Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Speaks Oct. 3 at the Center on Surviving Tijuana’s Jails


Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Photo: U.S. Navy sailor Kenneth Walton (right) photographs a cell inside La Ocho jail in Tijuana between the downtown police station and the city’s fire station No. 1.

Simply existing alive for a “gringo” inside Tijuana’s notoriously corrupt jails was nothing short of a miracle, a living hell, and Gay American writer/publisher Sam Warren of San Diego did it. He’ll discuss his experience and the book he wrote about it, Tales from the Tijuana Jails, Friday, October 3, 7 to 9 p.m. at the Community Resource Room (library) of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, 3909 Centre Street in Hillcrest.

The recent riot at the Baja California state prison in La Mesa — east of downtown Tijuana — rings familiar tales: prison guards who beat and kill inmates supported by corrupt top officials (now fu-gitives) that resulted in three deaths. One inmate was beaten and his body burned.

Warren’s startling story — that includes that notorious La Mesa state prison — was first published in a two-volume set. They were recently revised and republished in the single-volume Tales From the Tijuana Jails.

It’s easy to read, and the stench of urine and corrupt jailers reeks off every page.

Warren’s story seems so true. I know from personal experience because I had served for years as a bombero, a uniformed Mexican firefighter in the Tijuana’s Departmento de Bomberos.

I worked for years inside a fire station located adjacent to the jail that once incarcerated Warren. At night, sleeping in the second-story dormitory of my fire station, I could hear what went on in the jail next door. Only a wall separately the second-floor firefighter’s dormitory from the jail cells in which he was later incarcerated.

Warren’s book is real; ugly, brutal and total reality.

Warren is the former publisher of the Santa Ana Journal and the former editor of the Uptown San Diego Examiner which later merged into The Metropolitan. He had long been involved in Gay life in Tijuana and helped launch Frontera Gay with the late Emilio Velasquez, one of the city’s most famous Gay activists.

Warren was arrested at his eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast hacienda with servant’s quarters not far from the beach in La Playa, due west of Tijuana. “For four years, I lived like a king,” he writes in Tales from the Tijuana Jails.

But, a young man in the house was actually only 17 and Warren got busted by the police for “everything they could think of” (which is exactly what is done by U.S. prosecutors).

His book is actually about three jails: the infamous La Ocho (The Eight) city jail at Ave. Consti-tucion and Calle Ocho, squeezed between the main downtown police station and the city’s Fire Station #1.

Later, Warren was transferred to El Pueblito (Little Town) in the La Mesa district of Tijuana, on the city’s east side (where I served as a firefighter in the city’s La Mesa Station #2).

His last “jail” was actually a prison called El Hongo (fungus or mushroom) and was located 35 miles east of Tecate in the high desert.

The book is actually dozens and dozens of vignettes of his experiences in those jails, some of which are only a few paragraphs long. There is no plot, and sometimes the huge number of short stories gets monotonous. Warren could have cut a full third, and still had a fascinating book to read.

Despite the fact that he was living in Mexico, he seems to have had difficulty becoming an Anglo-Mexican.

“One thing that is hard for me to understand is the rivalry among all the Mexican law enforcement and judicial agencies,” he writes, as if he didn’t comprehend the local culture. He obviously never became “Mexicanized,” as I did as a bombero (firefighter).

He writes freely about the drug situation in the jails.

“The drug lords and their henchmen lived in relative comfort … Once I saw (in El Pueblito) even had a Jacuzzi. They could walk around with or without their bodyguards and not worry about having their gold chains ripped off.

“No one in their right minds, including the guards, would fool with the drug lords. I don’t see why they call them ‘lords.’ They were merely successful drug dealers,” Warren wrote.


As a Gay man, I expected to read descriptions of the Mexican men he met in jail, and some of the sex there. But there is very little of that in the book,.

His book, however, does include this story, atypical for an expose of Mexican jails.

“This had nothing to do with crime or corruption (in the jails) but I thought it so interesting I would include it in the book. One of the guys told me the story of how his grandfather, who had a small ranch in southern Mexico, adapted a wagon he could use to travel on rails when infrequent trains were not scheduled to run. The grandfather used it to take his farm produce into town to sell.

“The rails were in much better condition than the dirt roads. The Mexicans are very good at what we called in the military ‘field expedience,’ or in civilian life ‘jury-rigging.’ When something wears out in the U.S., we throw it away. Mexicans fix it or adapt it to some other use.”

Oddly, for someone who lived in Tijuana, that’s one of the kindest thoughts Warren writes about Mexico.

His 360-page book lists for $19.95 and is available at and The author can be reached at

For comment, contact Leo E. Laurence at or call (619) 757-4909