Born to Kill

Born to Kill by T. J. English

Book: Born to Kill by T. J. English Read Free Book Online
Authors: T. J. English
spotted David Thai buying bulletproof vests in Queens, Tinh Ngo got himself arrested. Given the level of serious criminal activity under way in the Asian community at the time, Tinh’s incarceration was petty. He, Kenny Vu, and three other gang members had been caught driving around Brooklyn with four unregistered handguns in the car. Tinh was ready to plead guilty as charged, but a court-appointed attorney told him to wait. Two of the guns weren’t even in working order—lowering the infraction from a felony to a misdemeanor—and two other gang members had already pleaded guilty to possession of one gun each. Eventually, Tinh’s case was dismissed, but not before he’d spent six long months in the notorious Rikers Island Correctional Facility, New York City’s preeminent penal institution.
    At Rikers, Tinh had occasional flashbacks to the refugee camps, where a similar institutional drudgery prevailed. Given the twenty-two months he spent within the confines of a fenced-in compound in Thailand,Tinh seemed prepared for his time behind bars. But at least in the camps he had been surrounded by fellow countrymen, some even from Hau Giang, his home province. Rikers Island was an ethnic polyglot, with a seething criminal population fiercely divided along lines of race, color, and sexual predilection.
    In his first week at Rikers, Tinh was taken under the wing of a renowned Vietnamese inmate known as LT, the unofficial dai low of the prison’s Asian population. “In here,” LT told Tinh, “we speak only to other Asians. If Chinese or Vietnamese get in a fight with some people, we must back them up. Don’t be afraid of black people, white people, Puerto Ricans. We defend you.”
    LT explained that the other prisoners rarely messed with Asians, thanks to an incident that had occurred one year earlier. According to LT, some black inmates had been harassing him. So one night around Christmastime, LT and another Vietnamese inmate known as Shadow Boy went on a rampage, slicing the faces of black inmates with a straight razor. Said LT to Tinh, “We told them, ‘We have no gifts to open for Christmas, so we must open faces.’”
    Despite LT’s paternalism and expressions of solidarity, Tinh found Rikers terrifying. Physically, few inmates were as diminutive as the Vietnamese. At five feet five and 125 pounds, Tinh was the norm for his group. He was afraid to go anywhere without at least three or four other Asian inmates.
    On C Wing, where Tinh was housed, there were Vietnamese and Chinese representatives from all the Chinatown gangs. On the street, many of these people would have been rivals. Within the prison walls, they banded together as protection against a hostile, mostly non-Asian population.
    Though small in stature, the Vietnamese inmates Tinh met at Rikers were among the toughest gangsters he had yet come into contact with. Many, like LT, were in for murder and assorted other harsh crimes. On those rare occasions when Tinh witnessed altercations between Asian and non-Asian inmates, the Vietnamese were always the first line of defense, their BTK tattoos serving as proud, garish badges of distinction. Tinh left Rikers Island with his convictions deeply reconfirmed that the only people he could count on in this mean, menacing world were his fellow gang brothers.
    Upon his release in March 1990, Tinh used the BTK pipeline to facilitate his resettlement in the outside world. At Rikers, a gang member had given him Amigo’s pager number and told him to contact the Chinatown dai low as soon as he got out. Sure enough, Tinh beeped Amigo and was called back right away.
    â€œTimmy,” said Amigo, “you out now? Good. Yes, we have a place for you.”
    Since Tinh was identified with the Brooklyn faction of the BTK, Amigo set him up in a safe house in Bay Ridge, an old Italian and Irish working-class neighborhood in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge. There

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