I look weird. I feel like I look, like plain. I mean I’m used to the tattoos, just looks weird you know? Seeing myself without tattoos—it’s a big difference! 

I was 13 when I got my first tattoo. It was a Bugs Bunny on my back. That was my first one, and then one on the back of my neck. From there on I just started getting tatted, you know? 
There are a lot of them [tattoos] that have meaning. They identify with lots of things that I went through in my life, like the roses for when my grandmother died, [a tattoo of] LA because I’m from LA, there are my gang symbols. The Mexican sign; I got that because it’s the part of Mexico that I am from. You know, a lot of them symbolize my life. The ones I do regret are on my face and my neck. I regret them because I know that I am getting older, and it’s hard for me to get a job. I’m working right now, but before I was working, so many other places, people would not hire me. And that’s just that. 

There was a reason I got my tattoos on my face. When I was in a gang I wanted everyone to know where I was from. Where they don’t even need to hit me up or ask me, they already know because we know the symbols. Like there is no way that I can get out of it, you know. It’s going to happen. That’s why I got them and well, that’s now what happens. [She is always identified with the gangs.] So now that I am trying to change my role and be with my family, or be with my bro, normal people that are not gang related—shit happens! I am only the second gang member in my family. I am adopted. I’m now in contact with my real mother, but I was a ward of the state at 13 and adopted a little older at 16. So I did not have guardians for three years. I was in foster homes and jail. I did a lot of the time in juvenile camp. I would just get out, go back in, get out, go back in, you know? 

My blood family, nobody gangbangs. There are like two that gangbang, one is older and one is way up north, but they stopped. So I am like the outcast in a way. Now when they see me, they are like, “What the fuck?” But they have not seen me in years. My [blood] family has not seen me in like ten years. I’m 28 now. They trip out, make me feel uncomfortable in a way. I look very different to when I was a kid. They think I should look like this [pointing to the retouched picture]. Yeah, that’s the truth. 

I work like data entry and stuff. I like to work on computers. I would really like to work with kids, but I can’t because I am a violent offender. I understand. I don’t think there is a problem with me. I know how to handle my violence. But some people don’t. Especially working with children. Everyone who is labeled like that, they are not going to take the risk. 
So I cannot do that. But any job, as long as I am working, has a schedule. As long as I am making enough to survive, I’m good, you know? I have never really put thought into a career because I’m 28 already. It’s not like, “Fuck what should I be?” you know? Now that I am thinking, I would just be happy with a job, like 9-to-5. 

Let me take that back! I don’t want to be working at McDonald’s when I’m 50. I should be looking into a career, something I can do for the rest of my life. 
I’m independent now. I’m taking care of myself. I am proud of myself because I have a job. I have a place to stay. I have money in my pocket. I am finally doing it. Finally getting on track again. It feels good to just to be living life. I woke up today not in jail, I woke up today not in a casket, I woke up today for another day. Every day has promise. Just breathing in the fresh air. Going outside and really looking at it, life is beautiful. I’m doing good, like with work and stuff. But I’m not going to lie, I still go around my neighborhood and stuff, and it’s not all good. But the love and respect I get [from my friends in my neighborhood] feels good. I feel welcomed, I feel loved. 

But I also know that there are a lot of drugs, like shit happens. I could be right there and bam, busted! Just for being right there, you see? That’s what I struggle with. 
I guess it’s being aware of your surroundings. Something can happen to me in a second. So that’s what I am struggling with. Just kind of letting go completely of that life. 
I say this one thing I am trying to change. Then I’ll go and still kick it for a bit. Have a beer, talk, chitchat and I’ll be gone. But who knows? I’ll be there one day chitchatting and the cops raid it, I’ll go to jail for gangbanging. Or someone will do a drive by and I’ll get shot. Anything can happen. I’m struggling with completely letting go of that life. It’s hard, it’s just hard, you know? 
So many people just stare when I’m walking. Sometimes my bro, my girl will be just tripping out on how people just look at me.  A thousand ways people look at me. 
It bothers me sometimes. But I have been going through this forever, and now have learned just to laugh— whatever. 

It does have its days when it hurts your feelings. You expect me to be disrespecting you, because of my tattoos. But instead, you are disrespecting me,