The Unbelievable True Story Of The Gang That Took Over A Maryland Prison

We're all familiar with the scene from the movies in which a criminal kingpin gets arrested, found guilty, and ends up, finally, in jail. At the moment of the sentencing, it seems that justice has finally been done, and the gangland boss is going to spend a long and joyless period behind bars. But then, to the dismay of the investigators who worked so hard and for so long to bring the kingpin to justice, it turns out that prison is a cushy number. Thanks to his nefarious influence, even in prison, he lives in the lap of luxury.

The existence of immense power behind bars isn't just a cinematic fantasy: It is a reality of the American prison system. Recent years have shown us that being incarcerated may in fact lead to the creation of criminal power, as evidenced by the story of the Tavon "Bulldog" White. Ambitious and charismatic, in the early 2010s White became leader of the Black Guerilla Family prison and street gang, and masterminded the gang's taking control of the Maryland prison system. His illicit activities behind bars came to light in 2014 when White decided to "turn snitch" and lift the lid on the machinations of the BGF in sworn testimony before a federal court, according to Vice.

His story is baffling because it inverts everything we think we know about the nature of power, and tells us that prison as an institution may itself be exploited for criminal ends.

The formation of the Black Guerilla Family

The story of the Black Guerilla Family, what it stands for, and how it came to be so powerful in Maryland is notable in and of itself, even before we come to the subject of Tavon White. As a 2013 article in the Washington Post explains, the roots of the Black Guerilla Family are to be found all the way back in 1966, in San Quentin State Prison, California, where the organization was originally founded by Black Panther activist and author George Jackson. Jackson envisaged the BGF as an organization that would unify Black prisoners and further the cause of Black Liberation among America's incarcerated population. "In Maryland," writes the Post, "a key figure was Eric Brown, a charismatic salesman locked up at the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore in the late 2000s when he oversaw the writing of 'The Black Book — Empowering Black Families and Communities.'"

However, as well as the seemingly respectable activity of circulating literature for Black empowerment, Brown also oversaw the instigation of the BGF's criminal activities behind bars in Maryland, according to the Washington Post, which involved smuggling heroin and cocaine, bribing officers, and racketeering.

Brown was indicted in 2009, but the success of his Maryland operation can be seen in the details of his life behind bars that the indictment revealed: "He ... had officers bring him meals of crab imperial and Grey Goose Vodka to wash it down," court documents (per Vice) showed.

How Tavon White took over the prison, and 'seduced the guards

"When Brown was shipped into the Federal Bureau of Prisons, White (pictured above) emerged as the new leader for the BGF in the Maryland system," according to Vice. To say that White turned operations up a notch would be an understatement; with White at the helm, the Maryland arm of the Black Guerilla Family was about to go stratospheric.

Smuggling and racketeering continued to increase into the 2010s as the gang's membership grew: "new inmates are encouraged to serve as couriers or pay a monthly fee ... If they refuse, they can be targeted for violence," per the Washington Post. Meanwhile, more than half of the 650 prison officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center were complicit in the gang's smuggling of contraband, as Vice reported.

As White's testimony revealed, the leader and his associates used sex to leverage the guards into becoming accomplices in one of the widest-spread cases of conspiracy and corruption in the history of the American prison system. According to Vice, White alone seduced 13 correctional officers at the detention center, winning them over with demonstrations of his power and wealth which included giving luxury cars as gifts. White's manipulation of the women guarding him was reportedly a long-term venture; White is believed to have impregnated four of them, with two of the guards getting tattoos of the gang leader's name, according to the National Post.