By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
A week later, Mando works up the courage to walk into Hollenbeck Police Station, where he talks to the desk sergeant. "What would I have to do to become a police officer?" he inquires nervously. The sergeant gives him a look but answers kindly. "As long as you haven’t been convicted of anything," he says, "the first thing is you’d have to get rid of that big tack on the back of your head." The cop gestures to the large "TMC" that is tattooed prominently at the back of Mando’s scalp. (Fernie has a similar tattoo in the same spot.)
"I could do that," Mando replies, and is heartened.
Things also seem to be smoothing out for Grace Campos. One evening the first week in April, she shows up at one of Boyle’s Jobs for a Future advisory-board meetings, then lingers afterward to talk. "The kids are good," Grace says. "I just got offered a permanent job by this production company, but I turned it down because I make more money freelance. And Jose has this great new job where they’re training him in chemical engineering. Plus my older brother just graduated from the Police Academy, which thrilled my mom."
With regard to the gang situation, Grace shrugs. "I guess we’re dealing with it," she says. "Recently, Jose and I were talking about the time, years and years ago, when he was shot so badly he thought he was going to die. He nearly did die, as a matter of fact, but the doctors brought him back. So I asked him, ‘Do you hate that person who shot you?’ And he said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Maybe that person has changed now. Just like I’ve changed. Just like Roman changed.’"
She pauses to stare out into the cold spring darkness. "You know, there were a lot of very smart people from my generation in the projects," she says when her attention returns. "But I don’t remember anyone I grew up with graduating from high school. Not anyone. Everybody was in a gang, or their boyfriend was in a gang. That’s how it was in those days. But now a lot of those same people from my generation that everybody thought could only fail — they’re succeeding. Sometimes when people at my work hear where I grew up, they feel sorry for me. But I tell them, ‘No. Don’t feel sorry for me. Everything I am mentally, emotionally, spiritually, has come to me because of what I went through in the projects.’ In Pico-Aliso, you grow up with pain, but you also grow up with miracles."
Miracles and pain. Pain and miracles.
On a Monday, eight days after Easter, Armando goes to the doctor to have his TMC tattoo removed.
"I did it partly so I could become a cop," he says. "But also because I want to be able to walk down the street with my brother’s little girl, or with my little girl, have people look at me normal, you know, without thinking, ‘He’s just a gang member.’"William Ayala and Victor Ayala are pseudonyms.
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