The New Mexico state penitentiary is a maximum security prison for men, and is located just outside Santa Fe. When Billy Joe arrived in 1985, conditions were a little better than prior to the notorious riot of 1980, but not by much.
The riot had been sparked by a combination of inmate overcrowding, unhappiness over lousy food and unsanitary conditions, and the cancellation of various recreational programs. It was the most violent riot in American prison history. The inmates took complete control of the prison, and twelve officers were taken hostage. It took authorities thirty-six hours to regain full control. By that time, thirty-three inmates had been killed, mostly by other inmates using particularly gruesome techniques including decapitation, hanging, burning, and torture. More than two hundred prisoners required treatment for injuries. None of the prison guard hostages were killed, but seven of them were raped and severely beaten.
There were two main inmate groups in the prison – the Chicanos and the Aryan Nation. Billy Joe kept largely to himself, but was given some degree of protection and safe passage by the Chicanos who were impressed by his history of killing a white police officer.
One of the Chicano inmates had been on the seriously wrong end of an altercation with Deputy Officer Roy some years earlier. Out of gratitude, he gave Billy Joe a large and heavy wooden crucifix that he had fashioned in the prison workshop. The bottom of the vertical portion of the crucifix was actually a handle that had a steel shaft inserted firmly into its top end. The sharpened steel shaft slotted neatly and inconspicuously into a groove drilled through the middle of the top half of the crucifix.
It was a perfect prison weapon.
The years crawled slowly by. Other than some minor scuffles, Billy Joe had managed to keep out of trouble.
Until one day, while minding his own business in a corner of the prison yard, he was approached by three muscular white dudes. All three had shaved heads, and were heavily tattooed, mostly with swastikas.
“We heard you were the wet back who killed a white man on the outside. Time to pay for your sins, boy.”
By now they were standing in a semicircle about four feet away. All three faced him slightly side on, each with his right hand held against his right thigh and hidden from view.
Billy Joe pointed his left foot at the center of the semicircle, and settled his weight back on his right heel, knees slightly bent. He half extended his left arm forward and brought his right hand up against his chest. Right next to his wooden crucifix.
“I’m American, just like you boys. And I don’t want any trouble.”
“You ain’t nothing like us, grease ball. And as for no trouble, you’re a little late.”
Billy Joe had been waiting for some sort of little speech. While the guy was still talking, Billy Joe yanked down on the bottom of the crucifix, lunged toward the guy on the edge of the semicircle to his right, and plunged the steel shaft of his shiv just to the left of the man’s sternum. In and out, once, quick. The man’s pericardial sac began filling rapidly with blood escaping out of his right ventricle, and he slumped onto his knees.
Billy Joe had already pivoted slightly towards the guy in the middle. He jammed the shiv deep into the second man’s abdomen. The blow forced the man backwards a step. Reflexively, he went to grab the handle of the embedded shiv with both his hands. Billy Joe released his grip on the knife, and turned to face his last attacker. The good news was that two out of three were down; the bad news was that he no longer had a knife.
As he had suspected, like the other two, the third guy had a knife of his own, and it looked like he was fully prepared to use it. Semi crouched, both men started circling each other warily. In the interim, some of the other white inmates in the yard had strategically arranged themselves so that the guards could not see what was going on. The guy with the knife, who was also bigger and stronger, could now take his time.
Billy Joe tried to keep his left side and left arm in front of him as much as possible. It kept his vital organs and stronger side protected, but after suffering three separate forearm lacerations, he realized that bleeding slowly to death was not an auspicious recipe for success. He would have to change tactics.
Billy Joe started to gradually widen the distance between himself and the man with the knife. When he had reached a distance of about fifteen feet, he stopped, and turned suddenly to face his opponent head on. The sudden change in movement caused the man to pause. For two seconds, nothing happened. Then Billy Joe charged, like a thoroughbred out of the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Instinctively, the man took a step back. When Billy Joe got to within five feet, he launched himself onto his back as if he were Mickey Mantle sliding into home plate. His momentum and the packed dirt of the prison yard easily carried him the rest of the way. He was now lying almost directly underneath the guy, on his left side, his legs open like scissors, one on each side of the guy’s feet. The man had been expecting some sort of kamikaze full frontal attack, and had kept his knife waist high. As he saw Billy Joe sliding below him, he started arcing his knife arm downwards. But he was too late. Billy Joe’s slammed his legs together just above the guy’s ankles causing him to spin to his left and topple over onto his face, knife still held firmly in his right hand.
Like a cat, Billy Joe jumped onto the man’s back, and began brutally and repetitively pounding his face down into the dirt until he lay still. Billy Joe picked up the man’s knife and rammed the blade down into the notch between the back of the skull and the top of the spine.
Meanwhile, the second man had managed to finally work Billy Joe’s shiv out of his abdomen, and he was now stumbling his way over, a gentle trickle of blood following his footsteps in the dirt.
Billy Joe removed what was now going to be his shiv from the foramen magnum of the third skinhead, and sized up the situation.
“Your buddies are both dead. Let’s just call it a day.”
“Fuck you.And fuck all beaners everywhere.”
Billy Joe could see the guy was hurting. And that sudden moves would cause more pain. So he started darting back and forth, just enough to keep the guy off balance, constantly moving and twisting, constantly hurting. It was only a matter of time.
The guy let out a groan, and dropped his knife arm. Rapidly, Billy Joe stepped in. He batted the man’s knife arm away with his left forearm, and thrust his own knife upwards at the guy’s Adam’s apple, The blade went in up to the hilt. The man let out some gurgling sounds and tried to claw the knife out of his throat. With an emphatic sideways slash, Billy Joe removed the knife for him.
After that, Billy Joe spent most of the rest of his prison sentence in solitary confinement. There was some disagreement if this was for his protection, or that of the other inmates. Either way, Billy Joe was fine with it. He liked his own company.