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Blood In, Blood Out

Danny Ray Lopez couldn’t outrun his gang life or the police. Will his brother follow in his footsteps?

Like his mother, Barbara chose to believe him. He didn't act much like a gang member. He didn't talk tough or treat her mean. He was sensitive and not afraid to express himself. He even cried when he needed to. He was always buying roses for her and his mother, even for her mother. He loved red roses. For no reason at all, the women in his life would come home to roses and a card that read "I love you."

One time he called his mother and sister from Lookout Mountain. Excited, he asked them to visit him, saying he had a big surprise. They arrived and were delighted when he met them with a huge decorated cake, which he wanted them to take to Barbara. He had decided that when he got out, he wanted to be a chef.

During his years in and out of Lookout Mountain, Danny got his high school equivalency diploma, and those who loved him hoped it was a step away from his life as a petty criminal. Things looked even brighter when, on March 30, 1991, Barbara gave birth to a baby girl, Mariah.

Red flags: Danny Lopez, dressed all in red at the wedding of his sister, Danaia.
Red flags: Danny Lopez, dressed all in red at the wedding of his sister, Danaia.
Dustin Lopez (in his Cleveland Indians jersey) with his father, Danny Ray Lopez Jr., this past July.
Dustin Lopez (in his Cleveland Indians jersey) with his father, Danny Ray Lopez Jr., this past July.

Danny couldn't have been happier. The proud papa crawled onto the hospital bed with his shy, smiling girlfriend to pose for photographs with his daughter cradled in his arms. A month or so later, he and Barbara would pose again, one on either side of twelve-year-old Dustin holding his cranky niece in sunglasses. But even then, Danny was wearing a jersey with blood-red lettering -- not because he was a sports fan, but because he was a Blood, with "Crenshaw Mafia Gangster" tattooed on the small of his back, a skull on his stomach and "104th" on an ear.

In 1993, Danny was hanging out more and more with the Martinez brothers, Daniel and Antonio, and Francisco Martinez. The three had broken away from the Park Hill Bloods, which was no longer as welcoming of Hispanics, to form their own subset, the Deuce-Seven, named after the address of their grandmother's home. Unlike CMG Bloods or other splinter groups from California, mostly black street gangs named after their original home turf, the Deuce-Seven was Hispanic, indigenous to Denver, its core made up mostly of neighborhood friends and family, including Sammy Quintana Jr., a first cousin of the Martinez brothers, and Alejandro Ornelas, who, like Antonio, had made a reputation as a teenager by shooting a Crip and serving time for it at Lookout Mountain.

Barbara begged Danny not to join the Deuce-Seven. Up to that point, his hanging out with the Bloods seemed to be just that -- hanging out. But the Martinez brothers and Francisco had a rougher reputation that involved guns and violence, a reputation as big-time drug dealers who flashed a lot of money and attitude. She was noticing a change in Danny. Whenever he talked now, it was Blood this, Blood that.

Then came the day when she went to see Danny at his father's house. Danaia met her at the door with a warning: "Danny went and did something you begged him not to do."

"What?" Barbara asked.

"He got beat into the Deuce-Seven."

Danny appeared. He had two black eyes, a split lip, scratches all over his face and body and a large ugly mark across his stomach. He'd been sleeping when the gang jumped him and began pummeling and kicking him. It was a right of passage in gangs, a privilege you earned if you were tough enough to take it.

His family was appalled. Not just by the beating, but by what it signified. You shed your blood to get into the gang, and the only way you walked away from the gang would be by shedding your blood again. One way or the other, it was "blood in and blood out."

But Danny was proud of his new distinction. He was a member of one of the most notorious sets in Denver. Anybody who messed with him would have to deal with the others as well.

Barbara worried. What kind of a life would they have now? What kind of a father could he be to Mariah? He loved his daughter and he loved her, but she didn't want to spend her life visiting him in prison or wondering when -- or if -- he would come home at night. The gang lingo increased, as did the rough side of his demeanor. He seemed angry all the time, short-fused. They began to argue more and more, which led to him hitting her and arrests for domestic violence. One night the police arrived in time to see him kick her and drag her to the ground by her hair.

Barbara didn't understand where the anger was coming from. And he would always be contrite afterward, sending roses, holding her, telling her it would be all right. He would get a job, be a good family man. But he couldn't seem to get away from the gang. And when she pressed, he'd storm off, saying she wasn't his boss and he wasn't coming home until he felt like it. And the cycle would begin again.

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