March 27th, 2011 Comments Off on Chapter Four
When the Rodriguez family left Nebraska that year they headed once again for Paducah, Texas to pick cotton. Sulema and her husband, Rudy, had joined them in Nebraska that year and, of course, the now pregnant Guadalupe added to the southbound group. Riding in the 1949 Mercury and a two ton truck, the family the family bounced and swayed its way down to Paducah, where they found work in cotton fields owned by a Mexican man and his sister.
The sister, whose surname Ernesto does not remember, worked in the fields herself, alongside the migrants. About thirty-five years old, she could keep up with the best of the men, thanks to her proprietary interest in the crop.
Ernesto was working near her one day when another migrant approached her with a question. “Senora–” he began.
The sister froze in her tracks and glared at the man. “I am a senorita, not senora,” she vigorously corrected him. She was incensed that any man, especially a hired worker, would question her virginity which, considering her age, was a matter of great sensitivity, if not pride.
After several weeks of hard work in the dusty cotton fields Lencho splurged and bought a case of bottle beer, which in those days cost the thirsty about four dollars. He looked forward to sipping it slowly and sharing it with others on the week-end when they rested from their labors. Certainly, he anticipated no trouble from Jesusa. But he was wrong.
When Lencho brought the case in to their shack and put it on the table Jesusa blew up, furious at the waste of money. What followed wasn’t a hair pulling contest or knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out fight but it almost came to one when Jesusa picked up the heavy case and threw it outside, smashing all the bottles. Lencho, not one to say, “Yes, dear” and “No, dear” argued furiously with Jesusa over her dastardly action and soon the whole family was screaming at one another. The daughters sided with their mother and Ernesto with his father.
“I thought,” Ernesto recalls, “that my old man deserved a beer if he wanted one, one he could sit outside with after work. He was a hard worker, y’know, and mad as hell at the wasted beer and broken bottles. Couldn’t even get his deposit back. He was even madder that my mother didn’t think he should have a beer when he felt in need of one.”
The upshot of the screaming and shouting was that Jesusa and her daughters piled into the Mercury and headed for Galveston. Lencho, Ernesto and Guadalupe stayed at Paducah to finish the work there and then headed their truck for Las Cruces, New Mexico, to pick more cotton before they followed the others to Galveston.
At Las Cruces their housing was extremely marginal, consisting as it did of a single room adobe hut with a dirt floor, no water, and a gap in the wall that served as a window. Interior furnishings were two metal cots, one for Lencho and the other for Ernesto and Guadalupe. Without Jesusa there to restrain him, testy father was soon back to his old way of riding and quarreling with his son. But Ernesto, now that he had a woman of his own he was responsible for, was less pliant than he had been in the past.
After one especially angry fight toward the end of their work in Las Cruces Ernesto signaled to Guadalupe to follow him to the truck. He’d had it with his father. With the engine running, the son faced the father. “I’ve had enough of your bullshit bullying and Lupe and I are going back to Galveston. Now! I’m not gonna work with you anymore. You want to ride with us, or you gonna walk?”
Lencho had no choice and he knew it. With greater reluctance than grace, with much grumbling, and torrents of deprecations, he squeezed into the front seat and, after stopping by the farm office to pick up the money owed them, the irascible man and the two young people drove back to Galveston. It was not a pleasant journey.
Once again the whole family was together, this time at Paco’s large rented house at 1614 Mechanic Street. Paco, like his father before him, leased the house and then sub-leased space to other families. Peace, Mexican style, was restored for a short time. The tranquility was broken because Ernesto at age fifteen showed certain signs of not being entirely ready for life with one woman. He still had a touch of the alley cat in him. In fact, he found himself quite attracted to a school girl friend of his sister Angelita’s, whom he made the mistake of escorting home from school one afternoon.
During the course of their bantering journey they stopped off at one of Galveston’s cemeteries. There the two young people rested against one of the stone monuments in the lovely place, Ernesto seated and the young girl stretched out with her head in his lap. It was an innocent enough dalliance but one that blew up in Ernesto’s face the next morning. He had written the girl’s name and telephone number on a piece of paper and filed it away for future reference. He doesn’t remember her first name, he thinks it might have been Ramona, but does remember that it ended with the letter “a”. It was a Spanish name which could have been a man’s name if it had ended with the letter “o”. The next morning when she was doing their laundry Guadalupe, like all good housekeepers, went through Ernesto’s shirt pocket before she washed the shirt. And there to her horror, was a girl’s name and telephone number. To make matters worse, there was also lipstick on her husband’s shirt trails. If she had been Aunt Simona, Ernesto might not be alive today.
That morning she confronted Ernesto with the evidence, accusing him of not only seeing another woman but also suggesting that the lipstick she had found indicated an act of oral sex. Never during their marriage did Guadalupe ever speak English to Ernesto and this time was no exception. She let him have her thoughts with both barrels, in Spanish. He tried to explain to her that the name had misread the “o” for an “a”. “Mentiroso!” screamed Guadalupe. “I talked to her on the telephone a few minutes ago. That’s no man! She said you didn’t tell her you were married. Mentiroso!”–liar. Unlike Aunt Simona, Guadalupe opted for the deep freeze punishing and she didn’t say a word to Ernesto for the rest of the day, that night, or the next morning, at which time a new crisis arose. Ernesto was sitting silently at the table, the tension in the air palpable. When Guadalupe finished cooking his fried potatoes, beans, eggs, and bacon she slopped them on a plate and, rather than placing the plate before her husband, she slid the loaded plate, hash house style, to where he was sitting.
Because Ernesto felt that he had been accused of something he didn’t do, her impudent action made him furious. He had done noting to deserve such insolence, he thought wrongly. To make his point the picked up the plate, took one step over to Guadalupe and smashed the plate and its contents on top of her head.
“I have had enough of this shit!” he yelled.
Still able to see him through the beans and egg yolk clinging to her long black tresses, Guadalupe grabbed the hot, grease laden frying pan from the stove and went after him. Ernesto did not want to get burned or clobbered, so wisely he fled the field with his pregnant girlfriend in hot pursuit.
It was some time before Ernesto thought it would be safe for him to return to their rooms and when he did he found Guadalupe packed and ready to leave. “I am going to my family in Fort Worth,” she announced. “I’ve had enough of you and your ways. I want you to drive me to the bus station. Maybe my father was right when he called you a Huerco chingado desgraciado. I should have listened.
Ernesto had little choice in the matter. Guadalupe had already called her brother-in-law, Juan Benavidez, and he was expecting her, would meet her in Fort Worth. So, Ernesto and Guadalupe separated. She was just beginning to show signs of her pregnancy.
After her departure Ernesto ran into four of his friends. There was no work that day according to the men at the union hiring hall and he didn’t have to chip and paint ships, which he had been doing since his return to Galveston. The five young men visited Lencho and Jesusa’s latest café, drank beer there, and after a while decided to play the slot machines in the whorehouses on Post Office Street. They didn’t want to mess around with the girls there, but wanted to make a few bucks on the machines, something they had leaned how to do years earlier by hitting the machine a sharp crack at exactly the right moment and, as everyone knew, the machines in the workhouses paid out more than the other machines in town.
In the first establishment they visited one of the whores produced a “pin joint”, as it was known, a narrow marijuana cigarette which must have been laced with some other drug because that joint, combined with the beer and wine they had been drinking, “blew their minds”, according to Ernesto. High as kites, three of them decided to see a movie showing at the Tremont theatre, on 23rd and Tremont street, which starred Cantinflas, a popular Mexican film comic. Ernesto needed some laughter because Guadalupe’s departure was beginning to trouble him.
“After we had been in the theatre a while this individual told me to get the hell out of there,” Ernesto remembers. “I felt he was right, that I was being obnoxious, and that I should go home. I started to leave but it wasn’t that easy. I had had trouble about a year earlier with the guy who was yelling at me to leave.”
“See,” Ernesto explained, “the guy had a beautiful sister and she and I went out together. Pretty as an angel and could sing like a bird. Even won a singing contest and everybody was asking her for a date. I ran ‘em all away from her, told them, ‘Get away from her, She’s my date.’”
“‘How do you know I’m gonna go out with you?’ she wanted to know.”
“‘Well you are. I know you are,’ I told her. ‘She was real beautiful. Had light brown hair. So I took her out and her brother kept telling me to stay away from her. Her brother was a couple of years older than I. I didn’t dislike him or nothing, but I didn’t see what made him think he could tell me what to do. He was messing around with something that was none of his business.”
“We used to spar together in the ring. One time he just hauled off and belted the hell out of me and I almost threw up because I had just finished eating something. I had told him I would spar with him, but that he shouldn’t hit me in the gut because I had just eaten. But he hit me hard anyway because he knew I was going out with his sister. And he kept on and on bothering me until one night at a dance he asked me to go outside. Said he wanted to box with me.”
“I knew I couldn’t outbox him, that he was bigger, so when we was going down the stairs I cut him across the back with a push button knife I was carrying. When we got to the bottom we did some fist fighting, I kicked him a few times, and then he ran off.”
“The trouble that night in the theatre was that there was another guy with the brother and he was egging on the other guy to fight with me. I was fifteen, the brother was seventeen, and other guy was bigger than both of us. He was twenty-three.” Ernesto believes the man’s name was Puentes, was also a resident of Galveston, and perhaps a cousin to the man who was egging him on.
Puentes, who had been talked into pressing Ernesto, rose from his seat about five rows above from where Ernesto was sitting in between two young girls and talking loudly. “Hey man, you loud mouth bastard, why don’t you leave the theater? We can’t hear the movie.”
Ernesto was tired, burned out, he had been smoking marijuana, and drinking wine to excess. He wanted to drown out the terrible feelings he had had since Lupe left him. He was in no mood to fight. “Okay man,” he told Puentes, “You are right–I’m being an ass–I need to go home.”
As Ernesto and his little buddy, who Ernesto always referred to as “El Moco,” because Chago Gonzales always had a runny nose, started to leave the theater, He heard Puentes voice again: “You better leave you son-of-bitch or I’ll kick your ass out myself.”
“It’s okay man, I’m leaving,” Ernesto told Puentes and started toward the stairway which led to the bottom floor and the exit of the theater. He waved goodbye and staggered on.
Puente was egged on by the others, and called out to Ernesto again. “On second thought, I’m gonna kick your ass anyway.”
“Okay man, if that what you want. Let’s do it.” Ernesto staggered up the stairs where Puentes waited for him.
Puentes hit Ernesto with his fists and knocked him back into the row of seats where he had been seated with the two girls. The girls screamed and scrambled away from the fight.
When Puentes leaned on top of Ernest and began punching, the young Ernesto grabbed him and pulled him to him and stabbed him three or four times in the ribs and stomach area with his switch blade.
Ernesto got to his feet and the two men fought on. Ernesto, who continued to stab Puentes all over his body, kicked Puentes down the stairway leading to the exit. When Puentes landed at the bottom, Ernesto stood him up against the wall and continued to stab him several more times.
Moco grabbed Ernesto’s knife hand and said, “Let’s get out of here, I think he’s dead already! The cop will be here soon. Let’s go man!”
Ernesto told Moco to get lost, and they parted company. Ernesto went to the Greyhound Bus Station, bought a one way ticket to Fort Worth. When Lupe and her uncle Benavidez came to pick him up at the bus station, Lupe screamed and wanted to know what happened. Ernesto had not noticed, but his top coat and clothing were covered with blood.
When Lencho and Jesusa, learned of the stabbing. He contacted his son and advised him not to return to Galveston as the local police were looking for him. He then made arrangement for Ernesto and Lupe to go live in Eagle Pass with his brother and sister-in-law, Guadalupe and Sara.
Guadalupe, Lencho’s younger brother, had fourteen children with Sara. Lencho offered them a large sum of money to house and feed Ernesto and Lupe, until things cooled down in Galveston.
This had been a good time for Ernesto who met many of his cousins, aunts and uncles he had long forgotten when his father took him away to Galveston as a very young boy. He visited an aunt and an uncle who lived in Piedras Negras, and owned several small rental homes there.
Ernesto fell in love with Mexico and the culture. Most of all he enjoyed watching the young men and women circling the plaza in search of their possible mates. He had never seen so many beautiful Mexican girls as he did there in Piedras Negras.
After several months Lencho and Jesusa drove to Eagle Pass, where they planned to consent to Ernesto marrying Lupe. Ernesto would soon be 16 and needed his parent’s consent to marry. Lupe who was about three years older than Ernesto needed no consent, and Señor Jose Guerra, even had he been around, would not have given it anyway–he didn’t want his daughter marrying that huerco chingado!
Ernesto and Lupita were married in uptown Eagle Pass by a Mexican Catholic Priest by the name of Rodriguez, Ernesto does not think he was a relative, although Eagle Pass has many Rodriguez’ who are related to Lencho.
Lencho was under the wrong impression that Galveston had cooled down and that the local police were not looking for Ernesto. He had not been in town a whole week before he was stopped by a squad car and two policemen. When they asked him what his name was, he lied, and they told him to get in car that he was under arrest.
Ernesto who was riding a bicycle at the time, took off, speeding away. When the police got too close to him he jumped off the bike and took off running, jumping over fences and running through lots and down another street. The chase went on for some time until he was cornered by the two policemen, one in front and one behind him. One of the policemen had his gun out and shouted, “Stop or I’ll blow your fucking leg off–I’ll shoot you if you take one more step.”
Ernesto, exhausted and afraid the policeman would indeed shoot him, came to a stop and was hauled off to the local jail where he would await trial for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. When Ernesto went to trial, the judge was not impressed with Ernesto’s lawyer, nor did he give any consideration to Ernesto’s plea that he was a juvenile and his attacker was an adult. The parole officer, in charge of Ernesto’s out-of-state parole or release, lied and told the judge Ernesto had never reported to him that he returned to Galveston from Nebraska. The judge’s sentence was that Ernesto be held in the State’s Reformatory at Gatesville until he reached the age of twenty one.
Upon his arrival at the Gatesville Reformatory, Mr. Walls, the Superintendent again informed Ernesto that he had to choose a gang to belong to. And once the paper work was finished, he told Rodriguez, “You know your way around. Report to Company A.”
Rodriguez knew his way around Gatesville. He knew the laws of the jungle, and was no longer afraid to face the gang wars that were constantly going on, fights and stabbings.
Mr. Scott, the “high rider” who was in charge of Company A, a tall ex-convict who was hired after his release from Huntsville, stood looking at the lineup of inmates before releasing them into the yard area after supper. He wore a white wide brim Stetson XX cowboy hat and large dark sunglasses. He walked to where Ernesto was, looked at him for several long minutes–perhaps wanting to say, “Welcome back you asshole.”
When the inmates were released from the supper line, Ernest went to the water spigots to get a drink. He felt a hand against his shoulder shoving him away from the water spigot. Without hesitation Ernesto hit the boy who shoved him, several times, knocking him down to the hot Texas dust and kicked him several times before three guards hauled him off to the bull pen, or the hole.
Ernesto learned that the inmate who shoved him was a member of the San Antonio gang, who was trying to establish a reputation of being a tough guy. Ernesto was told not to turn his back on the boy and warned that he might want revenge. His Houston gang members promised they would keep an eye on him too.
During his three day sentence to the hole, Ernesto witnessed several guards come into the hole, and for no reason made three inmates do the bear walk–the inmates had to walk on all fours–while the guards beat them with sticks across their backs and buttocks.
When Ernesto saw blood dripping from one of the boy’s buttocks. He yelled out, “You dirty motherfuckers!”
The guards stopped beating the kids, and warned Ernesto that he could get the same treatment if he didn’t keep his mouth shut. To which he responded, “You won’t get away with this. As soon as I get a visit, I am going to contact someone and tell them about what you just did.”
The guards walked out without attacking Ernesto, much to his surprise. He had anticipated a whipping, But he didn’t care as long as they stopped beating on the little boys.
After several days Ernesto was released from the bull pen. That night he tried to sleep, but one of his friends, a young kid from Houston, who was taking a liking to Ernesto, wanted to tell him how he was having sex with one of the ladies he worked for in the garment factory. Ernesto let the young boy brag on until he fell asleep and dreamed about Lupita.
The Blacks across the road from Company A, who were segregated, and the bigger Mexican kids of Company A, who were also segregated from the white kids, were made to pick cotton, while the administration gave the good jobs, like kitchen work, laundry, and butcher shop to the white boys.
The High Riders, on horses, would march the cotton picker down the road to the fields. They made each man stand on a row of cotton and wait for the sun to knock of the dew from the cotton before ordering the prisoners to start picking.
The Texas sun was beaming down on Rodriguez who was sweating and feeling the Texas dust climbing up his legs and making him feel miserable. He was tired, thirsty, and missing Lupita.
The High Rider, Mr. Scott, moved his horse slowly toward Ernesto and asked if there was something wrong. Ernesto replied that he was feeling sick. The High Rider asked: “Are you seeing little white spots jumping around in front of your eyes.”
Rodriguez quickly responded, “How did you know? Yes, yes, I am seeing white spots before my eyes. I feel dizzy.”
“That’s my cotton you’re seeing, now pick it and put it in your sack!” he said and rode off to oversee the others.
Before the noon hour three High Riders, guards on horses, overseeing the young men of Gatesville picking cotton, decided to have what the considered fun. Each of them picked up a half a dozen rocks, placed them inside the hats. They rounded up the young black kids, prisoners, and ordered them to run.
“No sir, boss, I don’t wanna run, boss.” the boy pleaded.
“All you niggas better git to running, now!” the three High Riders yelled and kicked their horses, charging into the boys, who took off running as fast as they could.
The High Riders yelled, and began chasing the boy and as the passed them they threw the rocks trying to hit the boys on the head. After several minutes of rock throwing and chasing the boys, the High Riders ordered the black boys back to picking cotton, ignoring their injuries.
On a different occasion when Ernesto was picking cotton in the hot Texas sun, the dust and sand crawling up his sweaty legs and testicles, he decided he would rather die then pick the man’s cotton. He took the cotton sack off his back and walked to the end of the row where there was cold icy water in a large milk can. Before he could get the cup of cold water to his parched lips, Mr. Scott rode up on his horse, and told him to put the cup down and get back to picking cotton. He told Ernesto that he could not drink water until he picked the row of cotton to where the water was.
Ernesto, remembering how they stoned the young black boys, said, “Fuck you! You pick your own fucking cotton. I’m not picking shit no more.” The High Rider, kicked his horse and charged Ernesto, but the horse stomped his hoofs then move backwards, refusing to stomp on him. “Old Ernest, you’re looking to get yourself kilt, boy.” Scott growled.
Ernesto threw himself on the ground, facing the High Rider and his horse, and yelled, “Go ahead motherfucker, stomp me to death if you want to, but I ain’t picking your fucking cotton.”
Mr, Lovejoy, another prison guard, driving a truck pulled up next to Mr. Scott, looked at Rodriguez and asked. “What’s wrong with Old Ernest?”
Mr. Lovejoy who had taken a liking to the rebellious tough Mexican boy ordered Ernesto to get up off the ground. “How would you like working with me, taking the cotton uptown to the Gin,” he asked.
Without hesitation Ernesto jumped on the truck and began emptying the cotton sacks brought to him by the other prisoners.
On their way to the Cotton Gin, Mr. Lovejoy and Rodriguez chatted about the day’s events. He told Lovejoy about Mr. Scott and the others stoning the black kids. At one point Mr. Lovejoy stopped the truck, “See that there, Old Ernest?” pointing to a shack a little ways from the road, “Can you see what I see?”
Ernesto was surprised to see a beautiful black woman, completely naked standing in her doorway looking at the stopped truck. She made no effort to hide her naked body, nor her “tits.”
The hot weather made people do strange things in Texas, Mr. Lovejoy explained to Ernesto.
When Ernesto was given the job of emptying the cotton sacks, he had Also inherited the water boy’s job. He was ordered to prepare a one gallon jug of icy cold water for the High Rider, Mr. Scott, a jug he would have to deliver when they went to pick up the cotton that was to be taken to the Gin.
Ernesto did not hesitate to do his duties, this was one job he thoroughly enjoyed. He pissed into the gallon jug, threw in a dead spider, filled the jug with ice and water. When he arrived at the field where Mr. Scott awaited him, Ernesto ran up to him, handed him the icy cold jug and watched Mr. Scott take a big drink–but suddenly spit it out. If looks could have killed Ernesto would have been killed.
Ernesto waited to be whipped or charged with the horse or punished in some way. But Mr. Scott simply recapped the jug, tied it to the horn of his saddle, and rode away to oversee the cotton pickers, never to mention the incident to anyone. He never again drank from the jug Ernesto delivered to him every day.
When Ernesto had first arrived at the Reformatory, Mr. Hodges who was exercising and training several new born bloodhound pups, looked Ernesto in the eye and said, “See that there barb wire fence there, it ain’t high, you can jump over that or crawl through it. We don’t try to stop you from running away. You can go anytime you want to. These here bloodhounds can track you, and we don’t mind the exercise. So you can run anytime you feel like a Jack rabbit.”
Ernesto had many dreams of being with his wife Lupita, and often thought about what Mr. Hodges had said, so, when the prisoners were told that they were going on a three day camping trip to a near by lake away from the reformatory, Ernesto and two other prisoners decided to run away, and steal a car. The three talked about the escape and their concerns about the bloodhounds. They decided to steal a large quantify of black peper which they would put into R.J. Reynolds or Bull Durham tobacco sacks, tie them around their ankles to cover up their scent as they ran off. They waited anxiously for their day to come.
When the van arrived at the camp grounds with a dozen of the reformatory boys, Ernesto and the other two boys did not wait long to execute their plan. The first thing they had to do was to confuse the dogs, which they knew the guards would use. The three boys ran in different directions, crossed and crisscrossed their trails, then they all met in one spot and took off at dead run. They had no idea which way they were going, the only thing they knew for sure was that they had to steal a car somewhere along the way to make their getaway.
The trio ran across one field after another, staying close to trees where they could hide if necessary. They did not dare slow down, because they knew the minutes the guards discovered they were gone, the guards would drive back to the reformatory, bring the dogs and horses to the scene of escape and begin the chase. They knew they could not outrun the horses nor the dogs, so they had to keep on running and hoping they could steal a car before the dogs could catch up to them.
After several hours of running, they found a small water hole which was crawling with water critters, but they had no choice but to drink the water. They were tired and thirsty.
While the others drank the water, Ernesto removed his pants and his jockey shorts, climbed a tall tree next to the water hole, and nailed his shorts to a high limb, with a rock and several large nails he had sense enough to bring with him. He knew the dogs would find the shorts and would not leave the scene until the shorts were removed from the tree. This could buy them some extra running time in which they might find a car to steal.
After running for several more hours, they came upon a farm house where two farmers were doing some remodeling on the house. On the road near the house, they spotted a car. The boys huddled together and decided that they had to steal the car. No one knew how to hot-wire a car. So, the only thing left to do was to hope the keys were in the car. They decided one of them would have to crawl up to the car and see if the keys were indeed in the car. But each time they made a move, they were afraid to be seen. They were too close to the two men working on the house. The two men had a rifle with them and they feared they would be shot if discovered. After about a half an hour, the decided not to chance it. Perhaps, they thought, they would run into a small town where their chances would be better. They crawled away and took off running again.
The three boys made it to a very small country town. Most of the town’s residents were on the hill at a funeral. There were plenty of cars and this was their last chance. Their feet were killing them. They were swollen and painful. The boys could hardly walk.
As they crossed the road in hope of stealing a car, thinking all the town resident were on the hill attending the funeral, the boys cross the two lane country blacktop. As the creeped past a house, an old man sitting on a rocking chair called, “Hey boys, where you think you’re going? Are you from the reformatory?” he asked.
The trio could not run any more. They knew the old man had recognized their prison uniforms and had gone inside the house to call the cops. There was nothing they could do but sit down on the grass and wait for the local sheriff to come.
In the distance, They could hear the bloodhounds baying and pushing forward. They knew it would be just a matter of time and the hounds would be upon them, the High Riders on their horses would soon follow.
The local sheriff arrived while the hounds, and the High Riders were about five miles away. The sheriff wasted no time in handcuffing the tired and worn out trio, and driving them back to the reformatory before the High Riders and the bloodhounds arrived.
Ernesto and his two companions were taken to the Bull Pen where they would spend the next ten days.
The guards later told Ernesto that as soon as they discovered they were gone, they got the horses and dogs into a trailer and begin the chase. “You guys were tricky, but the dogs kept expanding the circle until they picked up your scent. We had to cut a lot of fences to get through and stay on your tail, but we know everywhere you went. We had a hell of time getting your shorts unnailed, but we did it. You guys had a car– the keys were in the car and all you had to do was drive away–we couldn’t figure out why you passed up the car. We were right on your ass, when the sheriff took you away. We were just five miles behind you. Did you know you guys were only about twenty away from the reformatory when you were caught?”
Ernesto and the others boys were reassigned to Company A. Mr. Scott singled out Ernesto and made him sit on a four foot square of cement that stood alone in the hot sun on the hill or the barren recreation area used by the prisoners. The only area where there was some shade, was under a wooden struture, a canopy in the middle of the hill or yard. Ernesto was forced to sit in the hot sun during their recreation period. He only took his additional punishment for four days then rebelled.
Ernesto rose from the cement slab and walked up to Mr. Scott. “I’m not sitting out there in the hot sun anymore. I have had enough of your shit. I already served my ten days in the hole for running away.”
Scott stood up, holding his whittling knife in his hand and threatening Ernesto. Ernesto moved, towards him and said, “I got a knife too,” he said putting his hand into his back pocket. “I’ll cut your fucking guts out if you try cutting me.”
Scott motioned with his knife for Ernesto to start marching to the administration building, and both men walked cautiously to the front office where Superintendent Walls ordered Ernesto to sit down and ordered Mr. Scott to return to his post.
Ernesto explained that he was being punished twice for having run away, and the superintendent agreed with him. Ernesto was sent back to Company A, and Scott was told to leave Ernesto alone.
Inmates at the Gatesville Reformatory baled hay every year. It was an itchy job, and a job that required tossing small bales of hay high on to trucks or large trailers. The days were hot and temper flew among the inmates and the prison guards.
A new inmate had arrived at Gatesville. A huge boy who’s nicknamed had become, “Gorilon” or Gorilla. Ernesto had never been officially named the “King of Hill” but since no one had whipped his ass, they all honored him with the title. But now, Gorilon, backed by the San Antonio gang demanded a shot at the title of King of the Hill. Ernesto was told he had to whip the newcomer or concede the title. Ernesto knew he had to fight or face humiliation from both gangs. Gorilon was a big man and Ernesto was was truly afraid, but it was out behind the barn or lose the title.
The two men met behind the hay barn, out of sight of the prison guards. About a dozen prisoners on the hay bailing crew watched as the two dangerous young men faced each other. They agreed that no weapons would be used, just fists and feet.
Both men squared off, fists in the air and feet firmly set for the fight. Gorilon charged Ernesto with both fists flying like a windmill. Ernesto took a punch to the chest that landed him on his back–he kicked Gorilon with a right heel on the nuts, and rolled to his feet as quick as a cat. When Gorilon tried to spin around and charge at Ernesto again, he was hit twice once on the nose. The second caught him square on the mouth, he rocked backward and his knees buckled, but he regained his strength.
Both men exchanged punches to the head, standing toe to toe, but Ernesto zeroed in and kicked Gorilon on the nuts. And as he fell to the ground, landing on his back, Ernesto, quickly bombarded him with several punches to the face. He then straddled him and choked him until Gorilon turned green, went limp, and the others pulled Ernesto off.
The Houston gang cheered For Ernesto who had now become the official King of the Hill. From that day on, Ernesto was given the nickname of “El Diablo”. the devil.
The two rival gangs were not finished with Ernesto and the Houston gang. They were angry at not being on top, an expression to say that they had the weaker gang and were at a disadvantage. To get even, with Houston, the rival gang decided to put “hooks” in the food. Hooks meant broken glass, dead rats, or anything they could use to contaminate the food.
Gang members often warned their members if the food contained hooks and they knew about it. When passing out food, if it contained hooks, the inmate spooning the food would crook his index finger as to say, don’t eat this.
A food server attempted, during the lunch hour, attempted to put food on Ernesto’s tray, food which he knew had hooks. When he refused to accept the food, the food server grabbed the stainless steal tray and slapped the food on. Ernesto threw the food tray at the server, and all hell broke loose. All the inmates and staff scattered and there was one hell of a fight. Pitchers of milk and cold chocolate sailed across the mess hall hiting inmates and staff alike.
Some guards grabbed inmates and pushed them out of the mess hall. Another staff member had a straw broom with which he was beating inmates over the head and back and forcing them out of the mess hall.
Ernesto was tangling with three brothers, one of them had an ice pick and when he attempted to stick Ernesto, the “Devil” hit him across the face with a pitcher of milk, so the stab wound was superficial. It was not until Ernesto was hit on the back of his head with a straw broom that he turned to see that he was the last one left in the mess hall.
The entire reformatory was locked down. Company A was undressed and searched for weapons, then they were ordered up to the second floor in their underwear and barefooted, without anything to eat until the following morning.
Several days later, as Ernesto and three other members of the Houston gang were leaving the school during the afternoon, they were jumped by several members of the San Antonio gang. Knives were flashed, a few punches were thrown, and the fight spilled out on to the green lawn. No one was hurt. Again, the guards came running and separated the gangs. It was simply a hot summer for everyone involved.
Several inmate had been dispatched to clean up the hay barn. One of the white inmates set fire to some hay bales. The guards got him immediately, beat him all the way to the Bull Pen, after putting out the fire.
About six black kids had been dispatched from their segregated quarters across the road, to help clean up the mess after the fire at the hay barn. When the white guards, spotted the black boys, Lovejoy picked out the biggest black boy and ordered Ernesto to whip his ass. Neither of them wanted to fight each other and Mr. Lovejoy sensed it, and ordered them to break it up. Had it been any other inmate except Ernesto the guards would lave kicked both inmates with their boot heels, their favorite shot–or a swift kick to the ass.
Several inmates were cutting cut in front of the administration building. They were using the old style lawn mowers, the kind that the cutting blade would spin and cut grass when pushed forward or backward. It was a very hot day and Mr. Lovejoy one of the better liked prison guards brought the working crew a watermelon. As they were relaxing and enjoying the watermelon, a social worker came and told Ernesto that he was the father of a newly born baby girl named Patricia, who was born on July 30, 1951.
When Lovejoy heard about Ernesto’s wife giving birth to a baby, he advised him to request a furlough, to ask for one week or ten days to go home and see the child. He told Ernesto, “Don’t tell anyone I told you so, but if they refuse to let you go home, I will personally drive you to the bus station and buy you a bus ticket home. Tell them if they don’t let you go home on a furlough that you are going to run away. I’m sure they will let you go home. Go see your social worker.”
Ernesto followed up with the advice of Mr. Lovejoy and as he had predicted Ernesto was given a one week furlough to Galveston. He went straight to his Lupita and the new born baby girl. “I really wanted a baby boy,” he told her jokingly, “What did I do wrong?”
Lupe was glad to see him and to hold him in her arms. She loved Ernesto more than he would ever realize.
Ernesto had visited some of his friends, one of them was Danny Perez, and the others were Chago Gonzales and Tony Galicia. Chago had warned Ernesto that Puentes was carrying a gun and had told everyone that he was going to kill Ernesto. Chago also told Ernesto that from time to time, Puentes would show up at the pool hall on 21st and Market.
Ernesto knew where the pool hall was and went there. Sure as hell, there was Puentes, who was still suffering from his wounds. He sat behind a table with two of his friends and stared at Ernesto.
Ernesto walked over to where Puentes was, and asked him if the rumor was true, that he had threaten to kill him and that he was carrying a pistol, a .45 automatic.
Puentes denied the rumor. Ernesto pulled out a straight razor and said, “If you have a gun, I’ll give you the first shot, but after that I’ll use this on you. Pull it out and go to it.”
When Puentes denied the rumor the second time, Ernesto walked away and out of the pool hall. The rumor was that Puentes had to be hospitalized and needed more surgery, after his meeting with Ernesto.
Ernesto had contemplated on leaving the state and not returning to the reformatory. He talked it over with Lupe and his father, and they advised him to ask the judge to reconsider the case now that he was a father and had serious responsibilities.
The Judge allowed Ernesto into his chamber,and was quite impressed that Ernesto had gotten a furlough and had sense enough to come see him. Ernesto told the judge that his wife and child needed him more than the reformatory needed him. And further explained that he would leave Texas and never come back. That the whole family was moving to Nebraska in the very near future.
The Judge promised Ernesto that if he returned to the reformatory, that he would have him released within thirty days. However, he cautioned, “You must tell no one I have told you this. Keep it to yourself, when the thirty days are up, the reformatory will release you. I will give them an order and your father will have an order signed by me for your release, when he comes to pick you up.”
Ernesto claims he was afraid to trust the Judge. He claims he truly did not want to return to the reformatory to all that abuse from the prison guards. After all he did have the upper hand. But after serious consideration he decided to return to Gatesville even though he was already one day late.
Ernesto walked cautiously towards the administration building. He spotted Jimmy Olgin, a boy he knew from Galveston. He gave him two pocket knives he had brought back with him. Ernesto had a plan and he need the two weapons, he explained to Jimmy, who promised to hide the weapons until he needed them.
Ernesto went into the social worker’s office and announced that he was back from his furlough. The social worker was angry and told Ernesto he was one day late. Ernesto smiled and said he had planned on running away but decided to keep his promise to come back and asked the social worker if he was glad to see him. The social worker just smiled and shook his hand.
Ernesto was reassigned to a work crew. His new assignment was to help load and unload a trailer pulled by a tractor that cut maize, which was ground up and shot into a silo. The maize as far as Ernesto knew was used as feed for livestock.
The prisoners who were fed up with the guards’ abusiveness and tired of the hard work in the hot sun, had conspired to break the machinery every chance they got. Ernesto was part of the plot to destroy the machinery which gave them a break from work until the machine was repaired.
Ernesto handed a large bundle of maize to an inmate which contained a large piece of metal concealed in the maize. When the grinder hit the metal, it groaned and snapped and the machine came to a quick stop.
The guard who was supervising the crew, picked up a large metal wrench and struck the inmate on his uplifted arm and broke it in three place after hitting him several times.
Several of the inmates pulled out homemade knives, and yelled out “Get that motherfucker!” Ernesto had grabbed a two by four, jumped off the trailer and chased the guard all the way to the administration building, followed by a dozen other inmates, some carrying knives and clubs as weapons.
The boys awaited out the administration building knowing the Superintendent would address the issue. It wasn’t long before Mr. Walls came out and motioned for Ernesto and two other boys to come into his office where three other reformatory guards sat behind a long conference table.
The three boys who had been chosen to speak for the others, considered leaders, told Mr. Walls how they were tired of the racism, physical abuse, and the hard work. In particular they wanted Mr. Walls to fire the guard who had broken the arm of one of the boys.
“You boys continue to break our machinery. It has cost us a lot of money in repairs. Now you come here expecting us to help you. Tell us, why should we help you if you don’t help us?” Walls and the other guards asked.
Ernesto rose from his chair, “You called us in here. We don’t need your fucking help. This is all we need.” he yelled and pulled out a home made knife he had been given by one of the boys on the work crew. “We want to kill that son-of-a-bitch who broke the boy’s arm and we don’t need your help to do that!” The other two inmates joined Ernesto.
The boys marched to Company A’s recreation area, which was a barren piece of land on a hill filled with tumble bugs and ants and one small canopy for shade. The whole Company A sat on the ground and waited for the guards to take some form of action against them. They knew they would be searched for weapons, and not wanting to lose their knives, they dug holes in the ground, stashed their knives and covered up the holes with sand and peastones.
At supper time, the inmates were fed, as if nothing had happened. After supper, they were allowed back on the recreation area where they sat and talked and smoked their Bull Durham tobacco. After the recreation hour, they were marched into the Company A unit, undressed except for their shorts and a towel, and herded into their sleeping quarters, a dormitory contining some sixty cots sourrounded by cyclone fence material with pad locks, on the second floor of the building.
The guards searched the entire reformatory for weapons. The inmates could hear the guards moving about the building and yelling at each other.
The following morning, the inmates were dressed, marched to the mess hall, fed, and lined up two abreast. Four prison guards walked up and down counting the inmates to make sure no one was missing. When the count was finished, one of the guards called, “Okay, fall out for work!”
No one moved. The inmates did not say a word and did not move.
“I said fall out for work.” the guard yelled out the second time.
In unison the rows of young Mexicans of Company A yelled, “Fuck you! we ain’t working for you motherfuckers!”
Mr. Lovejoy spoke softly to the lines of inmates. “I know how you feel. You don’t see that guard here today. He no longer works here. He has been fired.” He looked at Ernesto.
Ernesto said, “How do we know he’s fired?”
“Have I ever lied to you–to any of you?” Lovejoy asked.
The inmates resumed their work, but after a week, Ernesto was called to the administration office. Mr. Walls explained to Ernesto that he was considered too dangerous to the administration. He had too much influence over the other boys in his company. For the safey of the guards, he had to place Ernesto in a special unit, The Duration Bull Pen, where he would be confined to his cell for twenty four hours a day except for showers once a week.
The Duration Bull Pen contined some ten cells which had been build inside an old gym, where the inmates once played basketball. Inmates in the Duration Bull Pen were the most dangerous of the institution and once placed there, no one could earn merits, and were kept there until they were released from their sentence.
Ernesto had told no one about his pending release. He had not earned any merits and guards like Hodges took pleasure in thinking Ernesto would be in the Duration Bull Pen until he was twenty one.
The cells were narrow but contained a toilet, a wash basin, and a cot with a thin mattress. Directly overhead was a light encased in mess wire and loaded with “Blister Bugs.” The crawling bugs, Ernesto learned would fall from the light and on to his chest as he slept. When he awakened he discovered he had many blisters, caused by the blister bugs. They almost drove the young tough Mexican crazy.
Ernesto was allowed to shower once a week. And during one of his shower times, two guards brought a young black boy in and pushed him against Mr. Hodges, “Got a tough nigga boy for you. He stabbed one of our guards with a sharpened butter knife. What can we do with this nigga?”
“Take off all you clothes, nigga,” Hodges ordered. And then he reached for a leather strap about three feet long, about three inches wide with diamond shape holes cut into it. When the black kid was totally undressed, Hodges aked him if he could have a few “tights”, meaning could he slap him across the buttocks with the leather strap.
The boy pleaded with him, “Please boss, please don’ hit me with that,” knowing that the straps were designed to tear your skin off. When the strap was slapped against the skin, the skin swelled into the diamond shaped hole, and when the guard raked the strap away from the skin, it took a tiny chunk of skin with it, every time it was used.
Hodges slapped the boy across the ear and face with the strap and yelled, “Find you a hole nigga,” meaning for him to get into a cell, which were all locked. The boy cried out in pain and started running checking every cell, going from one cell to another. Each time he stopped to check a cell door, the three guards would beat him with the straps, Ernesto watched the whole affair from the shower stall. And saw the boy pass out from pain. One of the guards unlocked a cell and he was tossed inside. Ernesto listened to the boy cry for several days. No one came to tend to his injuries.
The following week when Hodges let Ernesto out for a shower, Ernesto could not hold back the anger he had for Hodges any longer. When he finished, he walked up to Hodges and said, “When I was a little boy, you slapped me across my face. I have never forgotten what you did. If you ever hit me in any way, I am going to kill you.” Ernesto pulled out the open pocket knife he had given to Jimmy Olgin to hold for him. “I am going to give you this knife, but I can get one anytime I need one. I’m not in here for pushing ducks in the water. Check my recorder, I’m here for attempted murder. Don’t ever put your hands on me as long as you live.”
Hodges stood motionless knowing the Mexican meant business and he found himself dangerously alone. He locked Ernesto in his cell and never reported the incident, not to Ernesto’s knowledge.
Several days later Ernesto was taken to the administration building and told he would be going home that day. The Superintendent had received an order from the judge for them to release Ernesto to his parents who would be picking him up later during the day. He was taken to the garment factory and given civilian clothing and shoes. He was allowed to remain in the administration building until Lencho and Jesusa came.