Nuestra Familia is a Mexican-American prison gang that was founded in Soledad prison, California in 1968. The gang was an enemy of the Mexican Mafia, and it decreed that all Nortenos ("northerners") were members of the NF, granting them protection from "La Eme" (the Mexican Mafia) behind bars. The gang is allies with the Bloods, Crips, and Black Guerrilla Family, while it is hostile towards the Mexican Mafia, Mexikanemi, MS-13, Texas Syndicate, Fresno Bulldogs, Nazi Lowriders, Aryan Brotherhood, Public Enemy No. 1, and the Netas.
Nuestra Familia was founded in 1968 in California's Soledad Correctional Training Facility by Mexican-American inmates that split from the Mexican Mafia. The Nuestra Familia members came from northern California while the Mexican Mafia came from southern California, leading to a divide between the Norteños (NF) and the Sureños (La Eme). The Nuestra Familia gang's motto is "blood in, blood out", meaning that they get in the gang by shedding blood, and they get out by death. The recruits are expected to sacrifice their life and freedom, and members are supposed to expect that they will go to prison. 500 of their leaders are in prison, and tens of thousands of foot soldiers (Norteños) are also behind bars. Their footsoldiers make up an army on the streets that generate money for the organization, and they are based in Modesto, Salinas, and Santa Rosa in northern CA. Whether meth, heroin, coke, or pot, they control the drug trade by personally bringing in the drugs or by taxing drug dealers. They bring in millions of dollars through the drug trade, but prostitution, extortion, and identity theft are also major rings. They face competition from the Mexican Mafia, the predominant Hispanic gang in southern California (known to NF as "sewer rats" or "scraps").
In 1968, a dispute over a simple pair of shoes (a Norteños member confronted a Mexican Mafia member who stole his shoes) led to the War of the Shoes, the ongoing long-term and violent war between the northerners and southerners. The Norteños fought together as a cohesive force for the first time, giving rise to the Nuestra Familia. They used the Huelga Eagle, the symbol of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, as the symbol of their gang, as many of them were farmers from northern California. Their color was red, contrasting the blue-suited Mexican Mafia. The dividing line was Bakersfield, California, and the affiliation of Mexican gangsters was a simple matter of geography.
In 1972, Mexican Mafia leader Rodolfo Cadena called for a peace summit in prison in hopes of ending the war, but he was stabbed repeatedly by NF members, thrown off a tier, and stabbed to death on the cement below. More and more NF members were recruited in the 1980s, and they wanted to control all of California from Bakersfield. They found no shortage of young men willing to sign up, with money and power seducing many Mexican-Americans to joining the gang. Their only way to earn their status as the NF was to spend time in prison. Their prison stronghold was Pelican Bay, where their main leaders lived. Some were forced to live in the Secure Housing Unit (the "Shoe"), where 12,000 inmates were held in a "prison within a prison" where the inmate was under constant surveillance.
Rise to power
The NF imposed "gang taxes" on drug dealers and prostitutes to help them gain a flow of income, and in the 1990s, their ranks swelled to more than 1,000 gang members. In prison, their gang members taught them order and strength in a military-like way, and they became a strong gang. The workouts were intense, and they also had to read history books, law books, and philosophy books. Even in lockdowns, NF members were able to communicate using fishing lines, and they could educate their friends about making crude weapons and using codes. Nuestro General Gerald "Cuete" Rubelcaba ordered the assassination of former NF member Robert "Brown Bob" Viramontes in early 1998, a member of the leading council for the NF and a 20-year veteran who had covered up his NF tattoo on his back and also educated young kids about the dangers of gang life. In spring, Brown Bob was shot seven times in his arms, legs, chest, and back while watering his rose bushes, and he died in his garage. He decided to go to the garage so that his wife and two sons were not killed in the house, and the message showed that even the leaders were able to be targeted.
Soon after, El Norte Law was passed, which meant that all Norteños that wore red were now a part of the Nuestra Familia gang. They adopted a public profile, promoting a gangster rap album by G.U.N. (Generations of United Norteños) that invited all Norteños into the NF. The rap group sold thousands of copies, and many members possessed the album. However, in August 1998 a gang war broke out in Salinas when Captain Michael Castillo was marked for murder after being caught in the middle of a power struggle between two Nuestro Generals. The police warned Castillo about the NF threat, but Castillo ignored them. He was shot by Rico Garcia at a meeting with him in a hit ordered by the imprisoned NF leaders, and the assassination led the police to also police their prisons and not just the streets. Under George Collord, the police gathered informants in prison, including "Red Raider", who revealed the leadership structure of the gang. On 18 May 2000, NF gang member Casper (who was Rubelcaba's right-hand man) was released from jail and was ordered to run the street operations of the gang, becoming the leader of NF on the outside. His job was to make sure that San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose all had a regiment in place, and made sure that the regiments were going by the gang's rules.
Casper was sent back to prison for communicating with the gang, violating his parole, and was sent back for six months. At the same time, Cuete Rubelcaba ordered a hit on Casper, whom he used as a scapegoat - Rubelcaba was accused of embezzling money from the gang, so he decided to pin the blame on Casper, the only person who knew that he stole from the gang. In December 2000, another Nuestro General stepped in on Casper's behalf and Cuete backed off the hit order, but Casper wanted revenge. Before Christmas, he contacted authorities and decided to work with them against Rubelcaba.
On 24 January 2001 in Tracy, California, Casper set up a meeting with NF chiefs, which was monitored. Captain Henry "Happy" Cervantes was heard discussing a plan to kill two San Jose district attorneys, but Casper refused to allow the order. He saved the D.A.'s lives, and continued to host meetings over the next four months that were taped. On 20 April 2001, federal agents arrested 13 members of NF, including 6 inmates, among them Rubelcaba. The NF fell into disarray, and Casper was still undercover when the chaos began. On 21 May 2001, heroin dealer Raymond Sanchez crossed into the Chinatown district of Salinas, although he had been warned to stay out of Chinatown. Although he was not a Nuestra Familia member anymore (he dropped out), he wanted to sell his drugs in the same place. Nuestra Familia gang member Armando Frias noticed him in Cap's Saloon, but although he was on the hit list, he needed Casper's permission. Frias did not get the orders to not kill him, and a hidden security camera showed Frias shooting Sanchez in the back of the neck - Sanchez was killed, and he fell into the alley. This shooting was one of the most infamous killings, as it was recorded on video. Casper was not allowed to put a hit on Armando Frias, as he was a government informant, but he said that he would have killed him if he was a regular NF member.
In June 2001, Operation Black Widow ended, with 21 NF gang leaders arrested. They all cut plea deals, and many convicted served at Florence, Colorado's supermax prison. However, despite law enforcement's efforts, there were still tens of thousands of NF members, and the new generation was influenced to join the NF through promises of girls, cars, dope, alcohol, good times, parties, staying out late, and other vices. Casper lived in a small town in Middle America in hiding from some Norteños who would like to see him dead, and his WPP tenure lasted ten months. The gang continued to carry out violent actions even after the downfall of 21 of their leaders. In May 2002, at a Cinco de Mayo celebration, about 50 Norteños shot three men and stabbed two men in a fight with the Sureños.
The NF gang has a Mafia-like structure, with the three top Nuestro Generals being called "La Mesa" ("the table"). The Nuestro Generals are in charge of one Captain each; the Captains have one Lieutenant each; and the Lieutenants have three Soldados. "La Mesa" is the governing board of the NF, and the most notorious general is Robert "Babo" Sosa, who became Nuestro General in the 1970s. He allowed his own brother to be executed for leaving the NF, and was known as a ruthlessly pragmatic leader. His second-in-command Joseph "Death Row Joe" Gonzalez spent years on death row before he was commuted to a life sentence, and he had no patience for fools. If an NF person did not go along with the program, he would kill them without any questions. Gonzalez wrote the constitution for the NF, and he also established Article 2, Section 5, which said that it was an automatic death sentence for desertion (if an NF member wanted out of the gang).