this time, at 17 years old, I faced a serious charge of attempted murder. This time Mama didn't come for me.
"Ese malvado -- deje que se pudra," Mama told the Spanish. speaking youth officer after hearing of my arrest.
The cell walls were filled with the warrior's art. Most of it declaring Sangra in the beautiful, swirling style of theirs. Smoked outlines of women's faces were burned onto the painted brick. There were love messages: El Loco Con La Bárbara, P/V (por vida) -- and poetry:
En la calle sin jando.
Nadie sabe mi placa
Y a nadie le importa
Voy al chante de mi ruca
Pero se queda mirando