Two Prisons

All journalists become jaded at some point; for most of us ink-stained schlubs it occurs shortly after embarking on this career as an intrepid member of the esteemed Fourth Estate.
And most of us are cynics—which, in most cases, is a good thing. A “healthy dose” of cynicism is an important tool of our dying trade.
But what you have to be mindful of in this business is the very real threat of desensitization. As journalists, we are tasked with chronicling all aspects of life. Yes, that includes death and, at times, acts of depravity of which you didn’t think humans were capable—prior to arriving at your first crime scene.
Scribes in this city have seen it all, so the danger of becoming desensitized is constantly lurking.
This week, we were reassured that, no, we hadn’t fully fallen off the cliff into the bottomless cesspool of emotional numbness. On Tuesday, Kevin Paniagua, a reputed member of MS-13, was sentenced to more than 25 years in federal prison for the attempted murder of a 16-year-old boy suspected of being a member of a rival gang. According to prosecutors, in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2016, Paniagua and his co-conspirators confronted the victim in Jamaica. There, they punched and kicked him, and Paniagua pulled out a handgun and shot the victim in the face. Paniagua then attempted to shoot the victim a second time as he lay on the sidewalk, but the gun jammed.
The victim is a paraplegic as a result of the attack.
That young man, strapped to a wheelchair for the rest of his days, delivered an impassioned victim impact statement that had more than one of us hardened reporters reaching for the Kleenex:
“When I woke up in the hospital, the doctor told me that I wasn’t going to be able to move. I started to cry. My tears were rolling down my face. I thought about how I would never be able to play soccer again. I had many bruises on my face, on my eyes, on my chin and on my arms. Before they shot me, they punched many times. After they shot me, I dragged myself across the floor and tried to ask for help. But I couldn’t move my arms because the bullet was already affecting my nerves. I was dragging myself using my chin. I thought about how am I going to be able to go out with my friends and how I will never be able to ride my bike.
When the doctor told me that I wasn’t going to be able to move, my uncles became upset because they thought the doctor should have waited to tell me that until I was better. I asked myself how I was going to be able to travel in a wheel chair. And I really wanted to travel. Sometimes when I’m at school, I think about how instead of waiting for the elevator, I could have been running up the steps. I see my friends boxing and training and I want to participate but I can’t the way my friends do it. When I got a little better, I didn’t like to ask for help even though I couldn’t do things on my own. I would cry from the anger I felt that I had to ask for help. All of that because I spent 5 minutes with those three guys. When I was in the hospital, they would tell me to press the button in case I needed anything. I would get mad because I didn’t want them to help me eat. Sometimes I would not eat because I didn’t want to ask for help. I was also mad at God. I asked him where was he in that moment and why did he allow this to happen to me.
I can’t do many things because of what happened to me. There is a video with me, my brother E , and my little sister A where we are playing on a trampoline. I can no longer play with them like that. Before, when my mother would go to work on Saturdays, I would look after my sister and make her a bottle.
I will not be able to drive like my friends. I had a lot of strength in my legs because I was always on my bicycle. I still have the bicycle and I look at it sometimes hoping that one day I’ll be able to ride on it again. I can no longer walk on the beach. I tried going on a wheelchair and it sunk in the sand. The only way I can go on the beach is to be carried in by another person.
When I left the hospital, in the beginning I was scared to go out on the street because I didn’t want people to see me. I used to roller skate and ride my scooter. I was in the hospital for one year without being able to go to school and now I’m behind 2 years in school. I remember I was taking so much medication in the beginning. I am still getting spasms in my legs and fingers.
Now my goal is to graduate in May and go to college to be an architect.”


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