I remember soon after I met Maya*(name changed), that a religious discussion came up. One girl had been talking about her belief in Jesus, and I remember Maya politely, but firmly, stating her own lack of belief and lack of need for a belief in God. “That’s fine for you if you need that to live your life. I don’t need that to live mine,” was something like what she said.
There was so much more to her story that I didn’t learn until years later.
Age: I always forget my age, I think I’m 36…I was born in 79, what does that make me…? Okay, yes, 36. (laughs)
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Part-time bookkeeper, office manager, housewife
Do you have children? Yes, three (7, 6, and 2 and half)
How long did you live in Pomona? I lived there from 1 year old till thirteen.
What brought you here? My parents had lived in Whittier in an apartment when they had me. I was number four and the landlord said, “That’s too many children!” so we had to leave. Pomona was the closest city to Whittier that they could afford to buy a house in. My dad worked in Whittier in a hospital, so he commuted from Pomona after we moved.
What was the best thing about living in Pomona? I loved my friends! The best part of living in Pomona for me was my friends. We would always play with each other and spend the night at each other’s houses. It felt safe. It was fun! I always felt safe. Oh how naive we were! Ha!
Where were your favorite places to be in Pomona? Church and my friends’ houses and school. I loved school. I was very much into school and very active in different clubs and music. Anything the school would offer, I would do.
What was the worst thing about living here? The worst thing was the gang violence.
Can you talk about one significant event that happened during your time in Pomona? Yes. One day, a boy from the neighborhood was shot and killed in our front yard, which had consequences. My brother chose to be a witness. We were naive and didn’t have any street smarts. My parents trusted the police and unknowingly put my brother in a dangerous position. We honestly didn’t think it was dangerous at the time. This happened probably during one of the worst times in the city for gang violence, in the early nineties .
My brother and his friends had been playing football in our front yard. A neighborhood kid that we knew rode up on his bike. This kid had been our friend, but also was involved with gang activity. He was always going in and out of Mexico. That day, a car kept passing by and someone kept staring at them. My brother had noticed and got a good look at the guy. The neighbor boy was shot in our yard, and because my brother had such a good look at the killer, he was able to be a witness and testify.
One day, someone came to my house and asked for my brother and then shot him in the alley near our home. I had answered the door.
I went to Mexico to live with my aunt because my parents were scared for my life. The police actually came down to Mexico to see if I could identify my brother’s killer. They actually thought I was going to testify in court, and, because of that information, the lawyer got my brother’s killer to plead guilty. The funny thing was, there was no way I was going to testify! But they didn’t know that.
Recently, my mom found an old video of the 20/20 episode that featured my brother’s story. Remember that show? I watched it and it was weird to hear my 13 year old self. I had a Spanish accent that I didn’t even realize I had had! It made me cry. I saw my mom crying on the video. It was hard to watch. It brought back so many emotions and thoughts.
My brother’s murderer was sentenced 15 years to life. At his 15 year parole hearing we showed up. I spoke and went on and on really angrily. I said some really angry things and I don’t think he’s too happy with me! He has shown zero remorse. He actually even tried to kill an officer in the prison! He got another 15 year sentence.
Do you think you’d go to his next hearing? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I need to pray on that. I wasn’t saved back then.
How did this experience change you? It completely changed me. I think I’ve always been a happy person. Before, I was into any social activity. After, I became very introverted. I only went to church if my parents made me do it. I only did a school activity if my parents made me do it. I didn’t want to do anything to get attention.
I completely lost my faith in God. I lost my faith in spirituality and everything my parents had tried to teach me through church. I felt isolated. I didn’t think there could be a God. It really brought me to rock bottom.
But it was good in that, years later, when I did start searching, I wanted to really know the truth. I didn’t want to follow something that wasn’t true. That’s why I’m so passionate about Jesus now. God waited to show me the truth. That’s really the most important thing in life, to be close to God. And I’m really happy to be in the truth now.
How did you change Pomona? I don’t know if I changed Pomona. I don’t know if I did.
Pomona’s city motto is “Vibrant, Safe and Beautiful”. What motto would you choose for Pomona? Ohhh! (laughs) Oh man! That’s a tough one. I would say, “Work in Progress”. But aren’t we all? I wouldn’t say it’s safe. That’s not true.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share? Um. Hmm. I can’t think of any right now because both of my kids are crying!
.com plug: This interview series with Carolyn Hamlett is highly recommended: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrzS9oTrZOI