My friend Neaners called me collect from a Washington State prison to tell me he was back in the hole—back in solitary confinement.
“I guess one of the homies took off on a cop,” he said, “and then a fight popped off.”
Neaners was born José Israel García. Since he’d once been the leader of a Mexican gang in the Northwest (he joined as a ten-year-old), the prison officer assumed that Neaners had orchestrated the fight as well as the assault on the police officer. Officers came to his cell, he told me, to tell him that the investigator wanted to talk. I could imagine him standing there with his shaved head and tattooed arms and face, and I knew that he was answering honestly when he told officers that he knew nothing about the incident. “But then,” Neaners said, “the investigator told me, ‘OK, Garcia, turn around and cuff up,’ and took me to the hole.”
Chris Hoke is jail chaplain and gang pastor for Tierra Nueva, an ecumenical ministry in Burlington, Washington, that works with migrant farm workers, jail inmates, gang members and those struggling with addiction.