Conrad Donald “Big D” Garcia
The Leave-it-to-Beaver, white-picket-fenced home of Conrad Donald “Big D” Garcia is filled with his grandchildren, one of them running and jumping into Grandpa’s arms as a friendly smile creases Mister Garcia’s lips, revealing not a hint of the violent drug addict that spent thirty-one years behind bars and helped found La Eme, aka the Mexi-can Mafia.
You probably haven’t heard of Big D unless you’ve done hard time or been in a street gang, where just knowing him can be strong currency. Even now, at 65 years old, he’s not someone you want to challenge. He rarely alters his routine of running miles through the mountains near his home and working out with the weights, heavy bag, and speed bag in his backyard gym each day. If he wants to hurt you, you will be hurt. But rest easy, he left gang life a long time ago, along with a twenty-plus-year heroin habit. There are few traces of the anger that fueled each heavy punch that took him to boxing championships in every penitentiary he ever served in. He’ll gladly tell you that in all those years, he never lost a fight, yet his greatest victories lie beyond the ring and the barbed wire.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine at the home of Conrad Donald “Big D” Garcia, in San Fernando, California.
RISEN Magazine: What motivated you to become one of the founders of the Mexican Mafia?
Big D: I wanted to be a good kid from the jump, but things didn’t work out like that. I had a good heart, bro, and it turned into a stone, but there was still good in it. When we started the maﬁa, it was meant for good. I read books and hear a lot of stories about why and how it was formed, that Mexicans needed protection. It was nothing like that. It was just a handful of us kids coming up, looking out for one another. We went to juvenile hall, Youth Authority, and, by the time we got to Tracy, we had a really good bond. In those days, the majority were Whites, the minority were Mexicans, and there were hardly any Blacks, right? When a Mexican came to me, we never said we were gonna give them protection, but if something came his way, we might back his play up. It was a good thing, but it turned out to be a real ugly thing. Back then, if I asked you to take somebody out and you said, Hey D, thanks for the honor, but I ain’t never killed nobody, I’d say, Forget about it, cuz you ain’t really committed, right? But guys from the Mexican Maﬁa, they gotta do it. We used to trip among one an-other to try and take a fool out.
RM: How many of you were initially in the Mexican Mafia?
BD: There were about ﬁve of us. We were trying to ﬁnd a name for it and someone said Maﬁa Mexicana. That sounded good and that’s what it became.
RM: When did things start going bad?
BD: Well, I left the system the last part of ’62. In ’63 I went back and got out in ’68. When I got out again in ’77, we still thought we were ﬁghting a good cause. Then, when I came back again I started see-ing that some of the new guys were weak and taking advantage of the weaker guys. The Lord was already dealing with me. I would go against the grain seeing it wasn’t what it used to be.
RM: How is your life different than it was thirty years ago?
BD: Man, it’s totally different. When people bring back the past, it’s hard to even see myself like I was. I’m not that person anymore.
RM: What happened to the guys you used to run with?
BD: A lot of them are dead from violence and overdoses.
RM: What were some of your nicknames from prison?BD: I used to call myself “The D.” Later on they started calling me Big D. When I used to ﬁght, some people called me the Barbarian, others called me Cannibal, the Fiendish One. I had a cup with the letters “DM” on it. The D was for me and the M was for maﬁa, right? This guy says, “Those are your initials, Death Merchant.” He said that death was always around me. You’d hear that somebody got killed; not that I did it, but… I never wrote “Big D,” just a big letter D and my neighborhood and M.
RM: You were a boxing champion.
BD: Every penitentiary I went to, I took the title, never lost a ﬁght. I was in shape, man. The only way I was gonna lose a ﬁght was if I got knocked out. I was trained to throw punches for four minutes and stop and take a break for half a minute
RM: What fueled you to win?
BD: I’m gonna take you back to when I was a little kid. I wanted to be a cop, because my dad got killed when I was 2 years old. I wanted to make my mom proud of me. I remember not wanting to ﬁght. They would say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. I learned how to ﬁght as a little kid, playing marbles. People would take my marbles away, they would whoop me. But I got tired, and the next thing you know I was knock-ing suckers out in grammar school, man. It was fear. Later, when I fought in the ring, they would be putting on my hand wraps and my hands would be shaking. When the bell rang, I would think, What am I doing here, what am I trying to prove? But when the ﬁrst punch would hit me in the head…. I used to see Muhammad Ali ﬁght, man, and I saw fear in him; that’s why he was so good, so fast. But you learn how to conquer all that fear and you start believing the lie, man.
RM: What would cause you to fight, now?
BD: I don’t believe God would allow me to be in that situation. I’m 65, but I’ve got a nice little gym and I’ve got those bags out there. I push myself.
RM: When was the last time you committed a crime?
BD: It was ’85. I was in prison and I used heroin.
RM: Are prisons improving?
BD: They’re worse, bro. You see, when I was coming up we had the older homeboys to school us—respect, do’s and don’ts, right? Now these kids are just schooling themselves. And the prisons ain’t got no programs, they got lockdown. That’s how they solve all the problems, lockdown. All that causes is more tension and people are getting tired.
RM: What do you feel when you visit the prisons now?
BD: It’s an honor to go, cuz the Lord opens the door for me, but it saddens me, man. But I can at least make the guys laugh and forget that they’re there for a while, right? Then I bring the good news, that Jesus can make the change in their lives. I was in San Bernadino [pris-on] and I went into the module where all the gay guys are. The guards said they would reject me if I went in there. One guy said, “Look man, I pray, I read the Bible and I can quote scripture,” and he quoted Leviticus, the verse about a man lying with another man, that they’re doomed. He said, “I was born like this; you think I like this kind of life?” I’m not there to argue, but I listened to him and I asked him, “Who did Jesus come here for?” And he said, “For us.” I said, “There it is, there, continue praying, continue reading the Word.” By the time I left that module, they’re all hugging me, man, and the guards were trippin’. I’m not gonna take credit. It was all done by the Lord. That’s why I enjoy going into the prisons, to let them know there’s a way out.
RM: Do you often get through to the prisoners?
BD: Oh yeah, the other day, one of the teammates gave me a note from a prisoner and the guard said, “It’s all right, take it.” When my wife read it to me at home, I started crying; I couldn’t even talk. He said how he had heard a lot about me and that I was a legend, but he was more impressed that I was a messenger of the Most High.
RM: Do movies and videos portray prison the way it really is?BD: Nah, nah, there’s a big difference. There are things I can talk about and things I can’t talk about. It ain’t nothing like in the movies; it’s worse, man. The prisons and jails are Satan’s dens. You have a lot of time to think, and all you’re gonna think is evil.
RM: A lot of people that weren’t alive in the ’60s think acid and pot will cause people to do nothing but nice, peaceful things. BD: When I was introduced to weed in the ’50s, I was 12 or 13. I never wanted to go any further, but the next thing I know I’m popping reds and rainbows. I used to hate heroin. I heard it ate your bones. I would walk past the gangs when they were sick, waiting for their connection, right? I would walk like I was some big ol’ bad dude, but I was just in my teens, hoping them suckers would say something so I could break some bones. When I got out in ’62, I was 21. Then they introduced me to heroin because my neighborhood had the heroin and people from other neighborhoods used to come there to score. If you weren’t from my neighborhood, I’d beat you up and take your
money. The dope dealers couldn’t make no money, and that’s when they started plotting to put a needle in my veins. But they created a monster. I didn’t know how to steal, and when I was addicted, man, I’d knock on their door two-three o’clock in the morning, or just march in and say give me some. When I was taking acid, I thought I was in control, but six months later I was in prison for killing a guy. I tell kids, I enjoy life more sober. I was trying to ﬁll that void, but I got it ﬁlled in with a different thing now, the Holy Spirit.
RM: You managed to hold it together physically when you were strung out.
BD: Yeah, cuz I was a warrior, man, and I learned how to function. I used to feel like the Phantom. I was ready to jump, like that [snaps ﬁngers]. We had some heroin, cheva, whatever you want to call it, in Folsom. We were in the bleacher, nodding and this old boxer came up to me and said, “Hey D, you’re leaving yourself open to attack.” He told me how he used to ﬁght under the inﬂuence of heroin. I learned how to function on heroin and the only time I relaxed was in my cell.
RM: How bad did addiction get?
BD: Oh man, I was on it for twenty-two years. There were a lot of times I seriously wanted to stop and I couldn’t. But I got delivered by the Lord, Jesus Christ, man, in December ’85, in Soledad. Even after that I still had some struggles. I remember one time I had my wrist out, my vein was popping out, and I said, “No, no, no, no, you can’t have it.” Once, my cell partner got a visit at Christmas and he had some. I ﬁxed him and I ﬁxed myself, but I couldn’t enjoy it. I had been read-ing the Word and praying, and I felt guilty. I told my Christian brothers and they said, “You can’t even give him a ﬁx.” When I quit I never did withdraw. Right before I went back to prison in ’85, I would wake up and ﬁx, nine o’clock, ﬁx, wash my car, ﬁx, cut the grass, ﬁx, pick up my wife, ﬁx. Then I’d tell her I hadn’t ﬁxed all day. She didn’t like to see me hurting, so she would say, “Go ﬁx, baby, go ﬁx.” Check it out, when I got busted I was reading the Word. I was waiting to withdraw and I didn’t.
RM: Have you ever thought of going back to drugs?
BD: I had been out about four years, went jogging, did my pushups, dips. I was cutting the lawn, drinking lemonade when I thought, It sure would be nice to take a little ﬁx. Right there and then I rebuked it. I love this lifestyle; temptation may come, but the desire ain’t there. I got too much to lose, too much to live for. I’ve got two daughters and a son. I’ve got six grandkids and a great grandson.
RM: You hear about functional drug addicts and it doesn’t sound that bad.
BD: You’re functional until you get hooked. Cocaine and meth, you’re chasing that rush and when you run out, you’re gonna be all paranoid and stuff like that, but you will eventually go to sleep. Heroin don’t work like that; you can’t sleep for months, man. The more you ﬁx, the more your body craves. If you overdo it, you’re gonna be nodding. I used to be driving, hitting the curbs. If you don’t have the resources, you’re gonna ﬁnd the resources. I can’t handle it; nobody can. I don’t think anyone can handle any type of drugs; it’s just a big ol’ lie, man.
Weed gets you all paranoid, bro, and nobody wants to be paranoid in the system. I used to know some bad dudes, bikers who had the best coke and meth. Pretty soon, these guys are paranoid, thinking somebody wants to kill ’em. Drugs are nasty, deceiving.
RM: Did you ever hear about God as a kid in prison?
BD: When I was young and in prison, we would pass the Catholic church and the Mexicans would make the sign of the cross, but I wouldn’t do it. There was an older guy and he asked me why I didn’t make the sign of the cross. I said, “Look, dude, tooth for tooth, eye for eye, life for life. I killed a dude, so I’m through.” I think he mentioned Jesus, but he didn’t give the rundown. I’m not blaming him, but he didn’t say enough. I’m not well educated, but I know the Word. I’ve read the Bible four times, but that still won’t do it. You’ve still got to do your part.
RM: Do you ever talk to the young gang bangers on the street?BD: Hey, that’s my job where I work at community schools. I pull over and say, “Hey, man, let me introduce myself.” We deal with active hardcore gang guys. We do interventions. We’ve got mentoring, tu-toring, we do presentations at schools. This one kid, all buffed out, came up to me, wanting to ﬁght, talking crazy. I said, “Look dude, you think you can handle me? I’ll destroy you, and up in the penitentiary there are a lot of dudes in better shape than me, and crazy. Are you prepared to go and meet them dudes?” Later, I sat down in my ofﬁce, the Lord convicted me and I went out and apologized. The kid loves it, cuz he tells his homies, he’s the guy that made Big D lose it. [Laughs]
Big D’s autobiography, Big D, Victorious through God’s Grace, is available through Amazon
It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and now the acclaimed documentary “Boys State”…
Jordan Fisher stars in the new Netflix film Work It! alongside Sabrina Carpenter and we talked with the actor/musician about overcoming challenges,…
Sabrina Carpenter and Liza Koshy star in the coming of age dance comedy “Work It!” which debuts on Netflix. We…
MORE FEATURES YOU MAY LIKE
Reality TV Experience Helps Her Get Through Rough Times She would never encourage anyone to be on The Bachelor, but…
Samuel Hunt is Louis Zamperini in UNBROKEN Path to Redemption According to the family of Louis Zamperini, an important part of his…
Little did Anthony Daniels know that in 1977 when George Lucas cast him as C-3PO in Star Wars, that nine…
A Heart For Telling The Story: Meet Randy Frazee Written by Patti Gillespie He talks gently but his words are…