Today, Martinez, 24, who lives in east Reno, doesn’t live like he did in the late 1990s. He tries to stay away from the gangs and support his wife, Leticia, and five children in an old, dilapidated neighborhood of single-family houses with small yards off Ninth Street. Martinez’s arms and part of his chest are covered in tattoos, some serving as constant reminders of his old days as a gang member and some that represent his new loves: his daughters.
For Martinez, who only wants to help keep his children away from the gang life with which he’s so intimately familiar and regretful, it’s hard to escape the image and the parts of the gang life that he was strongly associated with 10 years ago.
“I participated in the drive-by shootings, shootings at parties,” Martinez said of his teen years. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, been around a lot of crazy things. … I’ve been shot at. I’ve been beaten with rocks at my head. I had staples in my head.”
Martinez was both witness to and a participant in some of the more violent gangbanging activities in Reno 10 years ago. Intimidation kept many victims from going to the hospital or law enforcement to report crimes, he said, leaving them to deal with their wounds on their own.
“(It was) anywhere from smashing people’s kneecaps with sledgehammers, beating people down, to robbing car stereos,” he said. “Then it became the drug problem for our gang. We had to shoot at people to get our drugs, rob (drug) dealers. I slowed down (with the gangbanging) for a little bit after some friends went in for extortion, collusion and a lot of bad things.”
Martinez, or “Mr. Creeps” as he’s known to his friends because he is sneaky, and his friends were deep into methamphetamine. Their addiction forced them to rob from other dealers and citizens, he said. Eventually, he grew tired of the behavior and realized he needed a way out.
There seemed to be a slight turning point when Martinez tried to get out of South Side in 1999, but it didn’t last very long.
“There was a time when I did stop for about a year,” he said. “I found this place called the Fourth Street Youth Center and they had this bike club. I put all my anger and frustration into my bike and twisting the metal and building the bikes. It was good being able to have a role model to show you the way. I got pretty into it and as soon as it was closed, I went right back to where I left off and drugs took a big place, lots of drugs and violence.”
Martinez said there never has been anything for low-income youth to do in Reno, triggering much of the activity he saw as a young man. When he found himself bored and trying to escape the pain of his parents’ divorce, he was befriended by some gang members in their 30s who taught him the ropes of the gang life.
“A couple of older OGs (older guys or original gangsters) took me in,” he said. “But then you grow to learn they’re just teaching you how to get in the circle of drug mining and bringing money to them and you’re doing the dirt.”
Run-in with the law
Martinez always had to watch his back in any of his activities, but sometimes coming into contact with the Regional Gang Unit was inevitable.
Martinez said he finds it difficult to trust the police because of past interactions he’s had with them. Like many gang members, he quickly developed suspicion of the police and the Regional Gang Unit, citing disrespect from officers in how they approach gang members or associates.
“The gang unit members I’ve encountered, there’s two of them that really focus on one gang member and try to pull them out and talk to them and that’s what they kept doing to me,” Martinez said. “The other members of the gang unit disgrace you, put you down, talk shit and the cops are not there to help the gang members. They’re more about saving the innocent than the gang members.”
He particularly dislikes how members of the gang unit first approach suspected gang members or associates when trying to locate another member.
“They call you by name,” Martinez said. “They know you. You don’t know them, but they have a computer with your picture and you’re on there. There were many times I didn’t want to deal with them. They’re not very nice. They look at the picture. They’re not really bad people, just people who are red-flagged.”
It often leaves many gang members or associates with no choice but to try to respond with as much respect as possible, to no avail, Martinez said.
“They have the same routine and know when (gang members) come and go and know when to come out and when not to come out,” he said. “And when I do have to deal with them, I just talk to them with respect to not get them to push your face to the grass and put their knee in your back.”
But even with all the drugs and participation in the drive-by shootings, for which he said he was only the driver and never pulled the trigger, Martinez said he has nothing more than a couple of DUIs on his record. For those, he’s still going to court and keeping clean for about 10 months now.
“I’m doing real good, but I’m not sure in my head; I don’t know if I’m staying clean for the court or if I’m staying clean to help me,” he admitted.
A father and a kid
At 14, Martinez became a father and he continued to be a part of his gang until he was 17 and had his second child with another woman, who is now his wife, Leticia, who has family in the South Side Locos’ rival gang, TJ. They used to move from apartment to apartment, trying to avoid the gangs while seeking a stable life for their kids. Six months ago, they moved into their current residence, which sits between Interstate 80 and Ninth Street, and have found it’s much better for themselves and their children.
“We’ve been here for six months,” Leticia said. “Everywhere else we’ve been 50 feet away from murders. We’re not in the best neighborhood now, but it’s not too bad. The people who are here have been here a while. My grandfather lives next door. It’s just people down this street like the freeway.”
Living in such areas was often difficult for Leticia, who lost a cousin in a gang-related shooting.
“Early in the morning, a couple of guys drove by from TJ, and they were driving by Montello (Street) … and my cousin was 2 years old,” she said. “(The police) caught somebody, but we don’t really believe he’s the one that did it.”
Though he tries his best to bring up his kids away from such violence, he feels his kids will grow up in his example. For now, as their provider, he promised himself he would never use any of the cash he obtained from gang activities on his children. That money is tainted, he said.
“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my kids, but I wouldn’t spend my drug money on my kids because it’s dirty money,” he said.
A two-parent struggle
Martinez worries that his kids could follow him and knows one day he will have to talk to them to help them avoid it. But for now, he does what he can to provide diversions and fun things for them to, though it’s difficult given his economic state. He has some experience in manufacturing window coverings, but is currently unemployed.
“If you want to work in a warehouse, which is my line of work because I don’t have a (high school) diploma or GED, you get real frustrated,” he said. “You’ve gotta go through a temp agency, spend two or three days there and I just get real frustrated. If I didn’t have kids, I’d be out there shooting people.”
Leticia, who is working a seasonal job at G&G Nursery and Landscaping, also said it’s a challenge to provide safe activities for their five children. She and the children's grandmother looked into the Boys and Girls Club but found it would have cost them too much to put all five kids in the program there.
“It’s $70 if you want to sign up your kids for baseball and we can’t afford it,” she said. “So our families get together and barbecue. Last year, we did a lot of kite-flying at a park. You can get a kite for $2.”
If the couple could tell the community one thing about helping kids avoid their lifestyle while they’re young, it would be to provide for them the best they can and to spend quality time every day.
Leticia said it comes down to proper parenting.
“Parents just need to try and be there for their kids, they need to keep them busy,” she said. “Parents are too busy working.”
Martinez said environment makes a big difference in the lives of kids as well.
“It’s all about where you live and what you can afford,” Martinez said. “If I could afford a home in Somersett on Robb Drive, it’d be way different.”
For more Gang Week profiles, click on the links below:
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