Nadège Mazars

2017 - 2019

Started in 2017, the series is composed by the portraits of former gang members at the time of their act of prayer. Some were released few times ago, others had at the moment of the pictures several years outside jail and a strong compromise with Evangelical Protestantism. The series is an attempt to understand what they individually find in the act of prayer: Redemption? Inner peace? New life? New thought? Escape?

In El Salvador, gang affiliation is lifelong. But there is an exception: when “God reclaims a soul”, by death, or by devotion to religious activities. Conversion to Evangelical Protestantism became a way tolerated by the gang leaders to get out the gang alive in a country devastated by the endemic violence for 20 years.

The prisons have filled up, exploding their capacity of reception, while the public programs of rehabilitation are almost non-existent. Only some evangelical churches, welcome the recently released seeking to break with their past lives, like the Eben Ezer church located in La Dina colony, a notorious 18th Street gang neighborhood in San Salvador.

Conversions to Evangelical Protestantism are usually done in prison. One of them, located in San Francisco de Gotera, in the north-east of the country, reveals the extent of the phenomenon: In April 2018, the 1,500 prisoners sentenced for their activities in the 18th Street gang were all fervent Christians evangelizers.

As in many parts of Latin America, the Evangelical Protestantism extended in El Salvador during the last decades, achieving today an estimated 40% of its population. It tends to invest and supplant the political sphere, redefining the ethic concepts, therewith the fundamentals of democratic societies.

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  • Roberto is praying. The tattoos cover his face. They name or allude to his former gang, 18-R (a split of the initial gang, 18).

  • Edwin is praying. Born in El Salvador, Edwin went to the United States as a child migrant and there he joined the “Barrio 18” gang (18th Street gang) in the early 1980’s in Los Angeles. In1995, he was definitively deported to his native country and participated to the extension of the gang in El Salvador. He became a leader. In 2010, he converted to Christian evangelism and he has remained a fervent believer ever since, living in extreme poverty.

  • Saul (38). At the time of the photo in July 2019, Saul had been living at Eben Ezer Church for over a year. He arrived there in April 2018, it was his first destination when he was released from prison.

  • Rodomel (31) was released on May 29, 2019. He converted to Christianity 7 years ago in jail. While he has a spouse and a 7 years old child, he doesn't want to go to his neighborghood and stays living at the chuch, frightening to come back to his past life.

  • David (35).

  • Juan Carlos (42).

  • Jose Rolando is praying. In June 2017, his tattoos are almost totally erased on his face. He followed 34 laser sessions to remove the signs of this former belonging to the “18th Street” gang. Jose Rolando was arrested with 4 others comrades for “illicit association”. But he was just living with them near the church, all converted to christianity. For the church, this detention was unfair, ensuring they were not back to the gang.

  • arlos is posing
    as he is praying.
    He was released one year ago.
    He stays for an indeterminate time at the church as he has no other place to stay. His mother lives in an opposite gang territory.
    And his tattoo on his face put him in danger if he goes in another place.

  • "My change of life has been something… a surnatural experience. I grew up thinking to be a convicted criminal! Perhaps I was in love with death. Now I'm in love with life. I want to live a normal life. Seeking God is our last one shoot."

  • Child of Salvadoran people that fled the violence of the civil war in the 1980’s, Wilfredo grew up in Los Angeles where he started his gang activities. His story remains those of the gangs in El Salvador, that were strengthened in the late 1990’s with the US deportation policies. Deported in 2006 from the Us to El Salvador, Wilfredo met the Salvadoran branch the 18th Street. He converted to Evangelism in La Gotera jail and he was released at the end of 2016 and went to the Eben Ezer church. Now, he dedicates his time to organize the former gang members that found a refugee at the church.

  • At the time of the picture, Hugo was released 15 days ago, after being 8 years in jail. He settled into the church. But some weeks later, he disappeared. His body was found three weeks after, in a state of advanced decomposition. According to some sources, his former gang would be those who killed him.