Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs

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Jessica’s story, part 1

When I met Jessica Diaz she was at the Ventura Training School, the only juvenile correctional facility in California that interns girls. Jessica told me her memories of El Salvador. From the window of their tiny house, three-year-old Jessica had watched as government soldiers took her father outside and shot him in the head.

Since then she has been haunted by the memories of other violent deaths.

In El Salvador the Diaz family business is making coffins. A local Mara Salvatrucha gang member, working for the Diazes raises the lid of a coffin he’s been sanding to “respect” the memory of his dead homeboy Ulises Diaz. He poses making the sign of the gang in the window of the coffin.

Sonia Diaz, Jessica’s half-sister wears a tee shirt commemorating their brother’s murder.

In El Salvador, Jessica’s half–sister Sonia Diaz tapes memorials to her family’s tragedies on the mirror. The photographs show her deceased father killed by soldiers, her brother killed in gang wars in Los Angeles, her brother in jail in El Salvador and her sister Jessica in jail in California. Sonia is the only one of the siblings who didn’t go to Los Angeles and the only.

At fourteen, addled by an addiction to crack, Jessica had been persuaded to help her drug dealer rob a bank. “He said with the money we could go away somewhere else. I hated my life. I wanted to escape as far away as I could.”

She was arrested.

Friends and family remember the murder of Ulises Diaz, who was known by his gang friends as “Indio.”

“Snapo” remembers his friend Ulises (“Indio”) with a tattoo.

Victor still doesn’t talk about the death of his father. Victor was six years old when he saw Salvadoran soldiers murder his dad. His tattoos read “In memory of my father Victor” and “In memory of my brother Ulises.”

All these memories make Jessica want to break the vicious circle of violence trapping her family. She wants a better life for her little boy Carlos. She dedicates herself to the program at Ventura–studying, attending parenting classes and reading books that inspire her.

Jessica Diaz embraces her mother Carmen and her son Carlos on visiting day at the Ventura Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Carlitos holds a framed picture of his uncle Ulises.

Sometimes she’s scared she will not really be able to make the change.