By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The fact is, despite all that Hendrixson has to offer Dallas, the city doesn't seem to be taking her up on it. The North Texas Volunteer Center severed its relationship with Bajito Onda four years ago, as did Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections, cutting off the program's principal source of participants, offenders sentenced to community service. Two years ago, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice discontinued Hendrixson's cherished outreach program at Hutchins State Jail. These days only the occasional recruit lured by word-of-mouth wanders through the door.
Bajito Onda, in other words, is languishing, a victim, some say, of a city that would prefer to ignore the problems posed by released prisoners and gang members. "We live in an apathetic city," says Vicki Hallman, regional director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division and an ardent Hendrixson supporter. Hallman, Ivory and others say that gang activity is clearly on the rise in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But while the city of Fort Worth funds Comin' Up, the local Boys and Girls Club's gang prevention program, to the tune of $1 million a year, Dallas neglects even its tiny police gang unit. "We put on a gang seminar in the '90s, and we haven't done one since," says DPD Gang Unit Sergeant Mike Marshall. "We send people to seminars when we have the money, but usually we're out of money because we work for the city of Dallas."
Marshall disputes the claim that gang ranks are growing but agrees that they are evolving, recruiting younger and focusing more on illegal drug profits than prestige. "They are a lot more entrepreneurial now," he says. Melvin Carter, director of the Fort Worth program, says that gang members are found more often in Internet chat rooms than on street corners. "It's not drive-by shootings and flags hanging out of their pockets anymore," Carter says. Carter's Comin' Up program works hand-in-hand with the Fort Worth police, with weekly meetings to coordinate their efforts. In Dallas, where gang-related arrests increased by 83 percent last year, according to The Dallas Morning News, such cooperation is nonexistent. "As law enforcement, our job is to gather intelligence and to put them in jail," Marshall says--yet he freely admits that jail is hardly a deterrent. "If you're a gangster, you're a gangster," he says. "If they go do a stretch in the pen, that's not going to change when they get out. They're still a gangster--they just have more contacts."
A lack of government support for programs like Bajito Onda is only half of the problem, however. The other half is Hendrixson herself. "Del is real abrasive," Hallman says. "She's a very aggressive person. She'll overwhelm you with her message rather than give you a chance to receive it and mull it over." Hendrixson's fascination with gang and prison culture can occasionally approach boosterism, obscuring otherwise sound philosophy. "If more people used convict thinking in the free world," Hendrixson says, "there would be a whole lot more respect out here."
As a self-perceived social outcast, with little knowledge of--or patience for--the bureaucracy of fund-raising, Hendrixson has depended instead on sporadic handouts from benefactors such as Jim and Cheryl Fleming of Plano. The Flemings have donated tens of thousands of dollars over the last two years to help keep Bajito Onda afloat. "She's not your soft female that's accustomed to pedicures and spa treatments," Jim Fleming says of Hendrixson. "She can speak their language." Literally--Hendrixson is fluent in street-savvy Spanish, a result of a year spent living in rural Mexico and a sense of alienation from Anglo culture.
The feeling is apparently mutual. Hendrixson's cavalier attitude to paperwork set off alarm bells at TDCJ and the North Texas Volunteer Center, agencies that had supplied the probationers that were both the bulk of Bajito Onda's labor force and the group Hendrixson most wanted to reach. She was bewildered when her support dried up. "They say, 'You do things too radically,' and I say, 'So help me do something normally!'" She spreads her hands, a gesture encompassing the boots, the tattoos, the haircut. "I don't know how to do things normally."
"When I reached for that doorknob I knew that I was going to be killed or kill people," she says. Her plan was to go to the nearest post office and gun down everyone inside. A post office would make the murders a federal crime, sending her back to the federal prison where she felt she belonged.
She had been an outcast even as a teenager growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, distant from her mother and sister and awed by her father, who she says was the youngest staff sergeant in the history of the Army at 19. He enforced military discipline at home with fist and belt. "He was 5-foot-5 and the biggest man I ever saw," Hendrixson says. She worked one summer after high school at the local newspaper, learning how to print a fake birth certificate to get into bars.