Deadline has learned that Narcos producer and director José Padilha (Robocop, Elite Squad) will tackle the Aryan Brotherhood in a prison dramatic series titles The Brand for Showtime, which he’ll co-write and direct.

The epic tale of the rise of prison gangs, particularly the Aryan Brotherhood, in the 1970s and 1980s, when mass incarceration resulting from the war on drugs caused the prison population to explode.

Written by Padliha and Alessandro Camon, The Brand is inspired by a 2004 article from David Grann for The New Yorker.

It sounds like season two of Narcos and even a possible Robocop sequel could be moving along without him.

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Written by Padilha and Alessandro Camon (The Messenger), The Brand is inspired by the 2004 New Yorker article by author David Grann. It tells the epic tale of the rise of prison gangs, particularly the Aryan Brotherhood, in the 1970s and 1980s, when mass incarceration resulting from the war on drugs caused the prison population to explode.

Camon and Padilha executive produce with Anthony Mastromauro of Identity Films (Louder Than Words). Padilha is set to direct.

Padilha was recently tapped to direct Entebbe for Working Title and StudioCanal. He is repped by CAA, Anonymous Content, and attorney Sue Bodine. Camon is repped by Original Artists. Mastromauro is repped by attorney Linda Lichter. Grann is repped by CAA, in conjunction with The Robbins Office.


The New Yorker, February 16, 2004 P. 156

ANNALS OF CRIME about the Aryan Brotherhood, a murderous gang that has proliferated through the U.S. prison system… Writer tells about a December 2002 raid by United States Marshals on members of the Aryan Brotherhood (A.B.) in prisons across the country. Before long the marshals had rounded up 29 inmates. They were flown to Los Angeles where they were accused of criminal conspiracy. Writer meets Gregory Jessner, the Assistant U.S. Attorney responsible for the indictments. “I think they may be the most murderous criminal organization in the United States.” Tells about the origins of the A.B. in 1964 in San Quentin, California and its expansion to other prisons. Tells about Michael Thompson, a prisoner who was invited to join after he had stabbed another inmate. Describes rituals for the initiation of new members. Tells about Thompson meeting Barry Mills (a.k.a. The Baron), one of the leaders of the Brotherhood. Mentions books by Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Nietzsche which are given to new members. Describes the murder of prison guard Merle Clutts by A.B. member Thomas Silverstien. Tells about the streamlining of the A.B.’s command structure based on the Mafia model. Writer describes difficulties he encountered in trying to interview Michael Thompson, who has become the highest ranking defector in the gang’s history. “I don’t like violence, but I am good at it,” Thompson tells him. Tells about A.B. member Michael McElhiney at Leavenworth who took over a variety of illicit operations at the prison. Describes heroin use at Leavenworth. Writer tells about Jessner’s investigation of the A.B., and the process by which he intercepted and decoded the Brotherhood’s notes. Tells about the seeming powerlessness of prison officials to stop A.B.’s murders. Writer describes the spread of A.B. crimes outside the prison system. Tells about the release of Robert Scully and his murder of a sheriff’s deputy. Mentions the possibility of the Brotherhood making bombs. Tells about the trial of A. B. member David Sahakian in Benton, Illionois. Writer asks Jessner whether he fears for his life. “I worry,” Jessner admitted. “You can’t help but worry.”

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This week in the magazine, the New Yorker staff writer David Grann writes about one of America’s deadliest prison gangs, the Aryan Brotherhood, also known as the Brand. Here Grann talks with The New Yorker’s Matt Dellinger about the gang, its victims, and the prosecutor who’s trying to stop it.

MATT DELLINGER: You write in the magazine this week about the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang that prosecutors say may be the most murderous criminal organization in the United States. How did it become so powerful?

DAVID GRANN: Part of the reason for the gang’s success is that its members are simply incredibly cunning. The gang selects only the most violent and capable individuals to become “made” members—individuals who are, as one former gang member put it, “master manipulators.” But I also think that the leaders have been able to operate for decades because so many of their crimes are done in the cloistered world of prison, where the public doesn’t see them, and where many of their victims are hardened cons.

The underground prison economy that you describe is far more extensive than people might imagine. You quote estimates that the gang’s businesses have netted them millions of dollars. How does this go unnoticed?

I was amazed to discover how vast and complex this underground economy is. One longtime reputed gang member compares the illicit gambling and liquor production in maximum-security prisons to bootlegging during Prohibition and the high-roller tables in Las Vegas. Another inmate and gang drug runner estimated that, at Leavenworth, forty per cent of the inmates were shooting up heroin. Prison authorities, of course, have had some sense of the illicit activities within the prisons but have found it extremely hard to trace the flow of money; many inmates pay the gang by sending hard-to-trace money orders to a designated person on the outside.

Many of the members are closely monitored by guards. How do they communicate?

Over the years, they’ve developed incredibly sophisticated techniques to elude the guards’ detection. They pass, often with pieces of string, secret notes that are called “kites.” They’ve experimented with invisible inks. They write letters with urine, which they then heat up so that the words on the page will appear. They also use Morse code, sign language, convoluted rhyme schemes—“bottle stoppers” means “coppers”—and a biliteral cipher that was invented by Sir Francis Bacon.

In one case, gang members used their legal rights to hold a summit within a maximum-security prison. Could revelations like this lead to a curtailing of prisoners’ rights?

That’s a hard question to answer. Many of the leaders have already been placed in “supermax” prisons, where they are kept in solitary confinement nearly twenty-four hours a day and have little, if any, human contact. Some advocates already consider this a violation of their human rights. I don’t know of anyone who is calling for even more draconian measures within the prison system, but there is a constant tension between the need to stop these gang members and the obligation to protect their constitutional rights.


You interviewed Michael Thompson, a Brand member who has become a witness against the gang. What were those visits like?

I have to be somewhat careful, since his whereabouts are considered a secret; he is in the prison’s version of the witness-protection program, and the gang has been trying to kill him for years. The visits, though, were extremely helpful in understanding how the gang operates, and I was struck by how intelligent and charismatic he is. Many of these gang leaders are highly intelligent and, though self-educated, extremely well read. Thompson would casually cite philosophers as he spoke, and it was hard to reconcile this figure with someone who is said to have once helped stab sixteen inmates in a single day. But, at one point, he reached out his hand and began, in an almost clinical fashion, to show me how, when he was in the gang, he had been trained to kill someone with a ten-inch blade.

Some prisoners are able to charm women on the outside into helping them. What motivates these women?

It is hard to say, precisely. One woman who had no criminal record—and who later stood by as a gang member murdered a deputy sheriff in her presence—claimed that she had Stockholm syndrome. I think that in some cases the women are drug users who are able to get a free supply on the outside from the gang’s contacts. More often, though, I think these are lonely individuals who seem to be seduced by the leaders, just as inmates who come into prison are seduced into killing and stabbing for the gang.

The prisons don’t seem to be safe places for anyone, including guards. Who really runs the prisons? Is the system fundamentally flawed, or just mismanaged?

There is no one answer to that question. Each prison is different, and the real problem seems to be in maximum-security prisons. There are instances of guards colluding with the gang. But, more often than not, authorities have tried to keep the Brand in check and then have found it hard to stop people who seem to have nothing to lose and are willing to kill with little hesitation in order to achieve their ends. Even in isolation they have been able to rely on codes to communicate and issue their orders to kill.

The men in the Brand see themselves as part of another world, a sort of parallel society, where violence is justifiable. Is this a perception that they gain in prison, or was this the perception that got them into prison?

I think it’s mixed; in some cases, they come in violent and simply have that reinforced. But I do think that there are instances where individuals come in as bank robbers or drug dealers and, after being socialized in the violent, apartheid world of prisons and the gangs there, are transformed into conscienceless killers.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Gregory Jessner is seeking the death penalty for twenty-three of the forty people he indicted. How effective is the death penalty in deterring convicted killers who are already serving life sentences from killing again?

The Brand challenges almost every conventional notion we have of crime and punishment. How do you punish people who have, in theory, already been punished? What do you do with them? Jessner believes that the last option authorities have is to sentence the leaders to death, both as a deterrent and as a way to simply protect other inmates from them. But it won’t be until years after the case, depending on the verdicts, that we will know whether this approach will have served as the kind of deterrent Jessner hopes, or whether new leaders will simply replace the old ones. ♦

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