The Nuestra Familia prison gang formed in the early 1960s when Hispanic inmates from Northern California created their own gang in response to mistreatment by Los-Angeles based gangs under the Mexican Mafia umbrella. At this time, Hispanic gangs united against the Black Guerrilla Family and Aryan Brotherhood.
Over time, prisoners were released and spread the prison gang to neighborhoods. Members still pay homage and do the bidding of the leaders in prison because they know they’re likely to be behind bars with them again. This process has allowed Nuestra Familia and other gangs to flourish across the country.
An F.B.I. attempt to break up the gang around 2002 resulted in tougher sentences for some but essentially divided its leadership among multiple maximum security prisons in different states. Another major crackdown on the gang took place in 2010.
The Nuestra Familia tattoos are likely to include the number “14” often in Roman numerals, “XIV.” Fourteen represents the numerical position of the letter “N” in the alphabet.
Nuestra Familia gang initiation rites include “blood in, blood out” which means committing a bloody crime such as assault or murder in order to join or leave the gang. Initiation to Nuestra Familia gang may also include a lengthy and painful beating from fellow members.
The glorification of gang affiliation by celebrities in rap music, and through video games and movies have created a bonanza for recruitment. Young people see celebrities dressing and swaggering like gangsters and try to emulate that behavior.
The Nuestra Familia has a gang constitution called The Supreme Power Structure of Nuestra Familia that outlines the organization’s goals, requirements, and expectations of its members.
This set of rules includes:
Parts of the constitution read “No member of this O shall put material things, whether it be drugs, money, women, or punks (as related to the pinta) before the best interest of La Nuestra Familia or a familianos” and that “No familiano shall lie about his position in La Nuestra Familia when discussing familianos business to a superior or a brother member.”
The danger of having a written constitution has to be weighed against the difficulty controlling a widespread criminal operation without one. Is it better for Nuestra Familia to establish a code of conduct that each member can refer to, or better to go without a constitution to avoid one more opportunity for federal law enforcement to prove the gang is an organized criminal syndicate with clear leadership? In the latter situation, the Pinkerton Doctrine applies to prosecution of individuals within the organization: each member can be held responsible for another’s criminal activity because it is done in order to further the overall organization.
California’s Hispanic gangs are divided geographically into northerners and southerners, called Norteños and Sureños. These serve as umbrella organizations for regional gangs as they pay homage to the leaders of the Nuestra Familia and Mexican Mafia respectively. This organizational structure reinforces the dominance of the master gangs and allows them to take a significant portion of profits from drug trafficking and other criminal activity that takes place at the street level.
The FBI’s Operation Black Widow resulted in arrests and indictments of 150 members of Nuestra Familia gang. Following that, the television news show “60 Minutes” asked if a prison exists that can actually isolate the hardened criminal leaders. The response they received included much information about how Nuestra Familia leaders, direct underlings to perform home invasions, enhance drug profits, and even commit murder.
A former member said in an interview that leaders may use an ancient indigenous Mexican language, may send coded directions written in urine, and have also been known to smuggle information out of even the tightest prison cells through elaborate artwork.