A Letter to Society from Eladio Niño, Inmate 407555

This is the next installment of a human storytelling experience. The first piece, Alejandro López’s story of living with HIV, can be found here.

About a year ago, Gawker ran a series of “Letters from Death Row,” which featured one from Ray Jasper. In Jasper’s letter, he made several claims on the state of America’s prisons and notes on the disparate rate that Latinos/Blacks are affected by this system. A short time later, Ray Jasper was executed in Huntsville, Texas.

While many acknowledge that the criminal justice system is broken, how can we advocate for the death penalty? Doesn’t an eye for an eye make the whole world blind? Who are we to say when someone is no longer meant to live?

Jasper’s letter gave me the idea to offer a different perspective from someone who is currently incarcerated. So I asked my friend Eladio Niño, a man that I’ve cross-mentored for nearly two years. Eladio is from southwest Detroit and has a past involving gangs, violence and drugs. Today, Eladio is seeking a better path for a brighter future.

I contacted Eladio and asked if he’d be willing to communicate some of his story in hopes of sharing the perspective of a young boy from the streets who later became property of the state. I know that it was not easy for Niño to write this letter, because it’s hard for a man to open up and be honest with his shameful past, and I’m proud of him for doing it.

If you have a pulse, please read this letter and share it.

The letter is not at all intended to glorify a man who has made mistakes, but rather to help uplift our own and help seek a path for redemption for all of us.

Letter

To whom it may concern,

My name is Eladio Niño, Jr. I was born on December 15, 1978 in Cook County Hospital in Chicago. My father is from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, and my mother was born and raised in the Corktown area of southwest Detroit. My father worked in a tortilla factory in Chicago but he was a heavy drinker and was abusive towards my mother. After my first birthday, my mother decided to move back to Detroit. She was tired of the abuse.

I never witnessed any of it because I was only a child when all of this occurred. Soon after moving back to Detroit my mother met a man who eventually became my stepdad. He was a Cuban that had arrived in Detroit in the early 80’s. He took good care of my mother and treated me like his own.

Eventually him and my mother had my two younger brothers Bartolome and Lorenzo Amores. As far as I remember, me and my brothers got along well. I never referred to my brothers as my “half brothers.” By the mid to late 80’s things were getting hectic in southwest Detroit. Mexicans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans flooded the streets in Southwest and it eventually became a war zone.

Gangs had migrated from Chicago and drugs, money, power and territory became the way of life in my community. As a kid I grew up seeing a lot of drug activity, sex, parties and domestic violence.

My dad was never physically abusive towards my mother but he had a mean verbal approach. He was a man of few words but when he spoke he roared!

For the most part my dad was humble and caring. In 1984 life was bittersweet in Detroit. The Detroit Tigers won a championship and Detroit went crazy, “literally.” I remember being downtown as a kid on Michigan Ave. down the street from Tiger Stadium and watching what was supposed to be a celebration turn into a riot! I seen turned over cars, burned building and even as a kid it didn’t make sense to me.

Soon after that my mom and dad decided to get us out of the hood. My dad would ride a 10 speed bike all day and make money. My mom never knew how much money my dad actually made. She never really asked questions. He wasn’t a flashy person. My family used to think that my mom was dating a bum. My mom dealt with some discrimination issues from her family because my dad was a black Cuban.

Eventually my dad ended up buying us a house in a city called Lincoln Park. It was on the outskirts of Detroit. In the 80’s Lincoln Park was considered to be a suburb city. It was a city with predominantly white people. At my age color made no difference. All I knew is, we had our own house and I had my own room in the basement. I thought I was living large!

My mom and dad had the right idea and meant well by moving us out of the hood so we didn’t get caught up in the violence and conflicts between the gangs but what they failed to realize was that while they were trying to shelter us from one struggle we were exposed to a different struggle and that struggle was racism.

My mother was called a n*gger lover by neighbors because even though my dad was Cuban, his skin was black and they hated it. Being Mexican didn’t make it any better. I would get jumped by white kids after school and be called a n*gger.

Eventually my family had enough and decided to sell the house and move to a more diverse neighborhood in a city called River Rouge. River Rouge was a decent city at the time. It was a 5-minute drive from southwest Detroit. The city was mainly blacks and whites. Only a couple of Latino families lived in the city.

We didn’t have to deal with racism so we were content. I made a name for myself in this town and became popular real quick. I spent the weekends in Detroit with my mom’s family and I’d go stay in Chicago with my father’s side of the family in the summers. I was able to stay in touch with my roots.

My father’s family was from Mexico and were hard workers and owned businesses in Chicago and Detroit. When I was young I’d work in a tortilla factory that my uncle Ciro owned in Detroit called “La Potosina.”

My mother’s side of the family were hustlers, gangsters and party people. Most of my older cousins were gang members and my aunts and uncles sold drugs and used drugs. I was 6 or 7 years old the first time I ever saw the movie Scarface. I wasn’t supposed to watch the movie but I stayed up late one night and watched it. It was the most amazing movie I had ever seen. It was better than any Rocky or Rambo movie. It was then that I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up.

From then on I had studied the movies, language and dress codes of all of the gangsters and hustlers. I was infatuated with the lifestyle. I even learned how to cuss from watching Eddie Murphy’s stand up comedy called Raw. I wasn’t supposed to watch that movie either 🙂

Once we were moved into our new house in River Rouge my mom and dad ended up splitting up. They had a bad break up and all of a sudden I became the man of the house. My dad would still stop in to check on us but financially we were on our own. My dad stopped hustling and spent most of his time fishing and would do side jobs to survive.

Meanwhile, me, my mom and my two younger brothers are living in a big house with lots of bills to pay. It was a stressful time for my mother. By this time I was running the streets and raising hell. I was undecided about what gang I was going to join. I thought about following in my family’s footsteps and joining the Latin Counts or go with the local crowd in River Rouge and be a part of the 98 Posse.

I chose to be a part of the 98’s because it was my own decision and I felt empowered by it and I wasn’t in someone else’s shadow. Now that I’m a part of the 98’s I have to make a reputation for myself so now I’m getting myself in all kinds of trouble from spray painting on houses and buildings, to breaking into houses, to fighting in school and being a hell raiser!

My mom decides that she can’t handle me and sends me to live with my father’s side of the family in Chicago. They welcomed me with open arms. The difference is that my father’s side of the family worked for a living and they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Complete different atmosphere for me. I’m used to being around street people.

Immediately our lifestyles became a conflict of interest. My aunt wanted to convert me into their beliefs and lifestyle and didn’t take time to understand all that I had been through or consider that I had my own beliefs.

Eventually my family takes me to Mexico where I meet my grandparents and other uncles. My family set it up for me to meet my father as well. It was a happy time for me. I felt more complete now that I finally met my father for the first time since my parents were separated. I enjoyed being in Mexico but I dealt with a lot of discrimination from the local kids because my Spanish was broken and they said I wasn’t a real Mexican because I was born in the United States. I didn’t understand it. I thought we were Mexican no matter where we were from.

After a couple of months in Mexico I ended up back from Chicago and then eventually back in Detroit. By the time I get back home some things have changed. My mom has a boyfriend now. Right away him and I bump heads. All I want now is to be with my father.

At this time I’m going through an identity crisis and all kinds of emotional distraught. My mom sends me to see a therapist and they came to the conclusion that I should live with my father. Eventually arrangements were made for me to go live with my father in East Los Angeles.

Once I arrived there, my father and stepmother were happy to have me. From the airport straight to the taco truck. It was the coolest thing to me. They didn’t have taco trucks in Detroit at this time.

Once we get to the house I realized that my father doesn’t have his own house, he rents a room in the back of a house and we have to share the bathroom and kitchen with stranger!

My living conditions suck. I’m with my father so I know things will get better. I’m my father’s only child so I don’t have any siblings to bond with. I really start to miss my brothers.

Eventually I get enrolled in a nearby school. I’m looking forward to meeting some new friends. I was nervous on my first day of school. I didn’t know what to expect. Once I got there I was amazed at how big the school was. It looked like a college campus, only it was ran like a prison because there were police everywhere and barb wire on the fences. It was intimidating.

Once I received my itinerary for my classes I stood still and looked around. I realized there were no black or whites at the school, only Mexicans and Asians. I greeted an Asian student that walked by and he looked at me like I was crazy.

I greeted a Mexican student and he looked at me the same way. I didn’t understand it. Eventually a neighbor kid noticed me and approached me because he noticed I seemed lost. When I told him why I felt confused he explained to me that Asians and Mexicans don’t socialize and the reason that the Mexican kid looked at me crazy is because I talk and dress like I’m black.

I couldn’t believe it, first I’m not Mexican enough for the Mexicans in Mexico now in Los Angeles. I was confused and discouraged. I loved my culture and people but it seemed like they discriminated towards me more than anyone. I thought we were all Mexican!

Things didn’t work out with my father like I had imagined and I ended up moving back to Detroit with my mother. My mom and her boyfriend are still together. Eventually he teaches me how to drive and now I’m on the move. Still in pursuit of being a recognized and credible gangster I turn back to the streets. I’m teaching all the homies everything I learned about gangs and drugs and sharing my stories from Chicago and Los Angeles.

Immediately my experiences and education on the gangs and the structure gives me status. Now I’m a devoted gang-member. I was willing to die, kill or go to prison for my gang. One day I threw a house party that ended up getting raided because of a conflict with some neighbors.

I’m 15 years old and I had 11 guns under my mattress. I ended up in juvenile that night. While I’m there I end up getting jumped by a rival gang. I stayed in juvenile for 3 months and never heard from any of the homies. Once I came from home I was furious at them for not staying in touch with me. I had standards and expectations when it came to loyalty and commitment to the gang.

Later that same year I met some older guys that were the leaders of a well established gang called the Cash Flow Posse. I started to spend a lot of time with these guys. They embraced me and taught me a lot of specifics to gang life. One of the main things we had in common is that we were Latino. That same year I became a member of the Cash Flow Posse. I felt that was a power move for me. I was moving on to bigger and better things. Not long after that I learned how to hustle and sell drugs.

Now I was able to help my mom pay bills. I’m making my contributions and feeling less like a burden to my mother’s life. I was only 15 and had caused my mother so much grief. By this time I’m well established in the streets and girls are throwing themselves at me. Mainly white girls. I liked Latina girls but they weren’t giving it up like the white girls were. Eventually I fell in love with one of them and had my first relationship.

Soon after that I ended up getting locked up for 6 months and going to bootcamp for violating my probation. While I was away this girl moved in with my mother and decided she was going to wait for me. Once I was back home she immediately ended up pregnant. Our lived had changed when my daughter was born. All of a sudden I’m a father and I have the pressure on me to be a provider.

By this time I’m 17, well connected and making money. I have a couple of close friends and I’m keeping my ties open with gangs. Eventually I started hanging out with an adult crowd and eventually indulged in adult activities. That’s when my life took a turn. I was introduced to cocaine. Initially I started selling it but that’s what the older crowd was doing.

It eventually became a habit and had taken a toll on my life. Before I knew it I was being physically abusive to my daughter’s mother, cheating on her and had disregarded my responsibilities all together. I ended up going to jail after one of our episodes and it changed my life. I was sent to a domestic violence program and I had learned so much about myself. It taught me self awareness, self control, empathy and accountability.

After taking these classes I though that our relationship would improve but I was wrong. Too much damage had been done, beyond repair. We had a bad break up and we both moved on. I eventually started dating a Mexican chick and she got pregnant right away. Eventually my son Victor was born. I got back on track and started making money again.

I was less active in the gang activity and more focused on being a drug dealer. I failed to realize that all of the elements that go with gangbanging apply to drug dealing as well. I considered myself to be a sophisticated gangster.

I surrounded myself with guys that had the same vision and ambition as me. Eventually betrayal became a close friend of mine. In order for me to be successful in the drug business I had to start cutting ties with some of the homies that lacked vision and became more dead weight than anything.

That left a sour taste in their mouths and they started to become envious of my success. They ended up plotting on me and breaking into my house and apartment and stole alot of stuff from me.

After that I became furious and didn’t trust anyone. I felt disrespected and betrayed. These were supposed to my homies. They couldn’t accept that I had outgrown our friendship.

After that, my respect became the most important aspect of my life. Violence became my answer to every problem. I thrived off violence to establish power.

I had a few close friends and we were on the same page when it came to establishing money, power and respect. We had the “by any means necessary” mentality. That mentality led us to a destructive path.

We got besides ourselves to the point that we had total disregard for people’s lives. That mentality ended myself and my 2 closest friends in prison for murder.

I was sentenced to 15 years.

13 years later here I am telling my story.

My journey in prison has been a rollercoaster.I’ve stood on the ethics that I’ve always known, “Only the strong survive.” When I came to prison I knew I had to establish myself and I did.

Your respect determined your power in prison. When you come to prison the essence of who you are will be exposed. Your strengths, weaknesses, vices, pet peeves, ability and competence will all show its face and it will either work for you or against you.

No more hiding behind money, jewelry, cars, guns and every other element that people use to create an image for themselves or disguise themselves with. Your essence will be seen seen and your values, morals, and principles will be tested.

Prison will make you or break you, it forced to you to take a good look at who you are, why you are the way you are, if you’re smart enough and strong enough to change and make adjustments and decide who you are determined to become.

Discovering your purpose is empowering. You learn your self worth. Eventually you should reach the point that I’m at today where I want to right all of my wrongs.

I’ve had to watch my sons and brothers grow up in a visiting room. I’ve had to watch my mother cry over the grief I’ve caused her. I’ve lost so many friends and family members and didn’t get the chance to say good bye or see you later. I’ve missed out on some of the most priceless times and moments of my family’s lives. I deprived myself of the privilege of raising my own kids.

Instead of building bridged with my loved ones I created gaps and distance between myself and the rest of the world. I forfeited my opportunities to do good things for myself and family. I had defeated my own purpose. I lost sight of what was important to me. I took everything and everyone for granted.

But I can promise you this, not all was lost, and much has been gained. I’ve made the choice to change. In the pit of deprivation I found salvation.

I finally got tired of living in an endless cycle of grief, disappointment and dead ends. I realized that all I’ve endured and experienced have molded me for a greater purpose.

God is my teacher, the earth is my classroom and life is the lesson.

Everything makes sense now. I actually took time to evaluate how my life has unfolded and how every event was preparing me for the next obstacle. It was empowering to the point that I had embraced my struggles and began to disect every good and bad thing that happened to me so that I can fulfill its purpose.

God works through people to people. Because of my experiences I am able to love better, hear better, see better, give good sound advice and connect to people. I am defiant and fearless, I know the difference between circumstantial and unconditional love and I’ve found my place in life.

There is a reason why I experienced racism, prejudice and biasness. It taught me to be diverse, understanding and how to speak everyone’s language. With those skills I’ve learned to be diplomatic and I’ve taken an interest in politics and knowing the way the world worked.

There’s a reason why I grew up listening to The 4 Tops, The Temptations, The Gap band, Vicente Fernandez, Ana Gabriel, Los Tigres del Norte, NWA and freestyle music by Lil’ Sugy, Stevie B and Johnny O. My taste and familiarity in music opened up doors for communication.

Since I’ve been in prison I’ve built a healthy relationship with my father who is a devoted Christian in East Los Angeles. I’ve learned to love and respect my father from in here. I’ve learned how to reflect and appreciate the times that my mother put her best foot forward in doing all that she could so she can provide for me and my brothers.

My mother was a heavy set woman but took a job working as a Cracker Jack lady in Tiger stadium. In my eyes my mom was awesome for that. Today my mother is known as a tamale lady. She makes the best tamales in southwest Detroit and Downriver. I plan on taking her recipes and making a legitimate business so I don’t have an excuse to turning back to selling drugs.

I don’t want to be responsible for ruining lives. I want to leave a legacy behind for my family and friends to be proud of. I want to be an asset to my community and the rest of the world. I want to make my contributions to helping lives change for the better. I love the youth. I want to invest in my future and the futures of others. I want to encourage people to change their thinking patterns and be visionaries. I take pride in being a father, a son, a brother and a friend.

My loyalty and dedication are great qualities, I just applied them to the wrong path. But because of it, I’ve learned how to prioritize my life. I want to be a part of every worthy cause that I can commit to. I love to love and be loved.

Iam Eladio Niño and I thank my friend Máximo for giving me the opportunity to share my story with others. I thank everyone for taking the time to read it and I hope that I am able to touch some of your hearts and inspire others to make a change and challenge themselves to do better.

Que Dios Te Bendiga,

Eladio Niño

My release date is 7-7-17. I have decided to dedicate these last 2 years to the rest of my life and the rest of my life to my family, friends and loved ones especially my daughter Selena, my son Victor and my youngest son Emilio who was a week old when the incident happened that landed me in prison and he was one year old when I came to prison. My daughter was 5 and Victor was 3. I apologize for the grief that I’ve caused them and my family and the family of the victim in my case. I was blind but now I see.

If there is anyone that has any questions, opinions or stories they would like to share with me, please feel free to reach out to me. I will extend myself to you as much as I can. I am open minded, understanding and experienced. I am 36 years old and growing gracefully. I love being creative, expressing myself and sharing ideas with people. Please do not hesitate.

You can contact me at:

Eladio Niño #407555
G. Robert Cotton Facility
3500 N. Elm Rd.
Jackson, MI 49201

Or simply reach out to Máximo Anguiano (my friend).

Nino_editable

Eladio’s original letter can be found here.

Recently I received a phone call from Eladio. He said his 16-year old son had been expelled from school for possessing a small amount of marijuana and was arrested.

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Máximo Anguiano is a creative, activist, and public intellectual. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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