Guillermo came to L.A. from the village of Soyapango, El Salvador, when he was 4 years old. His belly swollen with parasites, he rode on his uncle's shoulders as they navigated a well-worn trail in the night jungle to avoid the heat. Guided by a rope and a vision, they aimed for El Norte.It hasn't been easy. He spent his adolescence on Skid Row shooting dope and getting arrested 25 times (his estimate) by the time he was 25. But he's married now and lives in a small house with a dirt yard deep in the Valley. He has a steady job at a nonprofit clinic, five kids, five dogs, two parrots, two turtles, some chickens, a rooster and a couple ducks.
"We had to get rid of one of the dogs. Now we're down to five," he says, forgetting to count the eight puppies in the garage.
Late-model American cars in varied states of repair line this less-than-lovely street in the Valley and Guillermo is under the hood of his Nova. He's been working on it for a year, and it's almost done. His wife, Maivee, is inside cleaning the kitchen. Guillermo's friend shows up and goes inside to the bathroom. A car speeds down the block and skids to a stop. The driver jumps out and gets into the backseat of a waiting car, which speeds off.
Guillermo calls the cops to tell them that another stolen car has been dumped in front of his house. Then he goes to check it out and sees a case of Marlboro Reds in the backseat. The car, a Honda, is unlocked. The engine is still running.
He grabs the cigarettes and heads back to his Nova. Three unmarked cars swoop in. Cops from the Valley Crime Task Force descend on Guillermo SWAT-style. Guns are pointed while he's still on the phone reporting the abandoned car.
Guillermo's friend comes out of the house in time to see him being cuffed. He is visibly shaken; he hasn't been in bracelets in years. His friend watches the cops arrest him for grand theft. He pleads guilty and draws a sentence of 30 days of Caltrans labor, two years' probation and some fines.