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Raul Valladares is a 34-year-old ex-gang member, from the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang, from the Dina neighborhood clique in San Salvador. He claims that when he was 15 years old he found a family within the gang. He was known as the “Shadow”. During his life as a gang member, his biggest wish was to be a good criminal. In 2006 he was captured for illegal associations, and in prison he decided he didn’t want to be a gang member so he became an evangelical. When he got out of prison he was received by the Ebenezer church, where he lived for five years; however, seven months ago, he moved in with his partner and her children. Now Raul just wants a normal life together with his new family, but the tattoos on his face do not allow him to be accepted in a society that sees him as a monster.

 

The Dina neighborhood, where Raúl has lived his whole life, is iconic in that it is a bastion of the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang. Ex-president Francisco Flores announced with fanfare in this neighborhood in July 2003 his “Strong Hand” plan, which gave rise to the “strong hand” (‘manodurismo’) concept which has permeated almost all public policies since then.
 
The Dina neighborhood, where Raúl has lived his whole life, is iconic in that it is a bastion of the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang. Ex-president Francisco Flores announced with fanfare in this neighborhood in July 2003 his “Strong Hand” plan, which gave rise to the “strong hand” (‘manodurismo’) concept which has permeated almost all public policies since then.

 

The Dina neighborhood, where Raúl has lived his whole life, is iconic in that it is a bastion of the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang. Ex-president Francisco Flores announced with fanfare in this neighborhood in July 2003 his “Strong Hand” plan, which gave rise to the “strong hand” (‘manodurismo’) concept which has permeated almost all public policies since then.
 
The Dina neighborhood, where Raúl has lived his whole life, is iconic in that it is a bastion of the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang. Ex-president Francisco Flores announced with fanfare in this neighborhood in July 2003 his “Strong Hand” plan, which gave rise to the “strong hand” (‘manodurismo’) concept which has permeated almost all public policies since then.

 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/CI-OGhRVX7c

 

4 years ago, Raúl began a tattoo removal process at the National Youth Institute (INJUVE). Since then, approximately 20 % of the tattoos on his body have been removed. The irregularities in the scheduling of the sessions have caused the process to be prolonged, because of the high demand and technical problems with the machines.  
 
4 years ago, Raúl began a tattoo removal process at the National Youth Institute (INJUVE). Since then, approximately 20 % of the tattoos on his body have been removed. The irregularities in the scheduling of the sessions have caused the process to be prolonged, because of the high demand and technical problems with the machines.  

 

Raúl after a tattoo removal session. The gang does not allow ex-gang members to remove their tattoos, but Raúl’s insistence made the gang change their mind. “You’re just going to have to deal with the consequences”, Raúl claims they told him.
 
Raúl after a tattoo removal session. The gang does not allow ex-gang members to remove their tattoos, but Raúl’s insistence made the gang change their mind. “You’re just going to have to deal with the consequences”, Raúl claims they told him.

 

Raúl’s transition from gang member to evangelical ex-gang member happened when he was held in the Izalco jail in 2006. The health crisis of his ex-wife and the lack of money caused them to ask for help from an ex-gang member pastor, and this convinced him to declare faith in God. Raúl claims that when he repeated the statement of faith, he felt something like an explosion within him, which is difficult for him to explain.
 
Raúl’s transition from gang member to evangelical ex-gang member happened when he was held in the Izalco jail in 2006. The health crisis of his ex-wife and the lack of money caused them to ask for help from an ex-gang member pastor, and this convinced him to declare faith in God. Raúl claims that when he repeated the statement of faith, he felt something like an explosion within him, which is difficult for him to explain.

 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/j0kfludw2Co

 

When the occasion requires it, Raúl hides his tattoos with makeup before going out of the Dina neighborhood. He does this to avoid mistrust from society and incidents with the police.
 
When the occasion requires it, Raúl hides his tattoos with makeup before going out of the Dina neighborhood. He does this to avoid mistrust from society and incidents with the police.

 

 
Picture of Raúl before and after applying makeup to hide his tattoos. Raúl claims that his biggest dream is that people stop seeing him as a criminal. In March of 2017, the Florida International University (FIU) revealed the results of a study that surveyed almost 1,200 Salvadoran gang members and ex-gang members. The study reveals that 69 % of the active gang members surveyed have thought of abandoning their gang at some point

 

Raúl during a football game with brothers from the Ebenezer church. Raúl is highly regarded by the other members of the church, especially among the youngest members. This appreciation was not present when he first joined; in fact, there were members who abandoned the church after Raúl arrived.
 
Raúl during a football game with brothers from the Ebenezer church. Raúl is highly regarded by the other members of the church, especially among the youngest members. This appreciation was not present when he first joined; in fact, there were members who abandoned the church after Raúl arrived.

 

A year and a half ago Raúl was shot in the right arm by an unknown attacker, while he was chatting with some friends on a corner near the Monserrat neighborhood in San Salvador. Raúl insists that what he misses the most is the freedom to walk the streets of the city without fear.
 
A year and a half ago Raúl was shot in the right arm by an unknown attacker, while he was chatting with some friends on a corner near the Monserrat neighborhood in San Salvador. Raúl insists that what he misses the most is the freedom to walk the streets of the city without fear.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJhpV6DWgl8

 

Raúl preaches during worship in the Dolores neighborhood in San Salvador. Raúl is a member of the Ebenezer church, but participates in the “Last Trumpet” ministry, which is made up entirely of ex-gang members.
 
Raúl preaches during worship in the Dolores neighborhood in San Salvador. Raúl is a member of the Ebenezer church, but participates in the “Last Trumpet” ministry, which is made up entirely of ex-gang members.

 

Family lunch organized by his partner to celebrate Raúl’s 34th birthday.
 
Family lunch organized by his partner to celebrate Raúl’s 34th birthday.

 

Just like every Tuesday, Raúl gets ready to go to worship at the Ebenezer church. He also attends worship on Thursday, Sunday and sometimes Saturday; and he gets up every day at 4:00 AM to pray, as well as participate in activities related to the church youth groups.  
 
Just like every Tuesday, Raúl gets ready to go to worship at the Ebenezer church. He also attends worship on Thursday, Sunday and sometimes Saturday; and he gets up every day at 4:00 AM to pray, as well as participate in activities related to the church youth groups.  

 

Raúl’s wedding with his ex-wife Ana Catalina de Valladares, 11 years ago. His wife was assassinated the day after their wedding.
 
Raúl’s wedding with his ex-wife Ana Catalina de Valladares, 11 years ago. His wife was assassinated the day after their wedding.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjMWeufIzpM

 

Raúl helps to decide which shoes to buy his partner at a shoe store in the Metrocentro mall. Due to the heat that day, Raúl decided not to hide his tattoos with makeup, and instead just used a hat. Some people whispered among themselves as they saw Raúl walk around the mall.
 
Raúl helps to decide which shoes to buy his partner at a shoe store in the Metrocentro mall. Due to the heat that day, Raúl decided not to hide his tattoos with makeup, and instead just used a hat. Some people whispered among themselves as they saw Raúl walk around the mall.

 

Raúl shopping in a supermarket. “It makes me laugh to think of all the people walking around here who can’t imagine who I really am”, commented Raúl that day, as he was shopping.
 
Raúl shopping in a supermarket. “It makes me laugh to think of all the people walking around here who can’t imagine who I really am”, commented Raúl that day, as he was shopping.

 

Raúl didn’t finish second grade. He says that he always liked the street better than school, but since he has been living with his partner and her children, he helps them with their homework.
 
Raúl didn’t finish second grade. He says that he always liked the street better than school, but since he has been living with his partner and her children, he helps them with their homework.

 

Raul was captured the 21st of March, 2015, accused of killing a police officer. Four hours after his capture, he was freed for lack of evidence. In the last five years, Raúl has been arrested two times, but also was immediately released.
 
Raul was captured the 21st of March, 2015, accused of killing a police officer. Four hours after his capture, he was freed for lack of evidence. In the last five years, Raúl has been arrested two times, but also was immediately released.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe172d3I7XQ

 

Raúl joking with his friends –ex-gang members and church members–. There are approximately 15 ex-gang members from the Final Trumpet ministry who attend the Ebenezer church, but Raúl is one of the members who has been out of the gang the longest.
 
Raúl joking with his friends –ex-gang members and church members–. There are approximately 15 ex-gang members from the Final Trumpet ministry who attend the Ebenezer church, but Raúl is one of the members who has been out of the gang the longest.

 

Four years ago, Raúl was rejected from a construction job because of his tattoos, and since then he hasn’t looked for any other job. He and his partner have made a deal that he takes care of the housework, and she takes care of the money for the household expenses.
 
Four years ago, Raúl was rejected from a construction job because of his tattoos, and since then he hasn’t looked for any other job. He and his partner have made a deal that he takes care of the housework, and she takes care of the money for the household expenses.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOCQ9UOZ9Os

 

Raúl considers that the only thing he misses about his life as a gang member is the freedom to walk around. He thinks that currently his life is in more danger.
 
Raúl considers that the only thing he misses about his life as a gang member is the freedom to walk around. He thinks that currently his life is in more danger.