News of drug violence from Mexico, Colombia, Central America and elsewhere can be pretty depressing, and it’s easy to think of the narco-traffickers themselves as lost causes, beyond redemption. But AFP has a piece on a former gangster in Ciudad Juarez named Pedro Martin Nunez, who has been in and out of jail since he was a kid. His story of redemption is worth quoting at length:
But his cycle of violence stopped during a 14-year jail term, when he met evangelist groups visiting the jail and found redemption in religion.
He now works to convince other gangsters and drug addicts to follow his example in a city where more than 3,100 people died in attacks blamed on drug violence last year alone.
Nunez has set up “Former Prisoners Transformed to Transform,” a refuge in the center of Ciudad Juarez which houses around one dozen families.
The group also built a church in a dusty neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, with a few plastic chairs and musical instruments inside a large hall.
They have their work cut out for them as they try to extract criminals from gangs, Nunez said.
“You risk a lot. At the first attempt, they’ll break your hand. Then it’ll be a foot. Then they’ll kill you. It’s not something to take lightly.”
As well as prayers for former criminals, Nunez helps to negotiate jobs for them.
They receive half the salary and the other half is paid to their wives to look after their families — a necessary measure, according to Nunez.
“Some fathers have spent all their lives stealing money from their spouses or their families,” he said. “Ciudad Juarez is in such a mess because most of its problems start inside the home.”
The priest still attracts police surveillance with his green tattoos of skulls suggesting gang ties, but he says he can usually turn them away these days.
“I tell them: ‘That life is over, Christ is in my heart. You also need Christ in your heart.’ The officers usually stop the conversation at that point and we can leave,” he said, laughing.
It’s an encouraging reminder that there’s a lot more happening in Juarez than just the bloody headlines.