When Fred went to prison, he joined a notorious prison gang. His membership came at a price.
I remember one time I saw a high school classmate who asked me, "Hey Fred, what you've been up to?" And I said, "Working my way to prison."
About nine months later, I did go to prison—for possession of 12.8 grams of marijuana. I was given a 6-months-to-10-years sentence and became prisoner B28545. I wasn't a hardcore criminal; I was just an addict who didn’t like myself.
I was always nervous around people, and I hated that, and therefore I tried to act out. I wanted to be respected in prison. All the inmates knew about the various prison gangs. I joined a hardcore group of guys, a notorious prison gang, in 1971.
If you were a member of a gang, and you were in trouble, the gang would back you. I tried to make everyone believe I was hard and cold—I got the name of our gang tattooed on my chest like a brand—but inside I was scared to death.
In 1972, it came to my attention that I had access to someone who had wronged one of my gang members. It was going to be up to me to kill him.
"But I'm six months from the parole board," I protested. "They're going to kick me out. I could do more for the gang outside." But then I realized, If I don't try to kill him, am I gonna get killed? 'Cause I had already heard what happened to guys who didn't do what they were supposed to do. So, I told them, "I'll do it."
I found the guy and put my arm around him like, like, "Hey, I'm your friend. You're all right with me." I was nervous. I had never stabbed anyone before. I was on one side of him, and my partner was on the other. Then I pulled my knife out, and we began stabbing him.
His face is still in my mind. I see his face—the fear, the torment. I see his face all the time.
We killed him, just days before I was due to be released.
When I went to court, it was almost like I was in a trance. I guess I just numbed myself to the pain of it—the reality of what I was facing. I was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to seven years to life.
His face is still in my mind. I see his face—the fear, the torment.
I see his face all the time.
FROM DRUG ADDICT TO HARDCORE CRIMINAL
From there, I went to San Quentin Prison in California, and it just became madness. The racial tension between gangs was crazy tough. You never knew if you were going to get into a fight the next time you went on the yard.
Through the grapevine, I heard that a friend of mine who had been released was back in the Los Angeles County Jail. I sent him a letter and asked him to subpoena me for his trial. I couldn't really help his case—I just wanted to get out of San Quentin. He sent for me, and I was transferred to the jail for the trial.
I was put in a single cell under heavy guard, but the officers allowed me to go down to the law library to make phone calls. The first time I went, there was a guy I knew from San Quentin there. He was the leader of a rival gang.
The second time I go down to the law library, he's there again. I thought to myself, If I kill him, I'll have made it. I figured I could make a name for myself. I would be respected by my gang and the other prisoners, and maybe the fear inside me would go away. So, I went to the library for a third time. I had a piece of a mop bucket that I had sharpened on the floor of my cell. He was there again, but this time he was with one of his gang partners.
I ended up attacking both of them … and I praise God today that they took the knife away from me and used it to stab me 10 times.
The last two times, they had me flat on my back, and they went for both of my eyes. The knife hit my right eyebrow, and it glanced off, leaving a scar. My left eyelid was cut and had to be stitched together.
I praise God that they took the knife away from me and used it to stab me 10 times.
When it was over, I remember thinking, Who saved me from this? I knew it was God, but I wasn't ready to acknowledge Him yet.
I went to the hospital. I stayed about a month and a half. During that time, my parents came to see me. They brought one of my uncles, who was a minister, and the three of them prayed with me.
My hospital room was on the 11th floor, and my window looked out west. One day there wasn't any fog on the ocean, and I saw blue-green water, and I thought, Wow, this is what I am missing. And at night, I would come up to the window and see all the lights of LA—and I'd realize again that while I was in prison, I was missing out.
After I healed up, they sent me back to San Quentin. I got a hero's welcome. They said, "Right on, brother! We're proud of you. You did great!"
And I thought, Proud of me? What if I had died? You would have talked good about me for a few days and then forgotten me. That's what I had done when other gang members had died.
So, the lightbulb went on. I began to see how false it all was—how futile. I thought, Where am I going with this? Where is it going to take me? God used that just to show me how ridiculous, how insane, how phony that lifestyle was.
A NEW LIFE TO LIVE
Prisoners are often transferred to other correctional facilities multiple times during their sentences. After my time at San Quentin, I was moved to Folsom Prison. Folsom was quieter—there wasn’t any fighting going on there.
Then in 1978, they sent me back to the same facility, the same unit, where I had committed my first murder six years before. My old gang was still very active there. One day, I was sitting in my cell on my bunk, seeing the hopelessness around me, desiring a change. I didn't see lights or hear music, but all of a sudden, it's just like, Wow, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I have peace of mind that I never experienced before.
So, the next time one of my brothers asked me to get into a fight with some rival gang members on the yard, I said, "If they take the fight to me, I'll defend myself. But I'm not gonna take it to them."
He said, "What's going on?"
I said, "I'm a Christian now. That's the life I'm gonna live."
He just looked at me and shook his head and walked away.
To be continued.
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