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The Second Life of Edwin

The Second Life of Edwin

When I met Edwin for the first time, he was praying, closed eyes. His shirt collar was strictly adjusted. At each head movement turned to the sky, part of the “Eighteen” tattooed around his neck appeared. Through the name of his former gang, the 18th Street gang, it was like if his past life was claiming him and trying to dominate him, as the expression of an internal struggle. I asked myself how this radical change was possible. What were the mechanisms, both personal and social, that allowed him to break with a fatal destiny?

Edwin has 54. At 12, in 1976, he came to the United States with his family. The gangs had already a powerful influence in the US neighborhood where Edwin lived, and at 14, he became a full member. Follow thirty-two business years in what he henceforth named his family, the 18th Street gang. After condemnation and jail, he was deported a first time in 1987 and then in 1995. He is part of hundreds of gang members who returned to El Salvador at this moment, while the country, disorganized, was going through a decisive moment of its history after thirteen years of civil war. Experienced and organized, the deported gang members progressively propelled a new dynamic inside the gangs until this moment powerlessness. And Edwin became an important leader of the 18th Street.

On July 13, 2010, Edwin’s life changed. After what he identifies as “an encounter with Jesus Christ who put fear in [his] heart”, Edwin left his major strong commitment with the gang and the wealth his social status gave him. He converted to Evangelical Protestantism to dedicate heart and soul to predicate. Since this date, he lives on a tiny unhealthy room, adjacent to his church, on the other side of the street where he was living as gang member.