Dealing With the Devil

Theresa Swinton looks at the simple two-story house at 2727 California without much affection.

An uncle she never knew purchased it for his parents, her grandparents, shortly before he died in action during World War II. It was the childhood home of her mother, aunts and uncles. The address is on her birth certificate and on those of her first and third children, Raquel and Antonio. She was living two blocks away, across the street from her in-laws, when her second, Danny, was born. But he, too, considered this home.

It seems she has spent her life trying to escape from 2727 California. At age sixteen, marrying Danny Martinez Sr. to get out of the house. Moving to California with her second husband. Moving away again after she ruined that marriage with her drug habit, trying to get her sons away from the gangs.

But something always brought her back. Usually something to do with her sons.

After fifteen-year-old Antonio shot another boy on Easter Sunday 1989 in the alley behind 2727 California, Theresa moved back in to live with her mother and seventeen-year-old Danny. She didn't want to, but it was the only way she could keep an eye on her older son.

Danny wouldn't leave--not even after the shooting. It didn't matter that the place was surrounded by Crips, like a fort in a John Wayne movie. His grandmother always let him do anything he wanted, bought whatever he asked for. And if Theresa complained, her mother would tell her in front of the boys, "You were just as wild when you were young. Leave them alone and they'll grow out of it."

Following their grandmother's lead, the boys--Boom and Bang were their nicknames now--would throw Theresa's past mistakes back in her face whenever she tried to lecture them about the gangs. No one seemed to understand that they might not live to grow out of their affiliation with the Bloods--and if they did, it might be behind prison walls.

Even after his arrest, Antonio couldn't seem to grasp reality. "We don't go running to the police every time they shoot at us," he complained. "They shoot at us all the time."

"Why do you think that they're all like you?" Theresa retorted angrily. "All this macho, bullshit gang stuff about not snitching. You shot him, Antonio. Why'd you shoot him?"

Antonio just shrugged. The Crips had come up on him and Pancho--Francisco Martinez, who had been like a brother even before they all joined the gang--and threatened them. If he'd backed down, standing in the yard of his own grandmother's house, it would have been seen as weakness. And weakness could get you killed in that neighborhood.

But now Antonio was facing the possibility of being tried as an adult for attempted murder, which carried the possibility of forty years in prison. The police and courts were trying to crack down on gang violence; they'd threatened to make an example of Antonio.

Antonio wasn't the only son she had to worry about. Danny drank a lot--never just a beer or two, always to the point where he was falling-down drunk and sick. He wasn't a mean drunk, just a sloppy one, and Theresa was afraid it would destroy him someday. Maybe sooner than later. But there was no talking to him--not about his lifestyle, not about the danger. Even if she found his drugs and flushed them down the toilet, he just hid them better the next time.

Danny was using the house at 2727 California to sell crack cocaine to the addicts who'd wander over from Five Points. At night they'd come stumbling to the back of the house and whistle. Danny would go to the door and look out to see who they were, then meet them out there in the dark.

"I don't know how many times I tried to tell him, 'Danny, somebody whistles and you go stand in the door with the light on behind you. What's to keep the Crips from figuring that out and setting you up?'" Theresa says, sitting on the porch of 2727 California. "He'd say, 'That's not gonna happen, Mom.'"

She pauses, looks at the large picture window that dominates the front of the house, sees it not as it is but cracked and punctured by bullet holes. "Nothing could hurt him...yeah."

On the night of June 18, 1989, Theresa was in her second-floor bedroom, thinking about Antonio: His public defenders had finally convinced him to plead guilty, saying that as a juvenile with no prior convictions, he'd probably get probation. Sentencing was set for the next morning.

Theresa's youngest brother, Jimmy, was asleep on the couch downstairs, his children, Matt and Lisa, nestled into blankets on the floor beside him. Danny was on the telephone in the bedroom next to hers. It was a warm night and she had her window open--and she could hear voices in the side yard. She figured soon there'd be a whistle from below, and Danny would hang up the phone and attend to business.

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Steve Jackson

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