Christina Simons

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. Valerie’s story is not uncommon in Honduras. Abuse, domestic violence, rape and murder are common place for those who are members. Yet for many of these women, life with the MS-13 and Calle 18, another prominent criminal gang, 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. For others, trying to disentangle themselves from these gangs means taking desperate measure. Yamileth is a 42-year-old former Calle 18 member who upon her release from prison has gone into hiding in an attempt to escape gang life for good. Malgda is 34 and also a member of Calle 18 who wants out. As soon as she is released from prison she will journey through Guatemala and Mexico in the hopes of being granted political asylum once she reaches the United States. These are their stories. *Not her real name

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