Floyd Salas’s Tattoo the Wicked Cross takes place in a boys’ prison farm. The novel is divided into ten parts. As Aaron D’Aragon enters the prison, he sees its sign: Golden Gate Institute of Industry and Reform. The prison looks almost like a cemetery, and the entrance resembles the “pearly gates” of heaven. Aaron has been sent to prison for gang fighting. The story encompasses approximately six months and shows the changes that Aaron goes through during that time. He changes from an idealistic, religious youth who believes in God and honor to one who learns that to survive he must change and learn a different code of honor. He learns that in prison there is a code that must be followed: One does not snitch, and one takes care of oneself.
Aaron is apprehensive when he arrives at the prison. His good friend Barneyway is in prison, and Aaron is looking forward to seeing him. Part 1 is titled “Dead Time,” referring to the stage of a prison sentence during which an inmate is not yet acclimated to prison life. Aaron is placed in a cell with a limited view of the prison and other inmates. He hears people but cannot see them, and his food is brought to him. While in this cell, he discovers that someone has carved a heart with the message Richie De La Cruz + Eva, Richard of the Cross and Eve. Along with the heart is a pachuco cross with three lines, suggesting rays of light emanating from it. From his initial contacts with other inmates, he learns about prison and also learns he must be cautious, especially when inquiring about his friend Barneyway.
In part 2 “Buddies and Bad Actor,” he learns that Buzzer rules the prison ruthlessly and brutally and that he sodomizes whomever he wishes. When Aaron learns that Barneyway is one of Buzzer’s victims and has become a “queen,” he becomes determined not to be a victim.
In the third through eighth parts, Aaron learns of the brutalities occurring in the prison and must make decisions about how to respond. Aaron’s family visits him and encourages him to do what they believe is right. They tell him to avoid trouble and do his time quietly. Aaron’s girlfriend, Judith, gives him hope in a seemingly hopeless brutal place.
Aaron finds himself in a dilemma: How can he live up to his ideals and beliefs if he is beaten and sodomized by Buzzer? Aaron does not want to be a hapless victim like Barneyway. He wants vengeance but cannot seek it while remaining true to his Catholic faith.
Judith appears for one of her visits with a tattoo on her cheek. Because she has a tattoo, Aaron now views her as lost, no longer the ideal pure person who gave him hope. His faith was already slipping because he was angry with God for taking his mother; now his girlfriend has been taken away from him.
Part 9 prepares the background for the final chapter. Aaron is in the prison hospital recovering from a savage beating and rape by Buzzer and his gang. He is aware that he has been beaten badly but knows that he fought bravely....
(The entire section is 1,141 words.)