The city of Salinas, California, is the birthplace of John Steinbeck and the setting for his epic masterpiece East of Eden, but it is also the home of Nuestra Familia, one of the most violent gangs in the United States. Born in the prisons of California in the late 1960s, Nuestra Familia expanded to control drug trafficking and extortion operations throughout the northern half of the state, and left a trail of bodies in its wake. Award-winning journalist Julia Reynolds tells the gang's story from the inside out, following young men and women as they search for a new kind of family, quests that usually lead to murder and betrayal. Blood in the Fields also documents the history of Operation Black Widow, the FBI's questionable decade-long effort to dismantle the Nuestra Familia, along with its compromised informants and the turf wars it created with local law enforcement agencies. Reynolds uses her unprecedented access to gang members, both in and out of prison, as well as undercover wire taps, depositions, and court documents to weave a gripping, comprehensive history of this brutal criminal organization and the lives it destroyed.
Journalist Reynolds's debut offers a well sourced account of the most important criminal organization you've never heard of: Nuestra Familia, a violent prison gang that controls drug trafficking in the correctional facilities and agricultural towns of Northern California. Nuestra Familia poses special challenges for law enforcement, as Reynolds well documents. Only career criminals can advance in its hierarchy, and its top brass operate out of supermax prisons making the organization extremely difficult to infiltrate. Efforts to dismantle it have, in consequence, resorted to questionable tactics. Reynolds is especially critical of Operation Black Widow, the late-1990s federal initiative that was marred by its improper use of criminal informants and endangered public safety. Individual gang members receive humanizing attention from Reynolds, as do their girlfriends, their families, and their victims. Among the gangbangers, Reynolds finds duty and loyalty in abundance albeit perverted to criminal ends. These "character" portrayals are valuable, as they demonstrate the complex ties that bind gang members to each other and the gang. Whenever Reynolds's treatment turns too "fiction-like," however, her narrative falters. When characterizing emotional states she often lapses into clich ; her strength lies in gathering and assessing of facts. Fortunately, her account of Nuestra Familia need not be a triumph of imaginative literature in order to register as substantive, compelling, and important.
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Such a great read and book. Sadly this is the raw truth that most northern Latino kids grow up into !!