Prison is meant to serve a number of functions, mainly to keep dangerous criminals from causing the public harm and to hopefully reform them into functioning members of society. These best laid plans however tend to backfire. We send dangerous people into an establishment that houses the evilest scum the law could catch, and they make friends.
Incarcerating these killers and drug dealers hasn’t even helped keep crime off the street, we’ve only gathered them all under one roof for them to unite and scheme. Many of the worst gangs the world has ever seen formed in prisons, and being behind bars doesn’t stop them from coordinating crimes in what many of them call “the free world.”
Divided by race and extremist beliefs, prison gangs are as deadly to each other as they are to us. While most originated in order to protect different creeds of inmates from others, the formation of prison gangs has only led to more violence. These men with nothing to lose are responsible for some of the most monstrous acts imaginable, but which pack of villains are the worst of the worst? We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous prison gangs that you definitely don’t want cross paths with.
10 Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
"Control" and "kill" are two of the words on this Salvadorian gang’s coat of arms. The number 13 is believed to represent the 13th letter in the alphabet, M for Mara. MS-13 is made up of “cliques” with names such as the Sailors, Normandy, Peajes, Uniones and Fultons. Working through a partnership they call “La Hermandad” or “the Brotherhood,” clique leaders known as “La Palabra” green-light the killings of rivals, brutalizing of police informants, extortion of business people, and drug dealing in competition with other gangs.
MS-13 is believed to have between 1500 and 3000 members, many between the ages of 16 and 18.
9 Texas Syndicate
The Texas Syndicate originated in California’s Folson prison in the 70s to protect Texas inmates that were being preyed upon by other gangs, most notably the Aryan Brotherhood and Mexican Mafia. They are mainly Mexican-American/Hispanic but they have recently begun accepting members from Latin American countries such as Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico.
Unlike many other Hispanic gangs, the Texas Syndicate is known to be much more strongly associated with Mexican immigrant prisoners. Along with MS-13, the TS has been known to carry out assassinations for the cartel. The Texas Syndicate likes to note that they don’t hurt innocent people, but the amount of deaths on their hands is still staggering, most notably the deaths of those that betray them and rivals gangs.
The scariest part is that while it is estimated that they are around 4,000 strong, law enforcement has yet to discover just how many members the Syndicate holds.
8 Dead Man Incorporated
Dead Man Inc is a predominantly white prison gang originating in Maryland. Founder Perry Roark had gained respect from many members of the Black Guerilla Family, but due to his white skin he was not permitted to join. Instead he created Dead Man Inc, following much of the BGF’s anti-government and anti-authority philosophy.
DMI quickly grew in numbers, absorbing many other smaller gangs until it became one of the largest gangs on the East Coast. They are well known for their violent ways, originally carrying out contract killings for the BGF and later various other gangs. This paved the way for them to enter the drug trafficking game and other crimes as their numbers grew.
7 415 Kumi Nation
The 415 Kumi is a primarily Black gang originating in the San Francisco Bay Area. 415 comes from their home’s area code, and Kumi is Swahili for the sum of those numbers, “ten.” The founders of 415 were originally members of the Black Guerilla Family that had grown unsatisfied with the gang’s leadership.
415 Kumi Nation seek to “take back the streets” by any means necessary. They have been known to align themselves with prison guards in order to carry out attacks on fellow inmates. They employed one guard to lead a rival gang member into an enclosed area where 415 members proceeded severely beat him. The guard in question was later sentenced to 2 and a half years in prison for his involvement.
6 Nazi Low Riders
The Nazi Low Riders or NLR is a neo-nazi gang originally formed in Costa Mesa, California in 1978 and were later adopted and reorganized by the Aryan Brotherhood in 1985. “The Nazi Lowriders operate in an unorganized fashion and are involved in crimes such as Methamphetamines dealing, robbery and murder.”
Despite their white supremacist origins, the NLR has begun recruiting hundreds of new Hispanic members. This did not sit well with the Aryan Brotherhood. They demanded the NLR to kill all their non-white members but the Nazi Low Riders refused, resulting in the end of their 20-year alliance.
5 Nuestra Familia
Spanish for “our family,” Nuestra is a gang of Mexican American men whose main focus is distributing cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine both in and out of jail. Northern California Latinos created the gang in order to defend against the wrath of the Southern California ran Mexican Mafia.
Outside of prison, Nuestra operates in the scenic Salinas, California, littering the sleepy town with bodies. In Julia Reynold's book, "Blood In the Fields: Ten Years inside California's Nuestra Familia Gang," she describes one of Nuestra’s violent dealings:
“Sal lay beneath his leafy canopy reposed like a saint, only instead of being arched in prayer, his hands were artfully arranged so that the right displayed one pointed finger, the rest curled under. The left hand had four fingers extended, thumb tucked neatly into the palm. To gangsters all over the West, that meant one-four—fourteen—Nuestra Familia’s symbolic number (because N is the 14th letter in the alphabet) and a sign to all that a traitor had been dealt with.”
4 Aryan Brotherhood
The ironclad motto of this white supremacist group is “Blood in Blood out,” meaning to enter you need to kill a black or Hispanic prisoner, and the only way to get out is to be on the other side of the shiv.
Forming in order to protect its members from the black and Mexican gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood is now 10,000 members strong, with interests shifting to drug trafficking, extortion, prostitution, and contract killings, both in and out of prison. “Aryan Brotherhood members make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation's prison inmate population, yet the white power gang is responsible for 18% of all prison murders, according to the FBI.”
3 Black Guerilla Family
Also known as the “Black Family” or “Black Vanguard”, the Black Guerilla Family formed in 1966 among other now infamous prison gangs in the California Penitentiary system, however their ideology is a bit different than the rest of their colleagues. They are the most politically orientated, created under the umbrella of the Black Power Movement, the BGF’s goals were to eradicate racism, struggle to maintain their dignity in prison, and ultimately overthrow the United States Government.
The Black Guerilla Family is known for recruiting recently imprisoned gang members from the Bloods, Crips, and many others. Their members are forced to swear a death oath, pledging their lives to the gang. The BGF’s crimes include drug trafficking, car theft, and murder. Their violence was so recognizable that HBO’s The Wire used one of its members, Marlow Bates Sr. as inspiration for the merciless gang boss Marlow Stanfield.
It has come under recent attention that one of the gang’s leaders, Tavon White, who has basically been running things in the Baltimore City Detention Center through contraband smuggling and control of cell phones inside the prison, has been receiving some inside help. It was uncovered that White had been engaging in sexual relationships with four guards, fathering five children with them. An inmate witness later estimated that between 65-75% of the female guards (which make up 75% of the prison’s guard staff) were engaged in sexual relationships and smuggling jobs for the BGF.
2 Mexican Mafia
Also known as La Eme, Spanish for the letter “M,” the Mexican Mafia is the most powerful gang in the California prison system. They’ve earned this title by being organized, commanding, and having deep roots in the prison system and Hispanic community of Southern California.
Originating in the 1960s, the Mexican Mafia’s extreme violence birthed many other gangs on our list, forming to protect themselves from La Eme’s wrath. With deep ties to the Mexican cartel, and “virtually all the southwestern gangs of Mexican heritage (Surenos or Southsiders) under their control,” La Eme is as dangerous within prison walls as they are in the free world.
The chain of command however begins in chains. The heads of La Eme are behind bars in supermax prisons such as Pelican Bay, but their intelligence network is topnotch. “Something can happen in Whittier this morning and by the afternoon the brothers in Pelican Bay know all about it. And by the next morning they’ve already issued instructions to address the problem. The Crips, Bloods, AB, NLR- none of them have that level of command and control.”
1 The Numbers Gang
While a number of the world’s most horrifying gangs have sprouted from the California Penitentiary system, the title of Most Dangerous has to go to South Africa’s Numbers Gang. Since their forming in 1911 it is believed that the Numbers Gang control most, if not all, of South Africa’s prisons.
They divide their members up into three factions: the 26s, the 27s and the 28s. The 26s are responsible for obtaining money through stealing, gambling or any other monetary crimes, the 27s are the law-keepers amongst the gang, and the 28s are the warriors. They are an insanely violent gang known for attacking prison guards. In Pollsmoor Prison, where their numbers are at their highest, up to 50% of the guards have been stabbed or cut.
The Numbers Gang has strict rules and regulations, as well as various mandatory rituals that are assigned to different days of the week. If a member violates any of the rules, they are given a trial - which can lead to death.
The most notorious of the Numbers Gang is John Mongrel, “The General” of the Pollsmoor Prison 28s. Mongrel is believed to be responsible for as many as 1,000 killings and has openly admitted that he can have any prison staff, Guard, Captain or Warden killed at his whim.