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Fabiola Escobar « Afflicted with Hope

Fabiola Escobar

FABIOLA ESCOBAR

Esta historia se escribe en Español = This story is also written in Spanish here.

Editor’s Note: This girl is a case study typical of so many youth in her country. Fabiola (pseudonyn) was let down, abused, and deceived by her family when very young. She was then let down by the state protection system. Seeking another form of family in the gang led to rape and betrayal. She ended up in the judicial system which provided no representation and abandoned her. We can’t even say she fell through the cracks. Hers is a common story of youth struggling in El Salvador. This explains why so many youth leave the country to seek a better life in the U.S. Fabiola has not. She is trying to re-invent her life away from the gang.

 

 

Listening to her reflect on her short but tragic 22 years of life, one pictures Fabiola floating on some distant cloud observing her life from an unearthly vantage point. She does not whine in self-pity but is matter-of-fact in sharing its details. She is both aware of and takes responsibility for her past life while recognizing what changes she needs to make in order to begin a new chapter that will be more fulfilling for herself and her soon-to-be born child. Her maturity is evident in the candor and honesty she expresses about her future.

I don’t know if I was a wanted child or not. My dad was a gang member who was killed when I was three years old. My mother abandoned me leaving my grandmother who posed as my biological mother to raise me.   My grandmother was the best person in my life until the discovery of that lie left me feeling betrayed. I could have accepted it if she had told me honestly. I no longer felt I had my grandmother’s love, and perhaps at some level I no longer trusted her. These feelings of discontent combined with my uncle’s persistent abuse since I was an infant led me to begin spending more time on the streets from the time I was eight years old.

At the age of nine, I was gang raped on the night of December 31st in an abandoned park while fireworks shot off in the distance. It was the most horrible night of my life. When I was released from the hospital, I found out my brother had been killed.

After that I became determined to join the gang that rivaled the gang that had killed my brother in order to seek revenge for my brother’s death and for my rape. All those events converged to a point that I sought out a kind of love different from what my biological family could provide.

On several occasions neighbors found me all bruised on the streets and reported me to ISNA (the state institution established to protect children) officials who would take me to state centers for abused children, but I always managed to escape in order to return to the gang which had become my new family.

Rules for gang entrance and gang requirements are firmly established by both its parent group in Los Angeles and the specific clique you are involved with. Yes, you are required to kill to get into the gang. Other rules include no harming of civilians, wives of gang members, or their children. Narco-traffickers who are not gang members but who are violent to either gang are fair game if the killing is in self-defense. I was ready to comply with that requirement to kill, not so much because it was a requirement, but because I was eager to avenge my brother’s death and harm the rival gang. Every crime I committed was my outlet, my release for all my pain and all the hatred and rage I was filled with. Although those who had raped me were already dead, I avenged their crime on others in their gang.

There came a time when I asked myself, Why am I doing this with my life? You kind of go through the motions and feel a glimmer of peace when committing these crimes, but then the feeling doesn’t last long; my conscience was beginning to fill with all these crimes.

Drugs are a part of gang life, and I used and sold them for awhile. I used marijuana to put my mind to sleep before committing crimes, and I experimented with a few other drugs out of curiosity but did not continue using them. I discontinued using them mainly because I wanted a different life when I got out of prison.

I became pregnant several years ago when I was 14 as a result of another gang raping. I wore bandages around my waist to hide the pregnancy from my family because I knew they would judge me and would not believe that I was raped. I also hid the pregnancy from my gang because in a gang, if you ever have problems with your gang, they harm the person closest to you in order to make you suffer. I didn’t want them to know I’d been raped, and I couldn’t explain who the baby’s father was.

On the day this rape took place I was badly battered and was fortunate that a man found me, took me to his house, and nursed me back to health. When we discovered I was pregnant, he and his wife offered to adopt the baby because they were unable to conceive and could offer the child a good home out of the country. I agreed because I had no life to offer the child.

Shortly thereafter I was unjustly accused of being the intellectual author of an aggravated homicide of three minors in my gang. I did not even know them and had no part in the crime. However, because of circumstantial evidence discovered in the house in which I lived, I was convicted and sentenced to seven years in a juvenile detention facility. {At that time seven years was the maximum sentence for a juvenile for that crime. It is now fifteen years}.

Aside from public defenders that did nothing to help us there was no legal representation for me or any other minors whom I encountered. The friends I THOUGHT I had in the gang, the ones who used to go to the beach together and smoke together with me, had set me up to take the blame for these homicides. Once again close people in my life betrayed me, and I learned from this experience that people who say they are your friends and will be there for you in good times and bad will NOT be there in the bad times. There were witnesses saying I did it, so it was their word against mine.

 

 

Pastor Luis provides company and affection for a parentless child.

Life in prison was tough enough, but I had no support. No family came to visit me. Simple things like basic hygiene products must come from family members because the prison system does not provide them. So prisoners without visitors must rely on others to share with them what they have.

I assumed that when I got out of prison I would suck up this experience and return to the gang but to a different “clique” within the same gang. Then my gang member family turned against me, warning me that I’d better enjoy the seven years in prison because that is the only life I’d have. I was also receiving death threats from the families of the three kids who were killed. At one point in jail, I became very depressed and tried to take my life. Lives of former gang members remain at risk after being released from prison. Using extortion and threats, gang members frequently seek us out to re-activate us into the gangs.

On the street you are constantly running and never have time to stop and think. In jail you have nothing BUT time. Where was my life going? I was safe in jail because no one knew my story. I didn’t share it with anyone. Most of the other prisoners were not gang members and did not know about my situation. I thought my life is my life and no one else has any reason to know my story. I was embarrassed and ashamed of it. The others were all gossipy teenagers, and if I told one person, they would all know.

 

May the Son hold you in his hands… Prison Chaplain Brian illustrates the power of meditation

May the Son hold you in his hands. Prison Chaplain Brian illustrates the power of meditation

The prison offered courses such as cosmetology and other classes which I took for awhile, but then I grew sick of them and started misbehaving. The program that did impact me was not a prison program per se but (called Proyecto Cuentame) was offered in the prison. This is a poetry program which its participants refer to as the “Tell Me” project. Coordinated by three Fulbright scholars deeply devoted to listening to the stories of incarcerated youth, the program provides a positive and safe outlet for us to share our experiences in a non-judgmental atmosphere. The proceeds from the books of our accumulated poetry are now set aside for a scholarship program for participating youth who are released from prison and wish to study.

Being able to vent through this project is something that not many people get an opportunity to do. Forming a relationship with Jenna Knapp, one of its originators, has helped me see things differently because she has been the only person in my whole life to listen to my story without the fear of her judging me.

 

 

 

 

I accept what I have done in my life; I take ownership of my responsibilities. I’m trying to be a better person and trying to have a better life now. When I look back now at some of the things I’ve done, I don’t know how I was capable of thinking about or doing those things. I know only that at the time they made sense to me. I behave differently now. The prison released me early because of good behavior.

Very soon I am expecting a child. I really can’t imagine a future. This child is my reason for continuing and is motivating me to keep struggling. I hope that my partner will be helpful. I won’t hide my past from my child. When he is old enough to understand my past, I will explain it so that he can be different. I won’t raise him in a bubble. He has to be allowed to fall and fail, and when he does, I will be there to pick him up and say “I told you” because he has to learn the lessons of life; otherwise, he will just be a useless person. I will teach him everything I can. I hope he will be a better person than I was.

Once a week I attend worship in a small Christian church group. This is a supportive group that gave me a baby shower on my birthday.

When I got out of prison, I began taking intensive English classes and would like to continue taking them. I had to stop in my late pregnancy. Proficiency in English may provide me more employment possibilities. Proceeds from the poetry book are helping cover my costs for the classes.

Editor’s Note: As I listened to Fabiola share her story, I felt that her life moved from one intense scene of instability to another. From an unstable and abusive home to the violence of the street gangs to the intensity within a prison where inadequate physical and psychological care is the norm, somehow Fabiola has been able to gather all her reserve inner strength to steer her life toward a new beginning.

With the help and support of Jenna, first through the poetry program that gave Fabiola a positive outlet and later from a relationship the two of them have forged on a deeper more personal level, she is hoping for a brighter future. This program has forever impacted Fabiola’s outlook on life.

If there were more constructive program options and safe places available to appeal to more youth, perhaps more young Salvadorans would be able to avoid (or find the strength to leave) the false sense of security of the gangs. These programs might include skill training, recreation, theater/music/ the arts, support for healing, and alternative education.

Those in positions of authority who handle finances then ask, “Who pays for these programs?” or simply respond, “There is NO money for programs.” But isn’t money always found?   It’s just a matter of how it is channeled.

Which is more important? Investing in the bright future of the youth to lead productive lives to build a better country or use the same amount of investment in punitive methods to deal with wayward youth who have no options?

In my book, programs trump prisons any day!

Contributions

    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.