By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Nevertheless, Hendrixson counts Chavez as a success story, as she does any gang member who will open up and talk honestly to her. It is this unquestioning acceptance that makes Hendrixson and Bajito Onda utterly unique. "Del isn't as judgmental" of her clients as other service providers, Ivory says. "When they've bombed out of everything else, a lot of people don't want to touch them."
Hendrixson, however, refuses to discriminate. "I had a skinhead live with me for 14 months," she says. "That guy hasn't changed. He's still a monster. He'll call me up and he'll say, 'Fuck you, you old whore,' and I'm like, 'Hey, what's up?'" Hendrixson's willingness to accept all comers has earned her a loyal adherent in Vicki Hallman. "I don't stutter when I say this: I'm around a lot of people, even in the churches, that talk a good talk but don't really do much," Hallman says. "I have yet to ask Del to help somebody with something--where she received no benefit whatsoever--where she has not risen to the occasion. For that I will always admire and respect her."
Hendrixson's goodwill is genuine, but so is her fascination with the criminal mind. "I work with a guy who committed a despicable crime--probably one of the worst crimes I've ever heard of," Hendrixson says, and pulls out an August 4 letter from Ramon Salcido. Salcido is on death row in California's San Quentin for the murder of six family members, including two of his three daughters. Hendrixson has made dozens of copies of the letter, in which Salcido offers his "sincere love, respect and prayers to all supporters of Bajito Onda..."
Days later, Salcido is allowed a rare phone call--and uses it to contact Hendrixson. "I asked him if he'd seen Scott Peterson," Hendrixson says. "I mean, what do you ask a guy on death row?" Yet she is thrilled that Salcido called. "It may cost me $25 for a phone call," Hendrixson says. "I don't care if it costs $150--I know what it means to him."
"Every program wants to do referrals, but Del does it all right here under one roof," Ivory says. "[Other programs] don't really serve the poorest of the poor, the hardest to reach. She does that."
Ivory has taken on the daunting task of getting Bajito Onda out of Hendrixson's head and onto paper. Before meeting Ivory, Hendrixson says, "I was like a mainframe without a keyboard." Ivory and Hendrixson have spent many late nights working to put her informal mentoring and training methods into presentable form. The next step will be to submit grant proposals to prospective donors.
During one late-night session, Hendrixson all but boasts about the funding opportunities she has missed out on. "I know a lot of people at the Meadows Foundation and they say, 'Del, apply for funding,'" Hendrixson says. "'We want to give you money.'" Ivory shakes his head as he listens. Hendrixson continues: "Just two months ago I had State Farm ask me to apply for money. 'Apply, and we will give you money,' they said." Ivory looks slightly ill.
"I try to share with Del that she has a great philosophy, but having a philosophy and having a methodology are two totally different things," Ivory says. "On a case-by-case basis, she's done a good job. What I'm trying to do is help her scale that up."
On another front, things look even more promising. The TDCJ Director of Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs, Madeline Ortiz, contacted Hendrixson out of the blue late last month, apparently prompted by a reporter's inquiries. The department was willing to reconsider Hendrixson's ouster from Hutchins, Ortiz informed her. Hendrixson met with Ortiz and other prison officials on September 13.
"I apologized and said I just don't understand the policies," Hendrixson says. "I want to do things by the book, but I don't know the book, so if you'll teach me I'll work with you." She gave the visitors a tour of her facility, and they left Hendrixson with a promise of wholehearted cooperation. "They were ecstatic. They loved it. I gave them all a T-shirt," Hendrixson enthuses. "I was, like, in prison program utopia."
More than 8,400 state prisoners were released to Dallas County in fiscal year 2004. "There's a reality that needs to be recognized: If they're convicted in Dallas, they come back to Dallas," Hallman says. "They're not going somewhere else. They're not going to an island somewhere."
In fact, nearly one-third of prisoners released in Texas are back behind bars within three years. It is that prospect that haunts Hendrixson as she considers the fate of her best friend during her own prison days, Elizabeth Chagra. Chagra was famously convicted of paying Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson, to assassinate a federal judge in 1979. The judge was to have presided over Chagra's husband's drug trial.