Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs

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Jessica’s story: epilogue

In 1994 in our first meeting at the juvenile correctional facility where Jessica spent more than 3 years, she and I faced each other across a wide table. She asked me almost as many questions as I asked her.

“I’m from El Salvador, but I don’t know anything about my country except for my memories, she said. “Most of those aren’t happy ones…Why was there a war in my country?” I’d worked in El Salvador as a journalist covering the war in her country. Jessica and I had a lot to talk about.

Juvenile correctional centers are tough places. Some girls would fashion weapons from whatever bits of metal or glass they could find. Jessica had some enemies. In the beginning, she got in trouble with the guards for fighting back when other girls tried to hurt her or put her down.

During this time, I visited her whenever I went to LA. I introduced her to a friend of mine, Luis Rodriguez–a poet and youth activist whose book Always Running: La Vida Loca about his journey out of gangs was an inspiration to Jessica. I also visited her mom and son in California and her brother Victor and half-sister Sonia in El Salvador.

In 1995 I had a show of my work in El Salvador. Jessica’s sister Sonia came to the opening. This show began a dialogue with activists and young people that lead to the formation of the youth organization Homies Unidos. Unfortunately these developments came too late for Jessica’s brother Victor. He was murdered in El Salvador in 1996.

The first year of Jessica’s release from juvenile corrections I wasn’t able to visit Los Angeles. I lived in New York then and had run out of money for trips to California.

When I did finally find Jessica again I was happy to learn of many positive changes she’d made in her life. Jessica was motivated, but she also got support after her release. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, a program that helps parolees finish high school get counseling and get that important first job experience, made a big difference. And Jessica had fallen in love with Danny.

1998 is the last time I saw Jessica. Staying in touch from NY was difficult and when she and her mom both moved I no longer had working phone numbers or addresses for either of them. Then unexpectedly in 2005 after years without contact Jessica left me a phone message. When I reached her we had a long conversation. She told me she’d moved to outside LA and now had 3 children in addition to Carlos. She and Danny were still together but had been though a few rough times. She also confessed that she struggled sometimes with depression. Jessica asked me for some phone numbers and I put her in touch with a few of the organizations I knew that would understand the things she’d been through and might be able to offer support She promised to stay in touch, but when I tried the number she left for me a week later it no longer worked. I hope she will get back in touch. Jessica if you are reading this my old phone number still works!