Joseph Rodríguez | The Sun Magazine #2

Joseph Rodríguez

Joseph Rodríguez teaches photography at New York University and has taught in Mexico and Europe. In the 1990s he photographed gang members with their families in East Los Angeles, California. He is working on his forthcoming book, LAPD 1994.

— From October 2020
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July 2017

“What scares me the most is not making it.”

Joey had served twenty-seven years in prison and now worked for the nonprofit Restorative Justice. He’d been at Walden House for six years and was still learning to assimilate and adjust to modern technology.
 

July 2017

“I am just coming from Chowchilla State Prison for Women.”

Cynthia was forty years old and had two sons. Her husband had shot himself when her older boy was five. She’d used methamphetamine for fifteen years.
 

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May 2004

Carlos got a job as a waiter instead and is trying to stay away from his homeboys in the 19th Street Gang.

May 2004

Inside Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall in San Jose, California.

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May 2004

Carlos, age nineteen, 1999-2000: Carlos (with white socks) came to the U.S. from El Salvador and was drawn to the fast money of dealing drugs.

May 2004

Sovanny, age seventeen, 1999: Sovanny is in the maximum-security B-8 Unit at San Jose Juvenile Hall. He threw a rock at a car, and the rock struck a rival gang member in the head, seriously injuring him. He is waiting to find out whether the injured boy will live.

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May 2004

Inside Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall in San Jose, California.

May 2004

Katrina, age sixteen, 2000: Katrina is in San Jose Juvenile Hall for a probation violation. She’s been incarcerated once before, for auto theft and evading the police. Her father is in prison, and she doesn’t know where her mother is. She has lived with foster families since she was six. She is waiting to be placed in a group home.

Photography

Juvenile

In discussions of justice in America, talk of punishment and retribution dominates. There is little interest in offering criminals, even juveniles, a second chance. But Joseph Rodríguez’s story makes a strong argument for the possibility of redemption.

May 2004
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May 2004

Gregorio, age nineteen, 1999: Gregorio left Mexico to escape overwhelming poverty. He crossed the border on foot and wandered in the desert for seven days, eating only cactus. After picking strawberries for fifteen dollars a day in Chula Vista, California, he came to San Francisco and joined the 19th Street Gang, a division of the Sureños (“Southerners”). Gregorio tries to phone his girlfriend, Miriam, at her mother’s house, but she’s not at home.

May 2004

Lance, age twenty, 1999-2000: Lance began his criminal life at the age of thirteen. His mother, a stripper, says she was so overwhelmed by her own problems that she didn’t see what was happening to her son. He scored high on IQ tests and was also labeled “severely emotionally disturbed.” He was arrested at fifteen for kidnapping and murder. At that time, fifteen-year-olds could not be tried as adults. Lance had the opportunity to redeem himself within the juvenile system. As part of his rehabilitation, he took part in “The Beat Within,” a writing workshop for incarcerated minors. Once out of the system, Lance moved to San Andreas, California, and found work as a landscaper.

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May 2004

Lance now has a wife, Sarah, and two children. He still writes poetry.

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