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Carlos is cocooning. The sound resonating inside the pupal casing of his mind is the dull thud of shock. He's been here before, when he was a kid. Now 19, the handsome, young, undocumented Mexican-American is dodging bullets and beat cops again, trying to find a moment's rest while he gets his bearings before taking flight again.
"Last night I had a dream," he says, as he walks the streets of Chinatown at dusk. "I was on a ride going somewhere but not knowing where. I saw my uncle's face, then I was in a place where I seen the earth and a big-ass hole in the earth. In the dream there was a long hallway with a bright light at the end."
Carlos knew that a storm was brewing when a friend took him to see a medium in the projects in East L.A. a few weeks ago. She told his fate by reading cigarette ashes. When she said he was being pursued by an aggressive spirit that he had provoked, he knew exactly what she was talking about. Things had been going wrong for the last three months. He traced his bad luck back to the day he visited a friend's apartment, where there was an altar to San Simon.
San Simon, the dark saint in a black suit, red tie, wide-brimmed hat and mustache, is an incarnation of the pre-Columbian Mayan god of the underworld, "Mam" (aka the Ancient One), later known as Maximon, the "opener of the way" usually seen seated at a crossroads. He is the champion of the hopeless.
"He likes money, cigarettes," Carlos says. He threw a dollar on the altar on his way out the door. "Later I told my other friend and he said, 'Hey, man, the thing you did there was wrong. That's a really jealous santo.'
"I started having bad vibrations, so I went to get a limpia [spiritual cleansing]. They clean you up and take the bad vibes out of you."
The medium gave Carlos a limpia and warned him to avoid two females in his neighborhood, or the cops would raid his house and he'd go to jail for a long time.
When Carlos got home later that day, the real trouble started. His little sister had gone to Mexico for her quinceañera, but things had gone south and they needed $1,500 for a coyote to bring her back from Tijuana. Carlos, the oldest male in the family, needed to come up with the cash, but he had spent all the money he made by working construction on movies and dinners with his girl.
Carlos' cellphone rang as his mom finished breaking the bad news. A girl from his neighborhood was looking for some crystal. Carlos hadn't done that for two years, but all she asked of him was to arrange a pickup. She would pay him $500.
Then Carlos had an idea: "I can rob your connection, take her dope, take her money."
She liked the idea and they agreed that he would keep the money and she would get the drugs.
He made the call and set up the meet. Two cholas would show up on a street just around the corner in a few hours.
Carlos grew up in the juvenile justice system. He had been inside practically every probation camp and juvie hall in L.A. and didn't have any plans to continue the trend as an adult. He had been working a straight job and hadn't been in trouble for more than a year. But this was different. This was his little sister.
By 10 p.m. on Friday night, a couple of parties were under way in the neighborhood. Carlos could hear the music through the walls of his apartment on a long block deep in East L.A. as he stuffed his .38 into his waistband.
Carlos walked around the corner and spotted the cholas. He got in their car and asked for a $40 sack. "When she was reaching for her little bag, I went and pulled out my gun and told her to give me the money and the dope."
He took about $2,000 in cash and $200 worth of drugs and split. He ran to his friend's apartment, next to his own. "I told my friend, let's get some beer or something and chillax. Then I realized that I made the biggest mistake ever." He had dropped his wallet in the car when he pulled his gun. "I didn't think the girls were gonna call the police because they're drug dealers, you know? But they did."
The cops showed up, barking his name from the P.A. and shining lights in the apartment where his mom and brother were. He watched from the apartment next door. "Everything I worked for in my life is just over."
If convicted, Carlos faces prison or deportation or both. He's made his amends to San Simon, but things were already set in motion.
"Everything played out like she [the medium] had told me," he says. "The cops went to my house. It had to do with these two drug-dealer bitches that I robbed."
In the past Carlos was guided exclusively by Quetzalcoatl, the patron god of the Aztec priesthood. But he has expanded his cosmo-vision and now is working with animal spirits. He uses a medicine card deck to connect to the animals in his totem.
"There's an energy that reflects in every animal," he explains. "My animal protectors represent every aspect of my life. The snake represents the cycle of life. Snakes change the skin to bring a new cycle of life. The lizard, she's the one in charge of all the dreams that represents the future. You gotta concentrate and put together the things that you dream, and they will send you a message.
"The owl is the night animal. When everybody's asleep, he's the only one silently looking for his prey. This animal is telling me not to be afraid of the dark ... 'cause it's just a cycle, like the day and night. Nothing to be worried about. You have to break those fears that you have in you and just go for it. See what's there for you."
Carlos has been having precognitive dreams since he was a child. He was shot by rival gangsters five times on two separate occasions by age 15. He says each incident was preceded by a vivid dream that predicted the event.
"This lizard is telling me to pay real close attention to what I dream because that is the gateway to another dimension, which is the future. It's a very special animal, the lizard."
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The sun cuts sharp shadows in the early afternoon on a side street near Chinatown as Carlos meets up with his mother. She holds back the tears as she hugs him. Any moment could be the last she sees him for years. She gives him what she has to offer: a little cash, some clean clothes, a few words and love.
Carlos is going to prison. He's always been going to prison. Whether it's this time or the next, his future is preordained. The circumstances of his life crushed him into a brown diamond that fits perfectly into a cell.
"It's real hard to do ... open your mind and open your heart and believe that there are other things here in the material world that we live in," he says. "Something more out there has been waiting for me to call it. I guess this time it really caught my attention. It's like, 'We've been waiting for you for a long time and you haven't paid attention to us until now.'"