Borra y Vida Nueva

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  • Borra y Vida Nueva

    Omar, the legendary founder of the 18th Street Gang in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, had a $10,000 reward on his head. And Pablo, the chief hit man of the rival Mara Salvachrucha, was determined to reduce Omar’s memory to the 26th tattoo of a soul across his chest—among the sex-trafficked women, migrants and rogue police officers he’d killed.

    Instead the two found their legs shackled together by Mario Fumero, the founder of the Victoria Project, an Evangelist Christian rehabilitation center for drug addicts and gang members. They would spend the following two months attached at the ankle on a farm in the mountains outside of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras; eating meals together, using the bathroom at the same time, and sleeping side by side.

    As a part of their rehabilitation and reinsertion into society the two were a part of a government-sponsored tattoo removal program for gang members. As their hatred faded, so did their tattoos, which had served as their identity since their boyhood.

    To have a tattoo in Honduras is a stigma, an obstacle in renewing a life’s worth of crime. Even a faint line of ink is enough to turn off an employer.

    Over several painful laser removal sessions, the two were almost wiped clean of the sins that had marked their criminal careers. Then, the laser machine broke. And three years later they remain in limbo alongside countless other ex-gang members with partially removed tattoos.

  • Angel wings
  • Pablo 25 souls had been carefully branded across Pablo’s chest; he knew well each and every one of them, as they had all died at his hands. They were women he sexually enslaved, children he had massacred, old men who’s organs he had sold on the black market as well as politician’s dirty work. Yet now they were gone, a lazar had eradicated their ghost-like outlines and with it their memory.
  • Pablo grew up in a religious family. His father was a pastor and he was a good kid. But when his mom died, something shifted within him and he became violent, a traight which was nurtured by the gangs.
  • Salomon They are known as followers; they walk the walk, dress the dress and most are under 15. As Solomon told me, he liked the life; it looked cool to carry a gun. That was before he realized he would need to actually use it.
  • Omar's was the post conflict, lost generation, without education, jobs and many who had been orphaned to disappeared fathers or refugee mothers who had fled to the States. He soon began tattooing up his neighbors (a skill he had acquired in U.S. Prison) with the number 18 and other symbolic imagery such as clowns and three points laid out to form a triangle. Face tattoos at the time were reserved only for those whose mothers had been killed. Then things got out of hand he explained, “In the U.S. there was order among us, this thing was never supposed to come back to Honduras. Here we are Indians, there are no rules.”
  • Heidi was young when she met her first boyfriend, the father of her eldest daughter and a member of the 18th street gang. Their daughter was just 1 year and 20 days old he was killed; in fact most friends from those days are dead. She arrived with a jacket on in the sweltering heat. Although she began the tattoo removal process she was only able to complete a few lazer sessions before the machine broke two years ago. Taking maters into her own hands, she burned hair relaxing chemicals onto the number 18 which had been branded on her shoulder at the age of 14. Her eyes brand their way into mine recounting stories of friends raped and living through constant fear and violence. “There are some things in life you just can’t erase,” she laments.
  • Tegucigalpa from Colonia America
  • David was addicted to crack as was his mother. He says the blood of Jesus cleansed him of his sins. He describes his tattoos, which he keeps concealed under a button down shirt and a tie. Each line on the musical note represents two people he has killed while each point is equal to one. The star of David he explains proudly is for the police officer he killed and the star-like symbol represents a common phrase among maras, that the gang shines wherever it goes.
  • Pablo and Omar were plotting to kill each other. Omar, the legendary founder of the 18th Street Gang in Honduras’ San Pedro Sula had a $10,000 reward on his head and Pablo, the chief hit man of the Mara Salvachrucha was determined to reduce him to a small tattoo of a soul across his chest, he would become the 26th of victims ranging from sex trafficked women, to massacred migrants and rogue police officers. Instead the two, members of rival gangs, found their legs shackled together by Mario Fumero, the founder of the Victoria Project, an Evangelist Christian rehabilitation center for drug addicts and gang members.
  • Stop and frisk. Searching for tatoos
  • Millitary operation
  • For years Wilmer Mendez’s bible was his AK47. After his father kicked him out of the house for trading one of their mules for marijuana, Wilmer immigrated to the U.S. where he began a life of crime, rising to be the Iowa kingpin of the Maras Salvatrucha. After spending 8 years in solitary confinement he found god and became a pastor. He was deported back to Honduras this year and has yet to erase his tattoos for lack of a functioning program.
  • Soldier's Prayer
  • Douglas chooses not to erase the three poin tattoo he claims to have done himself in order to talk to other young people about the importance of staying out of trouble.
  • Gang signs on a school wall.
  • Douglas' hand transforms into a gang sign during the click of my shutter. He claims to have been out of the gangs.