Barrio 18 is a powerful Salvadoran gang whose reputation in the international press is often eclipsed by their enemies, the notorious MS-13. These are photographs of gang members taken inside the Cojutepeque prison, outside San Salvador. There are probably members of the 13 and the 18 living in your neighborhood, particularly if you live in Southern California, Virginia, Maryland or Long Island. They’re probably working at pizza shops on your block. Many of them are probably US citizens.
In February 2013 I was summoned through mafia-like messages to take pictures at the Cojutepeque prison – since then shut down – by a high ranking member of the 18, Carlos Lechuga Mojica, better known as El Viejo Lin. These photographs were taken during that one day in Cojutepeque. They are compositionally flawed, rough around the edges and imperfect. I was working in a cell the size of an industrial garage where 3,000 prisoners lived lacking so much as a place to sit down. Composition and framing simply weren’t options. I also like them that way.
By John Sevigny