Jose (Jimmy) Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in New Mexico. His mother was Chicana and his father was Apache Indian. When he was barely two years old, his parents parted ways. With the eventual death of both parents (his mother's second husband killed her, and his father died of alcoholism), Baca lived with his grandparents for three years. He was then placed in an orphanage (St. Anthony's Home For Boys) before he was finally deposited in a foster home. Baca spent his troubled teen years on the streets of Albuquerque; by then he had dropped out of high school to chase a life of crime, drugs, and constant trouble.
At 21, he was charged with possession and the intent to distribute drugs. From a troubled childhood spent between grandparents, an orphanage, and a hard life on the streets, Baca was now propelled into life at a maximum security prison in Florence, Arizona. Four of those years were spent in isolation; he was also subjected to electric shock treatments during his incarceration. After his release from prison, Baca worked odd jobs for a time while battling his twin demons of alcoholism and drug addiction. A prolific writer, Baca's works delineate his youthful struggles, his prison experiences, and his eventual transformation into an influential poet and community figure.