Resilient rɪˈzɪlɪənt/ adjective: (of a person) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. synonyms: strong, tough, hardy
Eight month pregnant Sonia with one of her two daughters Daniella, age 11.
Sonia grew up within the gang world and knew all the members in her neighbourhood. Her partner, a MS13 member and the father of the unborn child has been in prison for 5 of their 6 year relationship. Their baby was conceived during a conjugal visit. The MS13s support her while her partner is in prison.
When asked how she feels about the circumstances, Daniella tearfully said, "He (her mother’s partner) is more of a father to me than my biological father ever was. I love him and I miss him." Daniella’s biological father left when she was 7 months old.
Their story is not uncommon in Honduras. Abuse, domestic violence, rape and murder are commonplace for those who are members. Yet for many of these women, life with the MS-13 and Calle 18 gangs, can often be a lifeline. They may lead lives filled with abject horror but for many struggling with chronic poverty, being a member ensures they are looked after. Albeit at a price. These are their stories.
Valerie* stands outside the gates of El Pozo prison in remote Santa Barbara, Honduras. She waits with other women - all of them either a sister, mother, daughter or friend of an inmate inside. In her Abercrombie & Finch T-shirt and casually slung backpack she is, at first glance, like any other woman. Yet Valerie is a senior member of the MS-13 gang and she has come to see her husband, a fellow gang member currently serving time in El Pozo. A Marera since she was 12 years old, Valerie has already completed a 10-year stint in prison. But she loves the gang life. MS-13 are family to her and her six children.
*Not her real name
Wendy Carolina Calix burnt off her MS13 tattoos herself
Wendy was 12 when her parents were arrested and she went to live with her sisters. After her brother tried to rape her she joined MS13 for security and family. When her sisters found she was using drugs they locked her out. 'I broke in and passed out. I woke to the sound of men breaking into the house – all of them raped me and they stole everything.' Her sisters didn’t believe her and blamed her ‘Because they didn’t believe me I wanted to kill my sister, so I did. And before I could kill my brother I was arrested.’
She is no longer with the MS13 however due to having burnt off her tattoos – this is seen as betrayal and she risks revenge from the MS13.
Yamileth, aka 'Siniestro' (Sinister), is a 42-year-old ex-convict and ex-bandilla M18 member.
Yamileth joined the M18 gang even though she is a lesbian, which is usually not tolerated. She started to kill when she was sixteen and quickly became a senior member. She described in explicit detail the way she would hunt, torture and kill their adversaries. She was convicted for first-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Upon release she found that all the gang members she used to work with and consider family were dead. This new anonymity gave her a one-shot chance to escape gang life for good. She now lives a peaceful life in hiding.
Maria Juarez is only 53 years old.
Her son is 18 years old and a MS13 member. He was arrested for possession of guns.
On this day she traveled two hours to El Poso prison to visit him, however she is unable to see him due to a government crackdown on gang member inmates.
Maria had to leave her severely disabled daughter at home, tied to a chair for several hours whilst visiting her son. She is frightened because she has no money or way to feed herself and her daughter. She fears she won't see her son again.
The warden lets two women in to a cell holding over 30 men. They are there for 'conjugal visits.’
Doris Brito, has been charged with fraud and human trafficking. She and her husband arranged to take a trailer of 74 people to Texas in 2003. Of those, 19 suffocated, including a 5-year-old child. She was sentenced to 29 years, which has since been reduced to 22. She has served 11 years in Tamara Women’s Prison Honduras. They never arrested her husband because they couldn’t find him. He has since passed away. Their two children are currently wards of the state of Florida.
Malgda Corales started her training into the M18 gang at the age of 12, she was initiated at 13. Initiation involves a 18 second beating by fellow M18 members.
At 16 she was arrested for several murders and sentenced to 18 years in prison. She killed many MS13 members, as well as civilians.
She is currently in maximum security because the M18 want to kill her for trying to leave the group, punishable by death. Her M18 tattoos have been obscured by other tattoos as a way of disassociating with the M18 gang.
She has endured several assassination attempts in prison, survived seven gunshot wounds, been tortured repeatedly, and she has tried to kill herself. Her imminent release from prison spells danger since she is considered a deserter of the M18 gang.
With the hope for a peaceful life, she will travel north with the ambition of asylum in the United States.
*Anlly is eighteen years old and two months pregnant. She has been raped and severely beaten by her husband.
As a victim of domestic violence, she has come to see the Médecins Sans Frontières team at the Choloma clinic for medical care for herself and to check on the wellbeing of her fetus.
She has filed a lawsuit against her husband and plans to divorce him.
*Not her real name
The face of this woman has been obscured and cropped to protect her identity.