A special interview and topic I’ve been looking forward to discussing sometime now. An exclusive look inside the inner workings of La Eme, the Mexican Mafia. The Black Hand is the true story of loyal soldier Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, his life of crime, and his redemption. Chris Blatchford an award winning journalist and author tells the never before true story of the most powerful gang in America and one of the most brutal and ruthless criminal organizations in the world who control the California underworld: The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia.
Chris has become a true inspiration in writing the story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and its impact on who’ve read the book.
In our conversation, Chris dives deep into his journey on writing The Black Hand, the message he has to those who are contemplating or already in gang life, how he views criminal organizations as La Eme, the Mexican Mafia, and his perspective of Rene ‘Boxer’ Enriquez from face to face interviews inside prison walls.
It’s an important conversation to say the least that everyone should hear.
Thought Catalog: How did Rene “Boxer” Enriquez get in touch with you while he’s currently incarcerated in prison serving multiple life sentences?Chris Blatchford: I’d written stories about Rene, off and on, for a number of years. And I was sitting at my desk at work one day and I got a call from his father saying that Rene was interested in doing a book and would I be interested in it? And I told him I would. A few days went by and I got this call from Rene.
We had never actually spoken to one another before. And I was not even aware if he had firsthand knowledge of any of the stories I had done about him in the past. Because he was locked down in Pelican Bay State Prison. I didn’t know what kind of access he would’ve had to mafia stories I did in L.A, when he’s way up in Northern California.
But anyway, when he called we talked for about an hour — and for lack of a better term — it was like a couple old friends really. It was not defensive at all. He was very open. I remember there was laughter, some joviality. It was really sort of a get to know each other session. We really didn’t talk at that point about anything serious. I had heard from friends who work for the California Department of Corrections that he had dropped out of the (Mexican) Mafia prior to his father calling me. But, I never really had expected to hear from him. I had corresponded with him around Christmas time for more than a decade, and we had contact in that way. So we knew a little bit about each other. We didn’t know each other well, but it was amazing how we seemed to have a rapport right away.
TC: What’s going through your mind while you were interviewing Rene in prison?
CB: I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and have spent a considerable amount of time talking to people in organized crime, including murderers. And people involved in crime in some way. In that respect, it was not anything new for me, and I’ve been in and out of prisons for years talking to people every bit as bad as Rene and in some cases even worse. I always approach whoever I’m interviewing, whether it would be a criminal or the president of The United States, from the angle it’s just another person. And I try to find something we may have in common, whether it be where we’re from or had gone to school, if we were Roman Catholics or not, if we’re married. I usually try to find some common ground to start an interview and I approach it that way. And I never talk down to people, I never try to get offensive unless somebody gets aggressive with me. I always try to go into an interview with an open mind.
TC: What has the response been in writing “The Black Hand” and telling the untold true story of The Mexican Mafia?
CB: I’ve had tremendous response. Without exaggerating, hardly a day goes by that somebody in Los Angeles doesn’t send me a letter or give me a phone call or stop me in the street and ask me about that book. It’s amazing that it’s been a number of years now since it was released and people are still buying it. People always have questions about it. I’ve been a news reporter in Los Angeles for 30 years, so its not unusual for me to get recognized on the street. Again, I would say almost everyday somebody comes up to me whether it’s a police officer, a gangster, a lawyer, or someone who just lives in a neighborhood in Los Angeles. People are always asking me questions about this.
I actually just got a letter today from a guy in prison in Arizona. He said he was tied to an organized crime family back east and his father was a mafioso, of the Italian, not Mexican variety. And he wrote that he read the book in prison and so did all of his friends. And it touched them so closely, because it’s so real and truthful. Also most people in the inner city have a relative or a brother, somebody who at least has been touched in some way by an organized crime group or a gang. And I think they can relate to it on that level. There aren’t many neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area that aren’t impacted in some way by a gang.
TC: Were you in the slightest bit hesitant when approached with this opportunity?
CB: I said right away “let’s do it.” People ask me if Rene helped write the book himself and the answer is no. He never saw a manuscript until it was done. However, his insight and cooperation were invaluable. His narrative is what made the book strong. In the beginning we sat down and I told him I’ll only do this if you have total honesty with me, total candor. As soon as we don’t have that we’re not going to do it. Because I said, I’m only interested in the truth and the impact that this has had on your life, and your family’s life. I wanted an honest inside look at the mafia. Which is really an organization that does nothing but destroy lives on a wide scale basis. We have a national gang problem and I only wanted to do a book that would be completely honest about that, otherwise its just a waste of time. And I didn’t want to glamourize it. I wanted the raw truth.
To add on, I think the average person who goes away from reading the book thinks, my god this is a horrible way to live. And that was my message. A guy told me he visited juvenile hall last year in L.A and learned “The Black Hand” was the most read book in juvenile hall by young people. I think that’s great. I’ve had gang members tell me, if I’d read this before, I would’ve never got involved in this whole thing. I think it was important to write a book about the Mexican Mafia because no one with a major publisher had ever written about them. And when somebody as articulate as Rene stepped forward and wanted to do it, that was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up.
TC: What’s your perspective of Rene from conducting interviews to the writing of the book about him?
CB: He’s somebody who totally embraced the criminal lifestyle at a very young age. I think he reveled in it. He made money. It gave him some status, got him girlfriends, made him someone who was big deal in certain circles.
Even when we started doing the book, I think there were parts of him that still wanted to brag about that lifestyle and what he achieved as a mafioso. He was proud of it at that point, but I think, as the years went by and we got into it more and more, he changed a lot. I believe he did see at some point that his life was a waste, and he would tell you that as well. And I saw him change over the years and I continue to see him change.
TC: Describe the environment of where you conducted the interviews with Rene.
CB: It was he and I alone in a small room to do the initial interviews. I won’t say where it was, but it was a jail facility.
At the time I don’t think he was even handcuffed. I think the deputies who monitored our early on visits trusted both of us. It wasn’t the first rodeo for either one of us. He was not intimidating to me at this point. I think he was extremely intimidating when he was a young mafioso. And I think he relished that. Also, much of the later interviewing happened via telephone. Some of it was in a prison visiting room.
TC: What message would Rene have for anyone contemplating to join the Mexican Mafia or any criminal organization?
CB: In the beginning he did have this message, he thought what he got into was a brotherhood and in reality it wasn’t. It was an organization of a bunch of backstabbers, and I think all the mafia groups are like that. When your number comes up you’re a dead man and it doesn’t matter who you are. I think that is a clear message when you do get involved with these people. They may be charming on the surface, but when the time comes, when they have to kill or extort you, they won’t hesitate. It’s not a brotherhood, it’s an organization of criminals who will turn on each other at the drop of a hat.
TC: How does Rene live knowing he’s on the Mexican Mafia’s hit list?
CB: I think they would take him out in a minute if they could find him, but obviously he doesn’t want them to find him. His philosophy about that is clear cut. He says he did what he did and if he has to pay down the road that way, he’ll have to accept that. He’s pretty philosophical about it. He knows the life that he bought into and he knows there are consequences. Some of those consequences he’s suffering now in prison, and he accepts the other possibilities as well.
TC: What’s the commonality of letters you receive from inmates in prison who are gang dropouts or still involved in gang activities?
CB: You should see the letters I get from inmates explaining how they’re so regretful that they’ve wasted their lives in a life of crime. The commonality is regret that they wasted years of their lives doing something that really had no value. And by the time they figure that out, it’s too late. Their life was already gone, especially their youthful years were already gone. And that’s the sad part about it really. All criminal organizations really do is just destroy lives and the bottom line is they hurt people. These people might have some good inside them and it’s never too late to tap into that. And I think that’s the positive thing about Rene’s story too, here’s a guy in his 50s now, he’s trying to fix his life. And a lot of these mob guys do become prisoners of their own organization.
TC: How did Rene not lose his sanity being locked down 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with no outside stimulation whatsoever?
CB: He turned to literature. A guy told him when he was going to prison to get some books, they will be your best friends. A number of these guys go to prison and they do start reading because they have a lot of time alone in their cell. A lot of guys just watch TV and their minds vegetate and those are the ones who go crazy. I think the ones who keep their sanity are the ones who read books. It’s something they probably never did in elementary or high school. Ironically, that could’ve saved their lives, and now they finally get educated in prison.
There’s a guy named “Freeway Ricky Ross” who was a big Los Angeles drug dealer in the 80s. He made millions and millions of dollars. He went to prison for a number of years and he told me the best thing to ever happen in his life was learning how to read there. He never knew how to read before, and he was running a multi million dollar drug operation. He told me reading books opened his eyes to so many other ways of living. And I think that’s what reading does and that’s why it’s so important for everyone to read. Knowledge is a window into the world!