The Shadow

El Salvador is one of the countries with the most crowded prisons in the world; however, neither the State nor the society seems to look kindly on investing in rehabilitation. The story of Raúl, an ex-gang member with the 18-Revolutionaries, shows that it is possible to leave behind a life of crime, but it also shows how difficult social reintegration can be for those who dare to take that step.

Raul Valladares is a 34-year-old ex-gang member, from the 18th Street-Revolutionaries gang, from the Dina neighborhood clique in San Salvador. He claims that when he was 15 years old he found a family within the gang. He was known as the “Shadow”. During his life as a gang member, his biggest wish was to be a good criminal. In 2006 he was captured for illegal associations, and in prison he decided he didn’t want to be a gang member so he became an evangelical. When he got out of prison he was received by the Ebenezer church, where he lived for five years; however, seven months ago, he moved in with his partner and her children. Now Raul just wants a normal life together with his new family, but the tattoos on his face do not allow him to be accepted in a society that sees him as a monster.

Raúl uses makeup to cover up his gang tattoos. His biggest dream is to be seen as a normal person.

Raúl praying in San Salvador. He is part of the Ebenezer church, but collaborates with the Final Trompeta Ministry, a Christian congregation that is also home to 30 other former gang members.

Raúl with his two stepsons Marvin, 9, left, and Josué, 6, in the La Dina neighborhood in San Salvador.

Raúl with his two stepsons Marvin, 9, left, and Josué, 6, in the La Dina neighborhood in San Salvador.

Raúl at a tattoo removal session at the National Institute of The Youth of El Salvador (INJUVE). He started the treatment four years ago, but sometimes the machines are faulty and his treatment has been irregular. He has so far removed around 15 percent of the tattoos on his body.

Raul after his session of tattoo removal.

Raúl praying during the funeral of an ex-gang member who died in prison from kidney failure.

Raúl was captured by police on March 21, 2015, accused of killing a police officer in San Salvador. Four hours after, he was released because of lack of evidence. In the last five years Raul has been captured twice, but released immediately.

Raúl in a beauty saloon cuting his hair .

Raúl covering his tattoos with makeup before going out with his family.

Raúl with his stepson, Josué, in their favorite fast food restaurant.

Raúl eating the lunch with his family at his home, in La Dina.

Raúl playing soccer with friend from the Ebenezer church in San Salvador. When Raúl goes outside of his neighborhood he always hides his tattoos with makeup or with a hat.

Raúl helping his stepson Marvin with homework.

Raúl looks at his face in a mirror after applying makeup to cover his his tattoos.