A Question of Hope

One family's struggle to escape the devastation of gang culture

In her struggle to retain hope, Adela battled a dark, mother's depression. Alcohol often offered the only consolation, the church never providing relief for her the way it had for Boy.

Still, here they both are on Valentine's Day, inside God's house, the Apostolic Heritage Church.

Boy keeps beat with the pulsing music.

Boy and Adela
Paolo Vescia
Boy and Adela
Michael "Smiley" Rivera
Michael "Smiley" Rivera

"When you see Jesus, sing hallelujah," shouts the minister. "Nothing else is going to matter to you, not even the hurts of your children, when you see His face."

Adela McCormick fights back tears as she stands behind the wheelchair that holds her son. Because Boy's face tumbles forward onto his chest without her assistance, she cradles her child's wounded head upon her bosom throughout the service so that he might more easily watch the worship of his Lord.

Not 10 blocks from the Apostolic Heritage Church, Rosemary Ramirez scrubs vehicles in the parking lot of a Circle K. She is raising money with her car wash.

Rosemary's daughter, Megan, had been murdered by the West Side Chicanos. In fact, the same man charged with shooting Boy and his father stood accused in the Ramirez homicide.

Rosemary brought her daughter's children to visit Boy in the nursing home while she commiserated with Adela.

Rosemary gave some of the money she raised at the car wash to Adela so that she could purchase a computer for Boy.

Though often expressive, Joseph Jr. has remained largely silent since the shooting. Adela hopes the computer will help her son communicate with those so quick to dismiss him as a dummy.

More than the money, however, Adela was grateful for Rosemary's friendship. Who else could possibly understand what she was going through?

The Preacher Man

Once they got off the phone, it took Adela and her husband, George McCormick, three interminable hours to drive from Flagstaff to the hospital in Phoenix.

Pastor Hogan was in the emergency room when the McCormicks arrived.

Joseph was on a gurney.

"He lay there wounded for an hour and a half," says Pastor Hogan. "Apparently, the doctors didn't think he was going to make it so they didn't do anything for him. No one did anything."

Adela was given the bad news.

"'Mother, your son is not going to live,' that's the first thing the doctors told me," says Adela.

'"You do not know my son. He's a preacher man and he will not die,' I answered."

Just before they took Boy into surgery, his mother leaned over her son and whispered into his ear, "You better not leave me, preacher man, I won't stay in this ugly world without you."

After the operation, Boy was moved to intensive care. The doctors predicted that if Joseph lived through the first four hours after surgery, he might make it. But they didn't expect him to come through.

For several months, Boy was shuttled from intensive care to surgery. Once Joseph was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital but had to return to the neurological center at St. Joseph's when his condition deteriorated.

"The doctors told me that if he lived, he would be a vegetable," says Adela.

Ten months after the shooting, Boy was moved to a long-term-care nursing home in south Phoenix, and the shape of Adela's life changed dramatically.

She moved from Flagstaff and took a room with a Christian couple in Phoenix. Her husband, George, a social worker, was left by himself to raise Adela's 7-year-old grandchild, Ricky, Yvonne's oldest.

"George knows I cannot leave my son," explains Adela. "It's hard on us. But he loves my son a lot. George does all the washing, cleaning, cooking, and he works."

As difficult as George's life was, his wife's was worse.

From her room in midtown Phoenix, Adela walked 15 minutes to the bus stop at 16th Street and Osborn. She rode the bus across town to Baseline, disembarked and waited for another bus that would take her to the nursing home. The journey averaged two hours. The trip home on Phoenix's unpredictable bus system took two hours more.

And Adela's inconveniences weren't limited to interminable bus rides. She was nervous and always departed the nursing home well before sunset.

"I'm afraid to be out there in the dark. I don't trust the heathens out there," says Adela.

Her fears did not control her, however.

"I come every day except Sunday, because the buses don't run on Sunday. So I call people to see how he's doing."

Normally, Adela makes the journey by herself. During the winter and spring of this year, she brings a visitor.

The sound level inside the nursing home cannot be accurately described as bedlam. But it's close. A constant white noise of patient moaning, television babble and clanking food trays assaults Adela's ears. The stench of decay and excrement and bodies gone bad clutches at her nostrils.

At a desk in the hallway, a sign is posted daily. On this particular visit, the board reads: "Today is Monday, March 1, 1999. The next holiday is St. Patrick's Day. The weather is sunny. The season is winter. The next meal is lunch. You are in Phoenix, Arizona."

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