Tall and slightly heavy, Don Jones is every pound a salesman, and a logo-crazy one at that. The emblem of his independent DRJ & Associates insurance agency--run out of Jones' southwest Phoenix house, where there are no apparent associates--adorns brochures, business cards, posters, his tee shirt and even hangs from a chain around his neck.

To the left of the high-backed swivel chair in Jones' tightly furnished office hangs a rack of insurance brochures in gumball colors. Seven tax advantages from life insurance, a red one promises. The top ten reasons to invest in insurance, a yellow one offers.

Amid the standard industry fodder, however, is a pale green brochure that has brought Jones a lot of business, and notoriety.

Its cover is splashed with gang names, lettered like graffiti. It features a firing gun, a dripping knife and a syringe, among other things.

Inside, above Jones' logo, is a drawing of a coffin. "Is this an expense you're prepared for?" the brochure asks.

"As parents, we love our children and try to do all that we can for them," the brochure reads. "Unfortunately, some of them end up in gangs. . .those of us who are lucky get them back in one piece. The unlucky ones never return--alive. Someone has to provide for their final resting place."
Death is death, but business is business, and in the past year Jones has carved out an eerie niche in his field, targeting parents who are worried that their children have been "lost to the streets," and selling them life insurance on the kids.

For less than $200 a year, he says, parents can buy $25,000 life insurance policies on the children. Most major insurance companies write policies on children, and the cost does not vary in different parts of town, he says. What's new is Jones' marketing technique.

So far, Jones says, he has sold more than 100 policies, mostly to parents worried about their kids because of gangs and drugs. The policies, he notes, have been bought by parents of all races, all over town, not just in troubled areas of the city.

One delicate matter the brochure doesn't mention--but Jones says he does in his pitches--is that families get a financial benefit beyond the funeral expenses. After burial, families should have money left over to do with as they please.

That hasn't happened yet among Jones' policyholders. So far, he says, none of the children he has insured has been killed.

Though he says he has no way of knowing if any of the children insured are actually gang members, he makes no secret of his straightforward pitch--that parents with children who risk death in gangs should be taking out policies.

"If you're out there doing drugs, buying drugs, selling drugs, gang banging, doing the drive-by shootings, well, eventually somebody's going to drive by and start shooting at you," Jones explains. "If somebody pops you, the first person [police] are going to call is the parent."
Jones says he's not advocating that parents give up their efforts to get their kids out of gangs.

"I'm not saying stop trying," he says. "What I'm simply saying is that even though you're trying everything you can, you need to make preparations in the event that your child comes back and ends up at the morgue."

Of course, Jones thinks all parents should insure their children anyway. Both of his kids are covered. But he concedes that his efforts to target parents of youths who might be in or near gangs strikes some people as distasteful and others as immoral.

"Insurance companies are in the business of insuring risk. That's what they do. And this is a risk," Jones says. "You can get opposing sides up on a soap box and debate it from now until doomsday. You will have those who are totally unaffected saying how immoral this is. . . .but the people in the community who are buying this think it's the greatest thing since hot cakes."
Ray Buchanan, a gang specialist in Phoenix's Neighborhood Fight Back program, says he has reluctantly come to agree with Jones.

At first, Buchanan says, the idea struck him as maudlin and smacked of profiteering. But since then he has met Jones and says the salesman "comes on real sincere. He's not trying to pull the wool over somebody's eyes."

"A lot of times we want to shy away from reality, but we all have to deal with death and dying in the manner it is handed to us," Buchanan says.

Buchanan and Phoenix police Detective George Tellez, who works in gang investigations, both say they've seen instances in which children were killed and the parents had no money for a funeral.

In some cases, friends or churches have to solicit money door to door or hold car washes to pay the $1,700 to $2,000 for a basic funeral, says James Preston of the Greer-Wilson Funeral Home.

This year alone, Preston says, his funeral home has buried between 10 and 15 children killed in situations involving gangs or drugs. Tellez says total numbers of youths killed in gang related activity are being compiled, and he did not have an estimate of how many children die each year.

Jones, who's been in insurance for about 12 years, says the stories about funeral expenses were the impetus for the brochure, which he wrote while riding to Tucson one year ago on a church bus. "It's sad to think that in the worst time in your life, when you've lost a child, that you have to humiliate yourself and have someone knocking on doors, or go to someone seeking donations, to bury your child," Jones says. "I've talked to a couple of morticians who say, 'They come in here and pay us with fives, tens and twenties from car washes, from dances.'"

True, says gang specialist Buchanan. What's troubling about the insurance pitch is not that Jones is doing it, Buchanan says, but that there is a market for his efforts.

"What we need to do is put this guy out of business," Buchanan says. "We need to stop the killing."


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David Pasztor