Former gang member preaches unity

By Greg Gelpi

The end. El fin.

However it's said, gangs and prisons are the end, Del Hendrixson said, showing a picture of a gang member with the words "the end" tattooed across his eyelids.

Hendrixson, a former gang member and convict, spoke at Forest Park High School about her experience in gangs and how to unite a community against gangs.

Hendrixson addressed Spanish-speaking parents and residents of the Forest Park community Wednesday. She will address English-speaking parents from 6:30 to 8 tonight at Forest Park High.

But it's just the beginning. School officials and members of the community discussed establishing an information line and events to build community relations and tear down barriers.

Arturo Garcia said he is worried about gangs and the impact gangs may have on his three children.

"I'm worried because I have three kids in school and that is why I came (Wednesday)," Garcia said. "I try to keep them busy and keep track of what they do."

A 15-year resident of Forest Park, he said he has seen many changes in the community, including an increase in graffiti, a sign of gang activity, Hendrixson said.

"I think the Hispanic community needs to be more involved," Garcia said.

Walter Puglia said there needs to be more communication between cultures. Puglia has three children.

Cindy Sellards, a counselor at Babb Middle School, said that the goal of the meetings is to attract more community involvement.

Babb Middle School and other middle schools in the county tentatively plan to begin a gang education and resistance program in classes on Tuesday.

Hendrixson said if schools and communities don't educate children, then prisons will, and there is no dropping out of prison.

"Schools and prisons are both learning institutions," Hendrixson said. "My goal here is to scare these kids without terrorizing them. If we don't educate these kids while they are in school, the streets will educate them. That is when the community runs for its life."

She went to prison for counterfeiting documents for people to enter the country illegally and nearly turned to murder when she left prison. Adjusting to life after prison is tough, Hendrixson said, and she considered killing someone so that she could go back to prison for life.

"Prison is the end," she said. "They need to know that up front."

She recounted stories of Dallas, where she lives, and the prevalence of gang and drug activity in the school system.

"In Dallas, we've lost so many," Hendrixson said. "They don't even put them in the obituaries anymore."

Her hope is that she can stop and even reverse gang activity in other communities before it becomes as bad as in Dallas.

Through "psychological reprogramming," Hendrixson said she turns everyone into "gang members for peace," in an effort to "educate, not incarcerate."

Babb Middle School Principal Susan Patrick said that through education she hopes to prevent gang activity.

"We're in a stop-the-violence campaign right now," Patrick said. "We're into educating and educating people about the positive ways of life. It's not just about educating the kids. It's about educating the educators, so we can help the kids."

Hendrixson founded the Bajito Onda Foundation, an organization dedicated to end gang activity. As part of the foundation, she has established organizations throughout Central America, Africa and the world. She has also spoken at the United Nations regarding safe communities.