Tucson Salvage

A prison redemption, a trailblazing trans life, and unlikely nuptials from opposite worlds

There's something almost formal and studied in Del Hendrixson Jr.'s affect, not like he's been media coached or over-schooled; more like someone who has dealt closely with the rungs of human existence. But if questions probe much, he deflects with queries of his own. When he quizzes this digit, it's the only time he seems insincere, yet to be the focus of his attention is flattering. There's his power. A born leader, more minister than Manson. "I just learned from my dad," Hendrixson says. "If you're not in control, someone else is. My dad was very powerful."
In the early '80s Hendrixson got popped for creating false birth certificates and Social Security cards for undocumented immigrants. He did a year in a federal pen where he’d become a monster who felt like a “garbage can. You learn to brutalize in prison.”

Soon after jail the self-hatred peaked and Hendrixson procured an Uzi. He was, literally, going postal. But his mind got in the way; maybe murdering innocent folk at a post office wasn’t such a good idea. To hear him tell it, it "could've been God's voice." A moment passes, and he adds with no blinking, "It was a voice, and a light" telling him to help others. This message made sense to me."

Another pause.

"Look, I'm fucking crazy,” he says. “I really am bonkers. But it's a disciplined insanity."

Instead of murdering people, he launched Bajito Onda, a still-going nonprofit ministry (minus the religious dogma) and foundation for community peace and development. It's a Latino brand too, employing Chicano and prisoner artists, enlisting their designs for commercial purposes, with little offshoot startups like 420 Bake On Glass that creates proprietary glass-infused decals licensed to national bong and pipe manufacturers. Bajito Onda is funded through these operations. His client list now includes Procter and Gamble, Eagle Eye, Illadelph Glass and others. At 71, Hendrixson's a master printer too, able to "print anything on anything."

Raised in Arkansas and Texas =, Hendrixson is a freakily ageless ex-con with a pleasing Southern drawl. Soft in the middle with snow-colored indoor pallor, sprawling tats and a shocking gray spiked coif. He also happens to have been born a girl."If your brain doesn't match your body, oh, well. Everybody just get over it."

Hendrixson was walking fringes long before Candy Darling or jazz great Billy Tipton's transgender stories were widely known or accepted. He has an unpublished autobiography, My Transgender Life, Confusion and Conquests, that details his early life, a heady timepiece of 1960s and '70s mores, sex, and identity chaos. Late author Robin Moore (who penned, among other bestsellers, The Green Berets, The French Connection and The Happy Hooker: My Own Story, with Xaviera Hollander) helped Hendrixson with the book, which was actually published in the late 1970s on Moore's own imprint, but, for whatever reason, was never distributed. The book might finally see light soon.

Hendrixson's spirit has had to overcome a lot in life. And finally, he’s been rewarded, he says.

The dark-skinned Hiracy is 31 and lovely like Lais Ribeiro's sister. She was a cop and banker in Brazil, owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She was born to a tribe in the Amazon rainforest. Through a friend, Hendrixson became her online English teacher.

"I'd been talking to her on the phone. One day she said 'I like you.' I was trying to teach her English. Soon she said, 'I really like you.' I said, 'We have to talk about my age,' and she said 'Why?

* * *  

We're in the office of Hendrixson's smallish warehouse near Armory Park. The words "Bajito Onda" greet visitors on the front door and inside walls are filled with awards and certificates, prison art, pics of Hiracy, her two children, all seemingly happy. There's a pair of workshops with printing presses and a mad collection of more prison art in back, and ad hoc living quarters.

Hiracy's on Skype on Hendrixson's iPhone. Her English is pretty good, and his Portuguese is coming along. She's in Manaus, in northern Brazil, with her two boys, aged 9 and 11, who still live there. "Our goal is to get the children here," Hendrixson says later. "Until then she goes back and forth, three or four times a year. It's not what we want, but that's how it is right now."

Hiracy and Del are glued to one another, he says, and she nods in agreement. They talk as much as 30 times a day when she's away. When he first traveled to Brazil to meet her, she locked him in a room for a few weeks.

Jealousy. It's true, she tells me.

"When in the Amazon, do as the Indians," Hendrixson adds as a way of explanation. "She wanted to know what I was about. It was her way. She's very puritanical. I sat in that room and wondered ..."

He adds, "Haters all over the world told her I was a womanizer. Now the Indians call me The Diamond; it's my skin color, I'm tall, and my hair."

Each other's names are tattooed on their person, and Hiracy lifts her forearm and knuckle to show me his. They got her green card. The two were married by her tribe in 2014, and married here a year later. "Her uncles did a blessing over us there," he says. "They had to feel our energies."

When he resorts to kid-voiced sweetnesses one understands their’s is at least love: "She treats me like a little baby. She bathes me. She dresses me. She's also powerful, and it's primal."

Hiracy grew up in a Tupinamba tribe and is considered royalty. She left the sovereign for college. Hendrixson says "her father is connected to animals—his whole life is connecting to animals." She shoots her tribe now with a camera in the rainforest.

When Hendrixson boasts of his wife’s life and intelligence, which he does often, it's like he’s helping to define who he is. Her life ratifies his. He’ll speak partnership in Bajito Onda and in the next sentence go personal: "our relationship is totally uninhibited."

* * *

When Hendrixson arrived in Tucson in 2009, he knew no one and his head was a mess. He left his Dallas office and workshop and printing machinery behind. He was done with Texas, especially Dallas, a place where "everybody dies. It's horrible there, all plastic ... In East Dallas if you're not aggressive you're a victim. I got to Tucson and no one is aggressive. It blew my mind. I was more exposed to the world here. Bajito Onda was my whole world. No one knew about it here. Someone said, 'Do you even know who you are?' Bajito Onda was the vehicle for me to do something, but I never truly understood who I was."

He found help at La Frontera Center, a mental health facility. "Taught me how to be vulnerable. And it was hard."

Hendrixson's dad was a strict WWII colonel, and Hendrixson idolized him. He wasn't close to his mom and sister. They all disowned him when he went to prison. He lived in rural Mexico for a year and learned Spanish. But lived mainly in Dallas, where he "walked with snakes and rats" and "became one of the most violent people I knew."

Since prison, Hendrixson has helped people through his Bajito Onda. A 2005 Dallas Observer cover story tells of his rescuing lost and violent people from themselves, "and cleansing them and sending them out to live normal, healthy, productive, happy lives." Not much has changed.

He's still helping families deal with violent deaths of loved ones. Helping with gang members, drug addicts; he's helped folks reenter worlds after brutal prison runs. He's been commended for it, received citations from the Governor of Texas and international conferences for at-risk youth. He has spoken at United Nations conferences and at universities, and he has taken gang members to conferences on youth crime prevention. Started outreach programs in prisons and has given talks at law enforcement agencies.

And Bajito Onda has little chapters in other parts of the world, in Europe, Brazil and Mexico. It's a foundation, a way of life, he says. A loose-knit collective, internet connected. Cult-ish but not exactlh a cult, nor a church. "It's more like DACA," Hendrixson says. "But an underground society." He claims the foundation has a half-million followers and fans throughout the world. The number's difficult to verify, but Bajito Onda's presence is evident.

Hendrixson’s collection of Chicano and prisoner art is vast. He befriended prisoner artists over the years, helped some with rehabilitation. Others are beyond reclamation, criminally insane, "but genius. It's not ugly prison art, it's art from the hands of prisoners."

Many murdered children and whole families. So some works collected on a table in his workshop stun in that train-wreck way; cellblock visions of turmoil and violence for the heartsick and the lost. The madnesses and sadnesses are transmitted. Thousands and thousands of hours of practice turn pencil-drawn scenes into symbols of street desperation. One shows a Native American's vision of death and faith and sex in images of lovers and mothers. Another shows a head and razor-sharp teeth and foul light floating from eye sockets, while the seven deadly sins are spelled out and float about mockingly. One brutal self-portrait in pencil is surrounded by symbols of human struggle and peace, and the equally unattainable and heavily sexualized female form, and it's pure yearning. No one else on earth could do these works.

"When you're in prison, your mind is free but your body is frozen,” he says. “It's the opposite when you get out. I was insane when I got out of prison — a total piece of shit."

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