Since 1999 the man behind the self-styled pen-name 'Mike Enemigo' has been serving LWOP, Life Without the Possibility of Parole. He's been part of the 300% increase in State spending on corrections (1), directly related to the ballooning number of people incarcerated in the United States.
Enemigo's home state, California, has tried to bottle the expansion with its Re-Alignment Act.
Problem is it didn't change the political nature of parole boards; it just transferred inmates to county jails and applauded "success" by technically decreasing prison-held populations - a method called trans-institutionalization.
Or you could call it a shell game... with inmates' lives and taxpayers' money.
Considering the impact this has on the inmates is important, especially when they are (rare as it is) actively rehabilitating themselves and working towards pro-social goals. Like Enemigo's publishing project, The Cell Block. Or it's half dozen incarcerated authors. All proof that success is still possible after incarceration.
And often ignored by prison officials.
Having overcome the first-amendment barriers created by incarceration, such as the Son Of Sam Laws (unconstitutional), technical restrictions (no e-mail, phone or tablets), and the crushing psychological reality of serving life without the possibility of parole, starting at the age of 19, it's a wonder how anyone survives. Enter Mike Enemigo, a man who has done just that.
It's the other side of becoming the "animal" popularized and unfortunately common within U.S. prisons.
The man, and family, behind Mike Enemigo, however, is an emotionally charged creature. With karate chop intensity we see why in one Stanford University Study of 860 murderers paroled from California, which found only 5 returned to prison for new felonies, and none for murder, that change is possible and likely with age. The study found zero recidivism with prisoners in their fifties (2). Enemigo has created something that suggests he should be given a second chance.
He's not the 19 year old kid he was. And the world is a very different habitat. One where jihadists are... well, you know.
Despite LWOP being a moral, emotional and political debate on par with abortion, climate change, and what hair-spray Donald Trump is using, the man we meet here surprises the grizzled and green. Enemigo has done more than wallow in the hole of his own bad decisions. In his own words the figure of a new role model is emerging.
So... welcome to The Cell Block headquarters. A 9' X 5' cell.
Anthony Tinsman (AT): In your book The Enemy Of The State you were committed to music, smuggling in a recorder and smuggling out tapes from a cell. The pieces just didn't come together. Unlike your publishing company, The Cell Block which has had some success. Your attempts at a music career had influences. Who were some influences that pushed you towards publishing? I mean, your Aunt Fran sent urban literature to help with research but did you meet any authors inside. What's that story?
Enemigo: I'd have to say that my biggest influence to begin writing and publishing books was my failure to be able to get my music done and released the way I wanted from my cell. I didn't have anyone to teach me to do all this. I had to teach myself by falling and learning, essentially, what not to do. Each time I'd bust a move that didn't work out the way I'd hoped, I'd reflect on what I could adjust to ensure that it never happened again. Slowly but surely, I started to see that books were where it's going to be at for me. Given my situation, I relied on many people and the very rare windows of opportunity in prison, in order to accomplish my goals [with music], but with books I was able to see the "urban" book game the same way as the "rap" game, and producing a book was the same as producing a CD, just different media: but, of course, one I have a much stronger possibility to make a strong impact in. So I've been on it ever since, and as you mentioned, now I'm grabbing some form of success.
That was my biggest influence - survival. Once I decided it was books I needed to be doing, I asked my mom to send me English grammar for Dummies and I began stepping my grammar game up. I needed to see what the standard was like for urban books, as I hadn't read many at the time, so I asked my pops to buy me a few. He don't fuck with the computer so he outsourced that to my Aunt Fran. The only books I knew of were some published by RJ Publications because I saw their ad in my XXL mag. So I ordered eight. At this time, where I was deciding books were going to be my answer, someone was selling 50 Cent's From Pieces to Weight on the tier. I snatched it up, read it and saw how bad the writing was -and this was a 50 Cent book! That gave me confidence. Again, at this time my cell-mate had given me a black men's magazine to flip through before he threw it out, and when I did, I saw a Seth Ferranti article/interview from his book Prison Stories. Since he was actually doing what I wanted to do, I bought it, then Street Legends 1 & 2. Seth inspired me. It made what I was thinking that much more realistic. I think maybe the biggest thing I learned from Seth is that, the difference between him and many others [prisoners with a dream], is that he actually took the steps to DO it. Here I was, across the country, in my prison cell, and I had a book in my hands that he created in his prison cell. This might not seem like much to someone reading this interview, but it was a very valuable and powerful lesson.
AT: How much of your book Conspiracy Theory, which is about an upcoming rapper (you) in Sacramento who is framed by his girlfriend's brother when a robbery turns deadly, is based on actual events?
Enemigo: Aside from a few names I changed, a few dates I don't have documents verifying and maybe some conversations I can't remember verbatim, Conspiracy Theory is absolutely true. Every news article in the book is a news article that was published about my case. All of the meetings and interviews people did with investigators were taken from my discovery reports. The recorded phone calls were edited because to read a transcript from a phone call is crazy - all the "uh, ah dude, um... yeah, they... um..." from nervous and stammering people. I took a lot of that out for the readers benefit, but the reality is certainly there. In fact, I hope and plan to release the discovery from my case, via my website [www.thecellblock.net], with the book itself listing links as events happen, where people can go read full reports on their own. This way people can see that I didn't change anything, and they can investigate the case for themselves. It will be for those interested in the whole authentic, interactive experience type thing. I'd have the police report, etc., that isn't in the book.
Conspiracy Theory is my statement and testimony. To honor the law of the game, I never made any kind of statement, not even in defense of myself. I also did not testify on my own behalf. My lawyer was not good enough to properly defend and present a case as complicated as mine, and at that time, I wasn't either. So CT is me presenting my case, "legally", without answering questions about others I do not feel right answering. Anything in CT said or done by others is taken from what they stated themselves in interviews and on the stand. I feel OK writing what they said about themselves.
AT: Organization is everything. Dan Poynter said that. He was the "ombudsman" of independent publishing. He also said, "Most people have what it takes. The hard part is getting organized." Describe your office, and how does your schedule mesh with the penitentiary?
Enemigo: Organization is definitely a must. Luckily for me I'm OCD. Once I zero in on something, I can't stop thinking about it until it's done. So I use the 'disorder' to my advantage. Where many people may procrastinate and be disorganized, I can't do that. When I'm not working on my project, odds are I'm thinking about at least some aspect of it: reorganizing, adjusting, improving, etc.
My office? [It's] my prison cell, which is also TCB headquarters. I change my office and the headquarters location when I'm moved to a new prison cell. Others can determine where my office is l located, but they cannot determine whether or not I have an office. I keep things organized and uncluttered. It helps me breath. I sit on my rack [bunk] with my typewriter on my lap most of the day, working on something: a project, a letter to a family member, friend, colleagues or fans, whatever. Sometimes, when I really get into my zone and don't want to be interrupted, I may have stacks of paper and my Macmillan dictionary around me, and it may look messy, but I know exactly what's what. It is only "messy" because I'm in my zone and don't want to take time to put things back in their place.
I don't let the penitentiary dictate what I do and don't do. Sure, there are some things I cannot change. I treat it/them like a pothole in the road. I just go around it. I ignore most things about the penitentiary. I do not care about the penitentiary.
AT: You founded The Cell Block, which is a conglomerate of imprisoned writers. What was that like? Word is you have some L.A. street legends on your team. Who are they and why should people read them?
Enemigo: I founded TCB as a way to fulfill my longtime goal and dream of owning an independent hip-hop record label, an alternative, if you will. I began rapping in 1993 as a way to fit in my neighborhood as opposed to gang banging. By 1998, I wanted to start my own label, but technology was not as it is today and it was difficult. Difficult, but my dream. In February of 1999, I got locked up, and have been since. I chased owning my own label for many years, even while in prison. Maybe I'm dedicated and relentless, or maybe I even have some sort of arrested development. Who knows? By the beginning of 2009, I began to realize my dream was unrealistic, but if I adjusted it, some of it could be done. So I took the same idea and everything I learned running an independent rap label and started doing the same thing, but with books. Again, same thing, strategy and all, just different media. This included signing authors like I would rappers. Today I've got a squad.
The first person I gave a deal to was Armando "Chunky" Ibarra, the author of Loyalty & Betrayal. He was my neighbor in the SHU [Special Housing Unit, or the hole]. I'd heard of him before and I knew he was very wanted by the Mexican Mafia, though I didn't know many details. While I was trying to work on my books, Armando was always telling my cell-mate or others various war stories. He drove me nuts, but some of the shit I could see being interesting to read, so I suggested he stop talking about shit, and instead, write it down. At first he was offended because he thought it was my way of telling him to be quiet. I'm rather quiet and he didn't know what I had going on. Finally I told the guy, rather than telling the same old stories over and over again, write 'em down so we can make some money off the shit. I told him what I had going on and he got it. So he started writing his story and giving it to me. His fat ass couldn't write worth a shit, he didn't even use periods. His book was one, long, run-on sentence. However, he taught himself how to read and write in prison, which I respect, and he sat in his cell for many hours a day and worked on his book, which I very much respect. Also I wanted to help him. Plus I was looking for "artists" for my "label", feel me? So I rewrote and published L&B. We have a longer version telling more of his story coming later.
I think the next guy I signed was Ca$ciou$ Green. I overheard him saying he wrote an urban book one day and put it into my memory bank. When an opportunity presented itself, I got at him. After Ca$iou$, I think I signed Alex valentine, who is just a smart dude. But mostly because we worked in the kitchen together. After Alex I reached out to Anthony Murillo. I met Anthony back in 2008. He'd just dropped his book, Wicked Sick, and I was doing my music thing. We tried to network in some way but then he transferred. Before he transferred, however, I told him, "One day, Ima transition from music to books. When that happens, you'll hear from me." So after I dropped my first group of books in January, 2014, I sent him an update and told him I was ready for him.
From there I reached out to my big bruh, Mac BAS (AKA Bad Ass Snoop), a Cali street legend. In 2010, while we were both in the hole, I told him I wasn't going to fuck with music, I was writing a book, and when I got my shit together I was going to come for him. Well, he's been hearing me talk about music since 1999-2000, so by this point he thought I was full of shit, even though he acted like he believed me. However, as soon as I was ready for him, I did exactly as I said. He wrote Basic Fundamentals of The Game and we got it out. Now he's working on a book titled The Invitation, as well as a lifestyle book titled Boss $tatus, and I'm in talks with other people about possibly writing and publishing his "story". It just has to be done appropriately, according to the law of The Game. [Bad Ass Snoop is a documented founder of the Northern Riders, a movement formed around 1998-1999 to resist the oppressive and predatory ways of the Northern Structure and Nuestra Familia. After crippling much of the Structure and NF to the point where their power, relevance, and, most of all popularity, is virtually nonexistent. The Northern Riders changed their name, on January 31, 2014, on their 14th anniversary, to just RIDERS: Responsibility. Economy. Determination. Idealism. Realism.]
After BAS I signed Crow, one of my folks: Terry Gonzales, another one of my closets folks: and Guru, a hitter out of Oak Park [Sacramento].
AT: Ten books published since January 2014. That's a lot of work; so, too, is maintaining a network of authors in state prisons, like Folsom, Chino, Tehachapi, and others. What are some things you would do differently if you had known what you now know?
Enemigo: Ten books from my prison cell is absolutely a lot of work. Maintaining my network of people, many of whom are prisoners, all over the country, is very exhausting. Had I known when I started what I know now, what I would have done different is, I'd have focused more on building "Mike Enemigo" rather than "TCB". I would have concentrated my forces more than I did. But it's good. I can sign a deal with a major urban publisher right now and give them 20 books for their catalog. That's cake.
AT: What did the book release party look like for your newest title? My celebrations have gotten tame as I get older. They used to boil over for days of smoking and cheap wine. You got any rituals?
Enemigo: I don't have release parties. Ten books in. Not one party. When I'm done with a book I send it out, unclutter everything in my cell that accumulated as a result of the project, then get organized and ready for the next one. That's what I do. A few months later, once I finally receive a retail-ready copy of the book, I get some sort of satisfaction at seeing and holding it "fresh", how most people will see it for the first time, without all the ugliness and hard work that goes into it. That is my reward and it lasts about a day. Maybe two. A few months later, I get tired of looking at it on my shelf and I give it away. My drug is replacing it with a new one, and I'm addicted to that. I fiend for it.
AT: What are your favorite books, authors, and entertainers? What are you reading now?
Enemigo: I haven't had a chance to read many books lately. I'm too busy creating books for others to read. Entertainers? TV: TMZ, Shark Tank and Big Brother. Music: Drake and Nipsey Hussle.
AT: You're doing life. Most authors dream of celebrity and wealth but few get there. Why do you write? What are you getting out of it personally? And why have you selected the "prison/street" market for most of your writing and authors?
Enemigo: Like many authors, I dream of wealth. Unlike many authors, I will get it. When I write, I write because I have something to say, or an idea I think needs to be heard. I don't necessarily have a passion for the act of writing. I don't even like it much. But I enjoy saying what I have to say, expressing my thoughts and opinions, and writing is not only the way I'm able to do that best but it's also the best way I have available to do it. If you notice, the books I write are how-to books, or my personal story - true shit. It's all something I feel I need to say so people can know my story, or learn something I want them to be enlightened upon. I've selected the prisoner/street genre because, again, I come from hip-hop, and this is the stuff my authors and I are familiar with. We write what we know. Though I respect it because there's tons of dollars in it, I don't know trolls, zombies, vampires and magical swords.
AT: If a book is a writer's business card, what does yours say?
Enemigo: Authentic experience.
AT: Spending time in the hole isn't anything new for prisoners. Now, you've done hole-time for attempted murder, in a high security institution, level 4, or maximum security. That's a little different than just the regular SHU [Special Housing Unit], more like DS [disciplinary segregation]. People in the "world" don't understand what it's like. At all. How would you describe it to them?
Enemigo: The "hole" is prison for prisoners. When you commit a crime in the world, you go to prison: when you commit a crime in prison, any serious rule violation, you go to the hole. In the hole you're allowed only the very barest of property and necessities and, other than your cell-mate, if you have one, you're not allowed to come out of your cell unless you're handcuffed (maybe an hour a day). It's not fun, but going is sometimes inevitable, so I try to take advantage of the solitude and use it to decompress and focus. Survival, at least for me, is about turning negatives into positives.
AT: You've written about the prison environment. About predators watching for "weakness" which can simply be not smashing someone if they call you a"bitch", that means you are a sex toy. A "bitch". But these automatic responses don't rely on thinking. Publishing does. Seth Ferranti, founder of Gorilla Convict Publishing, summed it up when he said, "I'm not a criminal, I'm a business man." Of course, he got into lower security prisons and got older before he said that shit. What events have changed your perspective? Made this possible?
Enemigo: I feel like Seth: I'm not a criminal, at least not any more. I'm businessman, I would like nothing more than to be free, running my business, whatever business, legally, and with all the opportunities and resources the freedom affords you. But that's not my reality. Reality is, I'm in prison, and prison has a culture that was established long before I got here, and I suspect it will be the same long after I'm gone. So whether I like it or not, I have to survive it. You can't play in the NFL according to the rules of the NBA. It's not going to work. Not only will you be unsuccessful, you will get hurt. This is something people out there fail to realize when some of us do what we do in here. But in the end, though I'd like to be understood, my ability to survive is more important to me than your ability to understand me.
AT: Prison is a lonely place. Other countries, like Holland, Peru, Mexico, the Netherlands, they allow conjugal visits and contact with family. It keeps the impacts from spinning out of control on both fronts. The U.S., however, is tough. Even if you get married, as many prisoners do, you would never sire a family, or be more in their life other than a phone call, letter and hand atop theirs during visitation. What do you mourn most? How do you cope?
Enemigo: Prison is a lonely place. Very lonely. I cope with it by getting used to feeling lonely. Not much else I can do. Every once in a while a female slides through for a minute and kicks it, but I know it's temporary, even if they try to convince me it's not. So I take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves while I can, then go back to being lonely. It's just the cycle of things. Why, you have a female for me? I'm available [laughs]. What do I mourn most? In regards to females? I think you know what that is. Their personalities, of course [smiles].
AT: Sentencing Reform is a big topic right now. Obama granted nearly 60 petitions for clemency and vowed to support new bills like SRCA (Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act), which are all familiar proposals. It's easy to get your hopes up in prison. I remember, 2004, coming into jail six days after being shot, still bleeding and my cell mates crammed in the room. One lying on the floor looked up at me, "Hey man, if you live, it won't be that bad, they're bringing back parole this year." I've heard that shit every year since. Never happens. What's your take on prison reform? What laws would have to change to benefit you? And how would you determine your own legibility for relief?
Enemigo: I don't just have Life, I have Life Without Possibly of Parole, so much of the prison "reform" that takes place does not apply to me. So I don't pay attention to it. I focus on reforming my personal prison experience, and achieving all I can and living the best I can despite my reality. I have, however, recently heard something about people who were under the age of 23, who got sentenced to LWOP, being given an opportunity to possibly parole after 15-20 years. Something like that. That would apply to me. I was 19 at the time the crime I'm in prison for was committed, and thus far I've been down since 1999. Still waiting to hear more on that. My primary plan is to stack my money, get my case back in the forefront and hire an effective lawyer to go out and locate the witnesses I need that my original attorney failed to do and get a new trail. Money is the differentiator. If a law like the under 23 one I mentioned gets passed, maybe I'll invest my money in an attorney arguing my situation from that perspective. I have a few ideas, but they all require money.
Now, am I eligible to make it out there in the free world? Absolutely. I can honestly say I'm ready now. I've grown out of glorifying anything related to the prison lifestyle. I have no desire to do crime. I'm not looking for any problems and I have the ability, especially with today's tech and opportunities, to make a ton of fuckin money, legally, even right from my own home, and that's enough for me. I don't need all the other shit. Just a cool spot where I can chill and do my thing over the internet, a decent stack of money and necessities, a bad bitch and I'm good. Everything else is extra.
AT: What's your next project? Can we get a sneak peek?
Enemigo: I've got 10 books on my shelf, right now, ready to come out. Next will probably be Guru's book, Underworld Zilla. Underworld Zilla is a clique out of Sacramento, mostly Oak Park, that started as an answer to the cats from the Bay that were moving to the area trying to take over dope spots. Guru's book is not about the history of UZ, but it's connected to the movement. Mark Sanders, aka MS, aka Manslaughta, aka Oak Park Mark, who is the cofounder of the Oak Park Bloods and is a Sac street legend, did the forward for the book. Guru's next book Playboys - Playboys is a term used by Riders to describe their lifestyle - will probably come out next. It's a fictional story, but has true events and players mixed in -me, Bad Ass Snoop, etc. Then Guru has Sex, Money, Murder. I have two completed Ca$ciou$ Green books on the shelf - For the Love of Blood Money and MOB $tars. Probably release them soon. The first book I wrote, Surviving Prison, is ready. I just never put it out as of yet. Might drop that. I've got the Hu$tlers Handbook for Prisoners almost done. I've got some other things done and in the works, but everything I mentioned will probably drop before the end of 2016, as I'm setting up my pieces to go hard on marketing and promos this year.
AT: Any last words?
Enemigo: [Smiles] Stay tuned and be very afraid.
(1) Pew Center of the States, http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedfiles/DCS-Assets/2012/Pew_Time_Served_report.pdf
(2) Stanford University, http://www.stanford.edu
For more information about The Cell Block's catalog and upcoming titles, please visit www.thecellblock.net, or send a Self-addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) to The Cell Block, PO BOX 212, Folsom, California 95763.