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August 26, 2007

New prison 'families' form from networking

Investigation of the Aug. 10 murder of two police officers in Bastrop apparently revealed that suspects Dennis Clem, who was killed in the shootout that day, and Donald "Alex" Brendle of Mer Rouge knew each other while both served time in the Texas prison system.

That raises the question as to what extent prison gangs extend to the outside world. How far do those social tentacles stretch into the lives of ex-prisoners who return to the free world? After all, both men were out of the Texas prison system when they made their connection in Morehouse Parish.

Conversely, do "outside world" gang affiliations extend into the prison system? In reality, the question is: Is there a networking system in place that seems to promote criminality as a lifestyle?

It appears that the relationship between Clem and Brendle, which began in prison, extended into the "free world." Brendle was willing to extend help to his Aryan Circle brother Clem whenever he needed help even when Clem was involved in very unlawful activity.

At times, crime seems to run in families causing some to believe there may be some hereditary factors in crime and delinquency. Contemporary prisoners in the Louisiana prison system may be third- and fourth-generation inmates. It is not unusual to find father/son duos serving time in prison.

Oftentimes, prisoners will speak of fathers, grandfathers, uncles and others who have been in prison before them. I once had a rather informative conversation with an inmate who told me his mother had always said all men were bad and wind up in prison, so he had to be bad and in prison to ensure that his mother was correct. This was obviously a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that landed him in prison.

Probably every metropolitan area in Louisiana has districts or areas within that city where crime flourishes and most people who live in that area have either been in prison or have relatives or close acquaintances in prison. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the lower Ninth Ward area in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Many inmates in the Louisiana prison system came from that area.

But the networks or "families" that sometimes emerge in prisons nowadays defy such geographical lines or family bloodlines. In the case of Clem and Brendle, the tie was membership in a white supremacy group.

While Louisiana prisons do not seem to have many white supremacy gangs or groups in its prison system, there are individuals who appear to be sympathetic to the "white supremacy" groups. There are prison gangs with close ties to street gangs and vice versa.

Apparently, Clem and Brendle met in the Texas prison system. What's happening on the streets there has an impact on things that happen within the prison. Conversely, prison events may carry over into the local community back home. Therefore, a networking system seems to be in place and very functional.

Many are recruited into gangs while they are in prison. Prison officials would not allow a meeting, for example, of the Aryan Circle or any other group that would be considered a security threat group. However, it might very well be known "on the yard" that certain inmates were members of such a gang and that a prospective new member could affiliate himself with the group through this association. Members may be recruited in the prison or in the free world.

Evidence suggests Clem and Brendle remained part of a networking criminality lifestyle after they left prison. It appears that Clem and his girlfriend, Tanya "Little Feather" Smith of Texas, knew where they could get help when they needed it. Clem and Smith not only knew that Brendle and his associates in Morehouse Parish would be willing to help them, but they also knew how to contact them.

I have no knowledge of how Michael Coleman or Chrystal Harrell — they are both charged with aiding Tanya Smith after the crime — fit into this scheme. Some people may be recruited into these-type organizations strictly from free-world contact. Such recruits could be family members, friends, "drinking buddies" or people through other contacts.

Based on my knowledge of the situation in Morehouse Parish, I see no indication that either Coleman or Harrell were ever in the Texas prison system where Brendle and Clem were fellow gang members, but they may have been at least sympathizers with what was happening.

And it appears they were all too willing to place their freedom in jeopardy to help Brendle's Aryan Circle brother when he needed help.

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