UPDATE: The Mick’s memoir is published. See madouttamehead.expat-chronicles.com.
The Mick had been in Irish and British prison several times. So while it was his first time in a Colombian prison, he knew the game. Early on he noticed in the yard the presence of Tachuela, one of the more feared inmates in the prison. He plotted to make an alliance.
‘Tachuela’ in Spanish means ‘tack’ or ‘thumbtack’. He got this name because Tachuela was small in stature but a dangerous killer. Quick and skilled with a knife, and feared by everybody.
One early morning Tachuela was hanging around outside The Mick’s cell. The Mick was about to head off to train with M-19. Before leaving he gave Tachuela a gift. He’d brought from England a medium-sized tape recorder and a set of Beatles tapes to listen to. Partly because The Beatles suck and partly because he’d played them out, he could no longer listen to the tapes. He gave the tape recorder and tapes to Tachuela. No explanation, he didn’t speak Spanish. With hand signals he communicated it was a gift.
Every day after that they greeted each other on the patio (the ‘yard’ in American prison slang). Tachuela communicated that he cried afterwards. Nobody had ever given him anything in his life. The tape recorder and Beatles tapes were his first gift.
The Mick had a small supply of money, so he didn’t have to eat the prison mess hall food (called “Mama Linda”). He ate at the caspetes – private restaurants owned and operated by inmates. He maintained a friendship with Tachuela and occasionally invited him to breakfast or lunch at these preferred spots.
It was at one of these lunches when Tachuela offered to help finish the job from The Mick’s Prison Murder. The Mick had a problem which required he kill another inmate. After stabbing him up, the guy survived and was sent to the Salon Roja infirmary. Tachuela later snuck in and cut his throat.
The Mick had noted that Tachuela was feared by other inmates, but he’d also witnessed him stab another inmate before they became friends. Tachuela stabbed Jacob The Jew in the pelvis, just above the genitalia. Jacob The Jew survived the attack. Once friends, Tachuela told The Mick the story. Jacob The Jew was a part of the tiny, affluent Jewish population in Bogota. He’d been working with a kidnapping gang, providing information on wealthy families’ assets and children. He helped them organize kidnappings and collect ransoms, unknown to the Jewish families themselves until he was caught.
Once Jacob The Jew was discovered and sent to prison, the Jewish families were furious. Some got together and decided to take revenge. Tachuela got a contract from the outside to kill Jacob The Jew. The Mick estimates that Tachuela made 100,000 pesos from that deal, or about $50. However, Jacob the Jew survived. After recuperating, he was being transferred by bus to a courthouse. Another prisoner on the bus took a knife to his face, carving a scar the entire length of his cheek. Jacob The Jew was finally killed after another attack or two.
Every day in La Modelo some fifty prisoners were released and fifty new prisoners arrived. The group of new arrivals was known as ‘el tren‘ – the train. Tachuela had a habit of robbing the train. When the arrivals came in, he’d stick one or two up for their shoes or their campuche – the bag of personal effects from the outside. This was an effective way of making enemies, but Tachuela was so feared it didn’t matter.
Tachuela eventually made the grave mistake of robbing the wrong people. One day he robbed a gold chain from a killer named Carlos while he was coming in with a fresh train. That alone didn’t seal his fate however.
Tachuela had been sticking up the caspeteros, the managers of the caspetes. These restaurant managers are the most powerful men in the prison. Tachuela hadn’t been robbing them of everything they had, but he’d been flashing a knife and asking for 50,000 pesos here and there. He did it to a few of them. He also robbed his patio’s soccer coach Lara, another person of power in the prison.
One day a caspetero told The Mick his presence was requested at a meeting in the chapel. When he arrived The Mick found a handful of caspeteros, his patio’s soccer coach Lara, and some general security men. They kicked the meeting off with a discussion of the chicken feet soup at Mama Linda, the prison’s general mess hall. The issue at hand was that the cooks weren’t cleaning the dirt from the nails of the chicken’s feet before throwing them in the soup.
Sidenote: If you ain’t had chicken feet soup, you ain’t been in Latin America long 🙂
Just as The Mick was wondering why he’d been invited to this meeting, the subject switched to Tachuela. The dirt under the nails of the chicken feet in Mama Linda’s soup was an icebreaker. Tachuela had intimidated enough power players to have this meeting called.
La Modelo has eight patios for 11,000 inmates, and each has a soccer team. The Mick was invited to the meeting because (A) he was good friends with Tachuela and (B) he was a starting soccer player for his patio under head coach Lara. The Mick had risen to mini-celebrity status on his patio, so these guys wanted him to be a part of the decision.
This doesn’t mean The Mick had a say in the decision. He was just present as if he were a part. The group decided Tachuela had to be killed. The Mick didn’t argue. It was suggested the job could be done by Carlos, the newly arrived killer who Tachuela had robbed on his way in. It was settled and the meeting adjourned.
Nothing was said in the meeting about how Tachuela would be killed. During soccer matches between patios were the few times the prison violence came to a halt. However, one day soon after the meeting, The Mick was watching a game between other patios. There was a commotion nearby. He saw Tachuela on the ground in a pool of blood. Carlos had gotten him from behind.
Tachuela didn’t die. The order was given to stab him, but not fatally. Back then a Colombian form of terrorism was to kill someone slowly with many attacks. The prison leadership wanted to make an example of Tachuela.
So Tachuela went off to the Salon Roja. When he got out, he was promptly stabbed again. The Mick says Tachuela must’ve been in and out of the infirmary five or six times before dying. The last time he saw Tachuela, he was hobbled over because he couldn’t stand up straight, and walking with a limp. Tachuela reached out to The Mick as if for help. The Mick put his arms up as if to say there’s nothing he could do. There was nothing he could do.
The Mick knew Tachuela less than a year. His rise and fall were quick. In that time, The Mick estimates Tachuela killed nine or ten men. Jacob the Jew was the only one worth mentioning. The others were petty prison offenses.
To better understand how giant Latin American prisons function under inmate management, check out this bad ass Brazilian film based on a true story: Carandiru.
Like this? See all The Mick’s stories.
Support what Expat Chronicles is all about. Leave a tip to keep the laughs coming (and the news, insight and other stuff too).