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Cruz Control

Educated in the school of hard knocks, Terri and Arturo Jr. still come out fighting.

Terri, caught off guard, fought back. Her friends, who were also the chola's friends, just watched.

At home, Hazel examined the moonscape of lumps and craters on Terri's skull and wanted to call the police, but Terri begged her not to. Instead, they left town for Colorado Springs, where Hazel had won hotel reservations in a raffle.

On the trip, they talked. Hazel is very close to her children, who confide in her like they would an older sibling. She'd clean their rooms so they wouldn't get in trouble with their dad. When they were tossed in jail, she'd bail them out. Hazel drew from personal experience when she explained the consequences of running with the wrong crowd, but Terri wasn't listening. She was making herself a promise: "This is never happening again. I'll never let myself get beaten like this, ever."

And she didn't.

Something else took her down.

One morning not long after the beating, Terri and Tammy were sitting around the house, bored out of their skulls, so they asked their mom if they could borrow her car and get it washed. Instead, the girls picked up a friend and went cruising. Pissed, Hazel reported the car stolen.

After a while, the girls got bored of joyriding, so they hit a Conoco and a souvenir shop, hauling out boxes of candy and knickknacks. They decided to leave Raton forever. On their way out of town, a cop spotted the missing car, pulled the girls over, discovered the loot and arrested them both. Terri took off on foot but was chased down by a cop, who pried her from a street pole and hauled her in.

The judge decided to make examples of the sisters: two years in reform school.

Fifteen-year-old Terri arrived in Albuquerque in 1987. Separated from her sister, she was placed in a cottage with wild-eyed girls from the big-city barrio. Alone in her bunk, away from family and friends for the first time, she cried.

For the first few months, Terri tried to keep her head down, but she got drawn into fistfights anyway. At 5'4" and ninety pounds, she held her ground, earning the nickname "Lil Loca," which she tattooed above her left ankle.

During her first Thanksgiving behind bars, one of the meanest inmates started teasing Terri. Her temper flared.

"Let's go!" she said, flipping over the dinner table. "Right now!"

The staff broke up the fight and sent Terri to solitary. But the other girls regarded her with respect: "Damn, girl. You're crazy." Eventually, Terri became the leader of her cottage. She even organized a successful hunger strike for better cafeteria food. When she left Albuquerque in 1989, she was a different person.

"I didn't feel weak anymore," she says. "I broke out of my shell."

A few weeks after returning home, Terri was looking to break something else: the chola's face.

"You know," Terri said to a friend at a party, "I'm going to go look for her."

"What? Why?"

Terri tried to explain: At reform school, she'd replayed the beating over and over again. It tortured her, haunted her. She dreamed about one thing: revenge.

Her friend wasn't up for a search-and-destroy mission, so Terri walked into town alone. On the main drag, she found her nemesis and confronted her.

"That was a long time ago," the chola said. "It's all good now."

"It ain't all good," Terri said. "Come on. Let's go."

The woman brushed her off, which only made Terri madder. But before they could exchange blows, Terri's friend drove up and coaxed Terri inside her car. On the way home, though, Terri noticed the chola's car at a park and jumped out. She dragged the woman from her car by her hair, wrestled her to the pavement and began slamming her head on the bumper.

"Sorry," the woman sobbed. "Is this 'cause of Carlos?"

"It ain't cause of him," Terri said, pounding away. "It's for what you did to me when I was fourteen. Well, I ain't fourteen no more. What's up now, huh?"

Terri administered twice the beating she'd once received.

"I don't go looking for trouble," she says now. "But that was one fight I wanted. I got my dignity back. I got my mind back. I got my heart back. Finally. I defeated the person who made me feel the lowest."

Then everything blew up again.

Arturo Sr. and Hazel Cruz split up in the late '80s. Arturo Jr., who'd survived boot camp and remained with the National Guard, entered vocational training, then escaped to Los Angeles. Tammy moved to Nevada. Hazel, seeking better medical care for Mark, who'd developed severe kidney problems, moved with him, Brandi and Noah to Denver, where they lived in one housing project, then another. Arturo Sr. stayed in Raton.

Terri, who was pregnant, moved to Denver with her boyfriend. On September 19, 1989, she gave birth to a boy they named Anthony. Terri became "straight, straight, straight."

Arturo Jr. arrived in Denver a year later, to be near his ailing brother. He fell in love with a girl from the projects, and on February 7, 1991, she had a baby girl, Mercedes. A year later, they got married. Tammy moved to Denver, too; she eventually donated a kidney to Mark.

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